Overcoming The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

Last week I was pleased to see the Boston Red Sox trade several of their expensive, all-star players to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Why was I pleased? Because I had stopped watching my favorite team and wanted a reason to watch again. I have wondered how such a talented group of athletes, several of whom won a World Series in Boston, became such a dysfunctional “team.” I also wondered why their management didn’t recognize and deal with the “dysfunctional” symptoms earlier.

How to Detect a Dysfunctional Team. You can have talented team members assembled on the same team, but that doesn’t assure they will have success “as” a team. In his book Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni shares with us why teams become dysfunctional. (You can also learn more in the video below.) When Lencioni describes the five dysfunctions he puts them into a pyramid and teaches us we must solve the first dysfunction (trust) before we can move on to the next dysfunction – solving each subsequent dysfunction is dependent upon solving the prior one.

Here are Lencioni’s five dysfunctions in order.

Five Practices of Effective Teams
  1. Absence of Trust. Successful teams trust each other. Team members are vulnerable, open-up to each other, and accept feedback when they are performing below expectations. On a dysfunctional team there is an absence of trust, people talk behind each other’s backs, cliques are common, and they don’t believe in each other’s strengths. We saw this with the Red Sox when different members of the organization were critical of players and the manager to the press.
  2. Fear of Conflict. People on successful teams aren’t afraid to engage in good conflict where they debate about anything that improves results. Everyone is heard and ideas are debated. Team members aren’t personally offensive or defensive and only focus on activities that will improve results. Because dysfunctional teams don’t trust one another, they are unable to engage in good conflict that pushes the organization toward excellence. Although I don’t really know what happened in the Red Sox dugout, media reports suggest there was a great deal of bad, personal conflict, which displaces healthy conflict and makes the team dysfunctional.
  3. Lack of Commitment. Team members on successful teams are personally committed to the teams’ goals. If team members don’t really trust each other and don’t engage in healthy conflict and debate about team goals and strategies, they will most likely not be committed to common team goals. Individual objectives begin to trump team goals or objectives. Lencioni makes this important point – even if team members disagree about the goal, when they feel like they have been heard and their ideas discussed, they will be more willing to commit to the team goals even if they disagree with them. Many Red Sox players over the past year have clearly been focused only on themselves – a lack of conditioning and chicken and beer during the game, to name a few examples.
  4. Avoidance of Accountability. On successful teams, people hold themselves and peers personally responsible for actions and results. When team members are not committed to team goals and standards and they don’t engage in healthy conflict, they won’t hold each other accountable. The leader or manager becomes the “enforcer” of accountability and that only works for a limited time. For the Red Sox there were many examples of this dysfunction, which peaked at the time when only four players attended Johnny Pesky’s funeral. Not even a strong peer like David Ortiz could hold his team members accountable for this really simple and meaningful team activity.
  5. Inattention to Team Results. I think we all know that people on successful teams really pay attention to the overall team results. When team members stop paying attention to and working hard toward achieving team results, this becomes the ultimate dysfunction. Poor results will follow. A symptom of this is when you see team members totally focused on only personal objectives without regard to the team objectives. It is a good thing for individuals to focus on their objectives as long as those objectives support the team’s objectives and are not in conflict with them. Baseball is one of the very few team sports where most of the competition during a game is really a one-on-one activity – pitcher vs. batter, for example. When certain Red Sox players blamed other players for the team’s failures, often behind their backs, this is when the team goals were undermined.

Unlike leaders of baseball teams, you can’t just trade away team members that may be contributing to your team’s dysfunction. You can, however, act proactively and make sure your team doesn’t become dysfunctional. Awareness of Lencioni’s Five Dysfunctions is a good first step. Then focus on building trust, engaging in good conflict, committing to common goals, holding each other accountable, and measuring and celebrating the team’s results. If you do this well you just might be able to keep your championship team together.

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