Books for software engineers and managers

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

The Five Dysfunctions of a  Team

A Leadership Fable

by Patrick Lencioni

Engineering Manager,
Startup Founder

How strongly do I recommend The Five Dysfunctions of a  Team?
9 / 10

Review of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team is a story about DecisionTech, a fictitious company with a leadership team exhibiting unhealthy behaviors.

The story begins with the Chairman of the Board recognizing a problem and hiring a new CEO to correct the issues. What she finds is a leadership team exhibiting five common behaviors that need correction for DecisionTech to succeed.

I highly recommend this book, particularly for teams that are struggling but don’t exactly know why. These lessons apply to all teams not just leadership teams.

Dysfunction 1: Absence of trust; evidenced by our need to feel  invulnerable

Absence of trust is the base of the pyramid for dysfunctional teams.

Trust is the ability to assume good intentions. Lencioni suggests that even learning basic details about your teammates can foster trust: where they grew up, how many siblings they have, and what their first job was.

Dysfunction 2: Fear of conflict; evidenced by artificial  harmony

Most managers and leaders have experienced a moment where the team meeting is too quiet. Nobody is providing any feedback.

Artificial harmony happens when team members suppress their urge to raise an issue, pretending to be in alignment.

In pathological organizations, people may fear being reprimanded by the boss and the potential consequences like decreased compensation, being shunned, or fired.

Dysfunction 3: Lack of commitment; evidenced by  ambiguity

When a team exhibits artificial harmony, the individual members are not truly bought into the path forward. This lack of commitment creates ambiguity around whether the goals are actually important.

Dysfunction 4: Avoidance of accountability; evidenced by low  standards

Individuals and teams lacking commitment will avoid accountability, often by lowering standards for performance.

We make excuses and often point to uncontrollable factors. More thoughtful individuals might recognize the lack of commitment as an underlying factor, but due to the deeper fear of conflict we only raise that underlying issue when our boss tries holding us accountable.

Dysfunction 5: Inattention to results; evidenced by individual status and  ego

At the top of the pyramid, inattention to results happens when individuals exclusively focus on their own performance and ignore team performance. These silos undermine team goals and foster a culture of finger pointing.

The first priority for dysfunctional teams is getting healthy, not doing their daily  work

Dysfunctional teams may feel like focusing on team health is a waste of time. They will naturally retreat to their domain of expertise like sales, engineering, or customer support, claiming those as “real work” and more important.

But without team health, the “real work” is often just unproductive busywork, not aligned with a higher strategy for success.

Leaders need to continuously verbalize their vision even when it feels annoying and  repetitive

People need to hear a message about seven times before it sinks in.

As the leader articulating that message, you probably worry about being insulting through excessive repetition. But your people need it. They need to hear that message over and over to really accept and comprehend it.

Team leaders need to re-establish high standards for behavior and quickly correct bad behavior within dysfunctional  teams

Team leaders need to model the behavior they want to see within their team and that often means correcting unhealthy and unproductive behavior. Perform these corrections at all five points in the pyramid of dysfunction.

As a leader, your first team needs to be other leaders not your direct  reports

Business leaders often hear about servant leadership. We focus on serving our direct reports. The danger is that we don’t understand how to best serve our direct reports.

In fact, we serve our direct reports best by making sure the leadership team is tightly aligned, healthy, and functional. Dysfunctions within a leadership team cascade down to each person below.

Storytelling is an underrated and effective tool for communicating business  advice

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, The Phoenix Project, and The Unicorn Project are great examples of using storytelling to teach lessons normally constrained to non-fiction.

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team