The Five Dysfunctions of a Team – Patrick Lencioni [Book Summary]

by Nick

 “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” gives us the notion that teams are essentially dysfunctional, so purposeful steps must be taken to facilitate teamwork. A knowledgeable team leader can do a lot for his team to be effective, and in the book, you will find practical tools to achieve this.

Patrick Lencioni is the president of The Table Group, a management consulting company. His previous best-selling books include Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Death by Meeting and Silos, Politics and Turf Wars. In 2008, CNN Money put him on the list of one of the “ten new gurus you need to know.”

This book is available as:

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Learn How to Create and Maintain a Great Team.

Anyone who has ever had to work with other people to achieve something important must have realized how important, but also difficult, to work in a team.

Indeed, teamwork does not happen by chance: it requires a concerted and focused effort. This is because teams are inherently dysfunctional: they consist of imperfect people who have their own ego and selfish goals. Fortunately, you can succeed in working together with certain tools and principles.

Understanding how to implement them is crucial for any leader. For example, team leaders should build trust in the team so that their members are comfortable. Leaders must also set and control team goals so that everyone can focus. It is equally important for leaders to act as role models illustrating good interaction with them.

This book answers many important questions about collaboration, such as

  • why it is so important to focus on teamwork, even if the team already has many effective employees;
  • why trust is critical;
  • why team members should openly discuss and acknowledge mistakes;
  • how to encourage team members to focus on overall results, not individual goals.

Teamwork is a Competitive Advantage: Make It a Top Priority

Despite the fact that it is not easy to determine what makes a team outstanding, all real teams have a distinguishing feature: outstanding teams are more than the sum of their individual components. This can be seen, for example, in basketball, we’re a close-knit team of average players regularly defeats a more dysfunctional team of stellar players.

So why do even the most talented teams, as a rule, work poorly in the absence of organized collaboration? They spend time and energy on politics, trying to outwit each other. This leads to low morale, reduced attention to productivity and the loss of valuable players. Consider an example of a Silicon Valley technology company called Decision Tech.

Once she was a promising startup, but this situation quickly worsened until it became completely hopeless – the company struggled to find customers, despite the presence of an experienced (and expensive) executive team, talented engineers and top investors, which most startups did not even dare to dream of.


The main reason for this is the lack of teamwork among company management. In a team of ambitious and successful people, a separate ego can interfere with good teamwork, as people compete among themselves. Fortunately, poor teamwork can be fixed. This is exactly what Catherine Peterson intended to do, becoming the new CEO of DecisionTech. She put the priority of collaboration even higher than immediate financial goals, thereby directing the company in the right direction.

Teamwork is Based on Trust, and Trust is Built on the Open Recognition of One’s Weaknesses and Mistakes.

Most people know that trust and respect are the foundation of any relationship. But they are also the basis of collaboration. Why?

To work well, team members must trust each other. When this is the case, they communicate in a healthy, open environment, even when discussing difficult or touching topics. This allows them to quickly find the best solutions.

Without trust, important issues can be left unreasoned, leading to ill-conceived decisions. The departure of the DecisionTech sales executive is a good example of such open communication. The company needed a replacement, and Carlos Amador, the head of customer support, was asked to take a position. The rest part of the team believed that other team members had better experience and were more suitable for this position, and since the team was based on trust, its members felt comfortable expressing this opinion. Carlos, in turn, was not offended, and it was decided that the chief candidate was the best candidate.

If the team does not have confidence, this situation could lead to a conflict where, due to his own ego, Carlos would not be ready to retreat.

But how to build trust?

Team members must voluntarily show their flaws. This is not so easy to do, because in the modern, fierce world, people learn to be competitive and protect their own interests. But in a team where everyone trusts each other, you do not need to be constantly ready for defense. This means that team members must make focused efforts to suppress caution, and openly discuss and analyze their mistakes. Thus, everyone will have the opportunity to quickly see the intentions of their colleagues towards them, and trust will develop.

The First Step Towards Confidence is the Recognition by the Team Leader of His Mistakes and Weaknesses

Trust is the foundation of teamwork, so one of the most important responsibilities of a team leader is to help your team build confidence. It is created when team members openly talk about their shortcomings, weaknesses, and mistakes, without worrying about showing their vulnerability.

