Book Review: The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni

Patrick Lencioni’s “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” was one of the six books that inspired the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS).

First published in 2002, it takes the form of a modern parable: a story traditionally used to illustrate an important moral or spiritual lesson.

However, in this case, Lencioni has used the parable to illustrate what he considers to be a crucial lesson about team leadership in the business world.

The plot

The story centres around a fictional Silicon Valley start-up company called DecisionTech Inc., which was hailed as one of the most well-funded and promising start-up companies in the tech world when it was launched.

Just two years later this “golden child” of the tech world appears to be in disarray: deadlines are not being met, department heads and managers appear to be in a constant state of conflict and there is a plague of in-fighting among the 150 staff members. Things get so bad that the CEO and founder, Jeff Shanley, is asked to step down. He complies.

That leaves the problem of who is going to replace him.

In a stroke of brilliance, the Chairman of the Board persuades his fellow board members to appoint a woman called Kathryn Peterson as Shanley’s replacement. On the face of it, it is a strange choice as the 57-year-old Kathryn is positively ancient by Silicon Valley standards and she has very little experience in the tech world. Scepticism abounds.

To make matters worse, Kathryn starts off by informing all the department heads that they are going to be spending some time at meetings with her off-site. This is an unfathomable decision when the company is already struggling to meet its deadlines.

But Kathryn has a plan and a purpose to her apparent madness. She realises that DecisionTech is floundering because the team members are all rowing their individual boats in wildly different directions. At these off-site meetings, Kathryn tells the various department heads that she believes the company is underperforming because of “the five dysfunctions of a team”.

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

Set out in a pyramid, she lists them as follows:

Absence of Trust – team members are wary of appearing vulnerable to each other or to own up to mistakes or weaknesses. This prevents them from asking for help when they most need it.

Fear of Conflict – in situations where trust is absent, team members are incapable of engaging in any meaningful discussions. This, in turn, leads to conflict which breeds factionalism, resentment and pettiness.

Lack of Commitment – because ideas and problems cannot be discussed and analysed or hammered out, team members find it difficult to commit to decisions, fearing they will be blamed if they make the wrong one. This lack of direction leads to disgruntlement among the employees.

Avoidance of Accountability – where this is no clear plan of action, even the most driven and focused of employees hesitate to call their peers out on actions or behaviours that may be counterproductive. This lowers the overall morale of the team which hampers business growth.

Inattention to Results – The lack of accountability means team members have a tendency to place their own emotional and career needs ahead of collective results, thereby losing sight of the need for collective achievement. As a result, the business suffers.

Despite her apparent lack of relevant experience, Kathryn manages to build a good rapport and a fairly high degree of trust with the department heads at these off-site meetings. She manages to overcome their cynicism with her clear and very common sense approach and with admirable candour, she also predicts that her team might not stay intact. This prediction turns out to be correct.

Nonetheless, with Kathryn’s guidance, the department heads put the necessary changes in place to create a cohesive work environment.

The conclusions and lessons

“The Five Dysfunctions” is a relatively short but very effective book which contains memorable characters and some very pointed lessons to help entrepreneurs and leaders run their business better.

Patrick Lencioni is a highly successful management consultant and the author of several books. He has been described by the Wall Street Journal as “one of the most in-demand speakers in America.”

Lencioni uses “The Five Dysfunctions” to set out his business philosophy and his belief that creating a cohesive and happy team is one of the few remaining competitive advantages any company can create. He also believes that many managers take the wrong road when they adopt various subtle ruses in an attempt to get team members to transcend their egos and insecurities. According to Lencioni, this is precisely the reason why so many companies find it so difficult to create any spirit of true teamwork and build a positive culture.

Instead, good and effective management is about acknowledging those human frailties and imperfections and embracing them, and combining it with a high degree of discipline and persistence.

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team is recommended reading for anyone considering implementing the Entrepreneurial Operating System. To find out more, contact us at Bold Clarity today on +44 (0)7795 667480.

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