Book Review: The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

I love a good story. I love hearing a good story from a family member as they recreate one of their favorite memories for the next generation of kids listening at their feet. I love to see a good story played out in film, where the characters don’t have to turn and look at the audience behind the camera and tell them what is of value to them, but demonstrate what that looks like by showing us snapshots from the story of their lives, whether real or imagined. Finally, I love to read a good story. A page turner. The kind you are willing to miss a few unimportant moments for, because it has drawn you in and held your attention. This is the very essence of what Patrick Lencioni tried to capture when he wrote The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, which he calls himself a “leadership fable.”
The writing style is effective. Lencioni builds the story around a new CEO, Kathryn, who  is placed in charge of an extremely dysfunctional silicon valley startup company.  Interestingly, as I began working my way through this read, I was also starting a new job working for an organization that was nearly 200 years old, a church, but one who had just come through an extremely dysfunctional season of its own. Perhaps this book would have some insights that I could make a connection with? Similar to how I began my tenure, the new CEO, Kathryn spent her first few weeks quietly observing rather than doing anything controversial or misplaced. The only real action she takes is to schedule the executive team to take a series of two-day leadership retreats where she will teach them about teamwork and the five major dysfunctions of a team. This is where I began to take notice, because I was neither ready to schedule a retreat, nor define who would be part of the leadership team I would invite to any type of retreat. I had much to learn.
“If we don’t trust one another, the we aren’t going to engage in open, constructive, ideological conflict. And, we’ll just continue to preserve a sense of artificial harmony.” This is a statement made by the main character Kathryn to the team on the leadership retreat after dealing with a few passive aggressive email interactions and general although seemingly innocuous disregard for her leadership. For me the book, the pyramid displaying the 5 dysfunctions, and the storyline could have ended there. For it seems to me that these really are the two dysfunctions that keep a team from being successful. Lack of trust, and fear of conflict. Lencioni reinforces this by making the climax of the novel when Kathryn has to fire a key member of the leadership team: “Your attitude is certainly not the only issue, but it’s a very real issue. You don’t participate in areas outside your department. You don’t accept criticism from your peers, and you don’t apologize when you are out of line.”
The author builds a case for 5 Dysfunctions including: Absence of Trust, Fear of Conflict, Lack of Commitment, Avoidance of Accountability, and Inattention to Results but when push comes to shove for the main character issues regarding simply the first two: Absence of Trust, and Fear of Conflict are really what motivate the changes necessary to rescue the team. In this fictional story, team rebuilding also results in losing a leadership team member that realistically isn’t a person contributing anyway. Therefore, my reduction of the main points to only two sees healthy conflict resulting in trust building from the rest of the main players, and the team re-development ensues.

Really, this book started out as a pretty good story, but finishes with all the cheeze of a TBS made for TV movie. All situations don’t turn out peachy keen, and all problems can’t be pinned on one person’s shoulders. That said however, much of the strength of this work is in pinpointing and naming many of the behaviors we see in dysfunctional organizations. Practically speaking, this book has helped me to take a good look at what I have to work within my new position, and set some targets for my own role as the leader. Much of my time has been devoted to leaning in on healthy conflict when it is necessary, and doing all I can to build trust through setting clear and concise expectations, following through on discipline issues, as well as providing opportunities for myself to exercise some vulnerability.  Time will tell if a healthy team forms. I believe we are on the right track.


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