This is because team members begin to understand each other better when they get a complete picture of their colleagues – knowing their other weaknesses makes them less concerned about revealing their own. At Decision Tech, encouraging the creation of an atmosphere of trust, Catherine held a meeting in which team members discussed their strengths and weaknesses together. This simple exercise helped the team begin to develop trust in each other.

But, despite the fact that such exercises are valuable, the first and most important step of the team leader is to demonstrate his vulnerability first. This will show the team that the environment is not always hostile to vulnerability. For example, at DecisionTech, Catherine shared her weaknesses at the very beginning of her work to begin the process of building trust. She explained what management mistakes she made in the past, and admitted that she was once fired from her job. This kind of leader’s willingness to demonstrate vulnerability encourages subordinates to take similar measures.

If people trust each other, they engage in constructive conflicts and make more informed decisions.

Most people think of conflict as a negative phenomenon, but constructive conflict is, in fact, important for any team to find the best possible solutions. This is because decision-making depends on a diverse, often conflicting perspective. An open and free discussion about the merits and demerits of each idea will lead to a better result. Thus, the conflict is beneficial, but it must be constructive in nature – that is, everyone should be focused on a relevant topic, and not on their own concerns or internal team politics.

If a team lacks trust, it tries to avoid conflicts, so its members shy away from discussing contentious issues. They keep their opinions and concerns to themselves, preferring not to argue with each other, because they are trying to maintain pseudo-harmony within the team.

For example, when Catherine first arrived at Decisions Tech, she discovered that there were almost no discussions at the meetings of the management and the team. This was because they did not trust each other enough to discuss complex and relevant topics. So, if a constructive conflict is crucial for making optimal decisions, and trust is crucial for a conflict, it becomes clear that the team must build trust in order to find the best solutions to any problems.

Team members who trust each other quite calmly participate even in passionate and emotional discussions about complex issues, because they know that nothing of what they say will be interpreted as aggression. To foster healthy discussion at DecisionTech, Katherine encouraged trust through team building. In the end, the members of the working group established such good relations with each other that they began to participate in healthy debates on the most controversial topics. Trust stimulated discussions and constructive conflicts, which in turn made this team healthier and more effective in finding the right solutions.

Everyone Must Be Committed to a Decision, Even if There is No Agreement or Confidence in Its Correctness.

Most people in life have quite unfortunate moments when not a single discussion and no discussion leads to a more or less adequate solution. One of the key features of outstanding teams is that they are able to make decisions and then execute them.

That’s because they know that any solution is better than not having a solution at all, especially when it comes to something very important. They are committed to decisions they make because they know that lack of commitment creates ambiguity. In the management team of the company, this leads to a different polarity of goals and priorities, and these distortions become even more extreme, as they seep to the level of employees.

In an outstanding team, decisions are made so that everyone can be interested in them. How can this be achieved? It is very difficult to find consensus in any team, as there are always different views and opinions. Forcing consensus under such conditions means finding a solution that is optimal for everyone, but it is rarely productive. Instead, outstanding teams make a decision for the benefit of a large common goal, even if this decision causes a lot of debate.

To make such decisions, outstanding teams provide the opportunity to express their opinions to each participant. This allows everyone to be heard, and often this is enough. Most reasonable people do not insist on the exceptional correctness of their opinion, and are satisfied when their view has been examined and discussed. When common ideas give rise to a genuine thought, the team becomes more ready to unite around the decision. That is why in large teams you will often find people fully committed to the decisions of the group, even if they initially opposed this decision.

Members of Outstanding Teams Have the Same Reporting Form, Therefore, the Performance of Each of Them is Transparent.

One of the most uncomfortable moments in any team comes when there is a need to indicate to someone his incompetence or low efficiency. This is inconvenient because most people at the same time feel that they stick their nose into other people’s affairs, or seem arrogant. Unfortunately, if team members do not discuss such cases, this removes a certain measure of responsibility from everyone, which, in turn, leads to missed deadlines, mediocre results and poor teamwork. The team leader, in this case, becomes the only source of discipline.

For example, when one DecisionTech employee missed his deadline when providing information about competitors, Katherine reminded the rest of the team that they should have discussed this issue earlier. It was obvious that the analysis would not be done on time, and the rest of the team should have told the performer so that he “stirred”.

In some teams where employees were not able to build good relationships, they try not to call each other responsible, for fear of jeopardizing personal relationships. Oddly enough, this is reluctance and can hurt this personal relationship, because team members will begin to resent that others do not live up to expectations and violate team performance standards. Nevertheless, members of outstanding teams report to each other, and this, in fact, improves their relationship, because they develop respect for each other and help to meet team standards.

When a team has trust, its members understand that all decisions are made for the common good, and not for personal purposes. After all, peer pressure is by far the most effective and efficient way to maintain high standards of performance. People who try to match colleagues they respect will naturally feel pressured and work hard, increasing their effectiveness.

Effective Teams Focus on Collective Results, Not Individual Goals

Each team has goals that they strive to achieve – be it developing a new product line or winning a basketball game. This is true for most people, but in outstanding teams, colleagues understand that common goal should take precedence over individual goals.

As an example, consider husband Katherine, a basketball coach who was supposed to give up one of his most talented players. What for? The player never worried whether the team won or lost: all he cared about was how many points he scored. In short, his individual goals were more important to him than the goals of the team, and therefore he had to leave.

If people like him remain on the team, the team forgets about their collective goals and quickly loses their competitiveness. Users begin to focus on their careers, and progress stagnates. In the end, the best team members who were ready to work to achieve a common goal understand that this is not a good team for them, and therefore leave it to join the best. This exacerbates the situation.

So what are the common goals that keep the team in focus? Clearly defined – those that are easy to measure. If the expected results are clear and do not leave room for interpretation, then it is not possible for any person to turn their backs on the team’s goal and work on their own goals instead of common ones.

For example, a clear and measurable goal was set in DecisionTech – to have 18 customers by the end of the year, and the whole team united around this goal. When individual team members are ready to support and help each other, even outside their area of ​​responsibility, the goal becomes easily achievable. At DecisionTech, this meant that the engineering department was ready to mobilize its resources to help the sales team with product demonstrations. This was the best way they could help each other to get more customers and achieve a common goal.

Outstanding Teams Spend a Lot of Time Together, Which Leads to Their Saving a Huge Amount of Time

As a rowing boat does not go anywhere, if each rower rowing in his direction, the team will not move anywhere if its members do not come to an agreement. So what can be done to resolve such ambiguity or indecision? The key is regular team meetings, as there are several advantages.

Firstly, it helps team members develop good relationships and trust, which helps them solve any problems quickly and efficiently.

Secondly, conflicts are easier to solve face-to-face, and it is much easier to collect arguments and counterarguments from all team members in real-time when they are all located in one space.

Thirdly, at meetings, team members get a better understanding of what each of them does and how their skills could be used in other areas, so the risk of doing one job is twice reduced. For example, in DecisionTech, many of the team’s flaws were eliminated when Katherine began to bring all members together more often. About eight days a quarter were spent on such meetings.

When the team reached a new level of relationship, they became more prepared for synchronous work. For example, they got the opportunity to avoid duplication of work. In addition, additional resources appeared because team members immediately saw where their skills and knowledge could be used to help each other.

So, regular meetings and trust help outstanding teams to be coordinated and effective, which saves a lot of time.

The Final Words

Outstanding teamwork is a powerful competitive advantage, but it is a very rare occurrence because organizations tend to be preoccupied with goals other than team building. The basis for outstanding collaboration is trust, which is strengthened through constructive conflicts, decision-making, meetings, holding colleagues accountable and focusing on common goals.

If you are a team leader and want to build trust by encouraging others to talk about their vulnerabilities, you should be the first to do so. The best way is to share some personal stories about yourself and then ask others to do the same. You can also use personality tests, like the Myers-Briggs test, to stimulate a conversation about what kind of people the team members are and to better understand them.

Set clear goals and follow them whenever you find yourself in a team, whether it is leadership or just participation: insist on setting social goals and quality standards. Also, follow simple and regular reviews of progress. This will help keep everyone focused on team goals, as well as encourage accountability. And don’t forget: shared goals require shared rewards.

Why You Should Read “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team”

  • To build a successful team;
  • To implement management methods for effective teamwork;
  • To increase interpersonal relationships level in the organization.

This book is available as:

AudiobookeBook | Print