Tom Cagley‘s re-read Saturday series continues with the book “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team – A Leadership Fable” by Patrick Lencioni.

Week 1 [beginning through Underachievement] – setting the stage for the story line.  Lencioni introduces the setting, main character (Kathryn), and the team.  And hints of a turbulent ride for Kathryn, the new CEO of the fictitious company DecisionTech.

Right upfront Lencioni tells why he wrote this book and why readers should pay attention.

“Teamwork remains the one sustainable competitive advantage that has been largely untapped.” (from the companion book, “Overcoming The Five Dysfunctions of a Team – A Field Guide”)

More often teams focus their attention on customer needs, release dates, budgets, technology, usage data, etc.  All of these are important, but without good working relationships among the team, much waste is produced and opportunities missed.

Extra:  for a similar message, different angle, see Simon D’Arcy Next Level Culture site.

Week 2 [Lighting the Fire through Going Deeper]  – “real work” is happening.  Martin (chief technologist) informs he will miss most of Kathryn’s off-site now.

Kathryn confronts the situation … “First of all, I have one priority at this point:  we need to get our act together as a team or we’re not going to be selling anything.”  Meaning, the sales meeting needs to be rescheduled.

Kathryn successfully defends this position to the people Martin enlists in his “end run” to avoid the off-site meeting.

Martin shows up at the off-site and Kathryn introduces the meeting theme, purpose, and the first team dysfunction – “Absence of trust”.

Kathryn uses a “personal histories” exercise to have the team open up to each other and start to build trust with each other.  Followed by reviewing the results from the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) for each person.  For the most part, the team knows everyone a little better and interactions start to improve.

Week 3 [comment on the “Drawing the Line” chapter]

The conversation Kathryn has with the Chairman of the Board, the person who hired Kathryn, took courage and confidence.  And without that conversation and obtaining the Chairman’s support, anything Kathryn tried to-do would fail because some of the team would learn there is a way around Kathryn.

Week 4 [two important questions when beginning to work with a team]

In the companion book “Overcoming The Five Dysfunctions of a Team – A Field Guide”, Lencioni presents two questions before he starts to go in-depth about the the five dysfunctions.  Remember (last week’s re-read) in “The Speech” chapter, Kathryn talks about the first dysfunction, the  “Absence of Trust”.

1) Are we really a team?
2) Are we ready for the heavy lifting?

Week 5 re-read covers three Chapters:  Awareness, Ego, and Goals.  The below quote is found in the Goals chapter.

(p. 81) [Mikey talking] “In fact, I think my department has done remarkable well given what we’ve had to work with.”.  The unspoken thoughts from Carlos … “but your department cannot be doing well because the company is failing and if the company is failing then we are all failing and there is no way we can justify the performance of our departments …”

Week 6 re-read covers three Chapters:  Deep Tissue, Attack, and Exhibition

In Exhibition, Lencioni , through Kathryn, reveals his 5 Team Dysfunctions model.

  1. Absence of Trust – we have already read about this one (see The Speech chapter)
  2. Fear of Conflict
  3. Lack of Commitment
  4. Fear of Conflict
  5. Absence of Trust – we were introduced to this one in the Ego chapter.

For a positive spin on these 5 Dysfunction – that is a team that avoids these pitfalls – read “The Quick Overview of the Model”  (p. 7) in the companion book “Overcoming The FIVE Dysfunctions of a Team – A Field Guide”.

On page 7 (Field Guide) , the dysfunctions and their anti-patterns starting from the bottom of the triangular model.

  1. Absence of Trust – anti-pattern invulnerability
    (i.e., no guarded conversations that withhold information)
  2. Fear of Conflict – anti-pattern artificial harmony
    (i.e., the ability to argue in the spirit of making the best decisions and NOT create “collateral damage”)
  3. Lack of Commitment – anti-pattern ambiguity
    (e.g., no common plan / many agendas)
  4. Avoidance of Accountability – anti-pattern low standards
    (i.e., not calling out peers, probably because there is no true buy-in to a common plan)
  5. Inattention to Results – anti-pattern Status and Ego
    (e.g., my team is #1 priority)

Week 7 re-read covers two Chapters:  Film Noir and Application,
where there are important points from both chapters.

Chapter:  Film Noir

  1. Change of behavior will take time, be persistent.
  2. (Field Guide, p. 39), a simple model to think about to encourage passionate debate within the team.The spectrum or conflict continuum
    (artificial harmony) x———–||———–x (mean-spirited, personal attacks)On the left-side are Constructive discussions.  But too far left, too much is NOT being said and true buy-in will not occur.On the right-side are Destructive discussions, where team relationships break down.

Chapter:  Application

A team goal that everyone buys into.

“A team goal …” … Kathryn tells the group (p. 106) “If everything is important, then nothing is.”, after Carlos suggests including both ideas for the team goals.

Kathryn leads the team through the discussion for the Team Goal, encouraging, no demanding, different view-points are brought-up.  After all view points were brought-up and one remained, Kathryn jumped in to make goal very concrete and also making the final decision about the specifics of the Team Goal.

[Field Guide, p. 59] “Buy-in does not require consensus.  Members of great teams learn to disagree with one another and still commit to a decision.”

Week 8, Chapters:  On Site & Fireworks

Chapter:  On Site

Nick proposes a company acquisition to most of the team.  After the team meeting and a 1-on-1 with Kathryn — Kathryn calls Nick on three dysfunctions.

  1. Do not slam another person (Mikey), without that person being there.
    The dysfunction could be Fear of Conflict; but this action destroys trust.  Certainly with Mikey, when she finds out, and probably with the other team members too.  Will Nick say things about me when I am not around?
  2. Nick not being open with the team about his concerns / issues (Lack of Trust).
  3. The motivation for the acquisition was more about Nick’s career, than the team or company.  (Not Focusing on Results).

Chapter:  Fireworks

Nick comes around, apologies to the whole team, opens up and explains his situation, and decides to help the team rather than pack-up and find another company.  Towards the end of the chapter, Nick jumps in to help the team when an unique opportunity emerges.

Overcoming Dysfunction #5:  Focusing on Results

Notes from the companion book
“Overcoming the FIVE Dysfunctions of a Team – A Field Guide”

  1. “What is it about us that makes it is hard to stay focused on results?
    It’s this thing called self-interest.  And self-preservation.”  (p. 69)
  2. “How do we avoid this?
    The key lies in keeping results in the forefront of people’s minds.”  (p. 70)
  3. “They (teams) have to eliminate ambiguity and interpretation when it comes to success.”  (p. 70)
  4. “Key milestones (a.k.a., team success metrics)?  There are only two consistently wrong answers:  none of the above and all of them.”  (p. 71)
  5. “When players on the team stop caring about the scoreboard, they inevitably start caring about something else.  And that something else is usually not the team.”
    (p. 72)
  6. Distraction #1:  Ego
    “Well, at least my area is doing well.”  (p. 75)
  7. Distractions #2 and #3:  Career Development and Money
    “Anything that stands in the way of performance must be addressed openly and directly, even if it is something that is sensitive to one or more members of the team.”  (p. 76)
  8. Distraction #4:  My Department
    “the tendency of team members to place higher priority on the team they lead than they place on the team they are a member of.  I call this the Team #1 Dilemma.”
    (p. 77)
  9. United Nations Syndrome or Congressional Syndrome
    “In essence, whenever push comes to shove, they compete with their teammates rather than collaborate with them.”  (p. 78)
  10. Scoreboard
    “every team should have a single, easy-to-read visual tool for assessing its success at any given point in time.”  (p. 79)

Week-9, three Chapters – Leaks, Off-Site Number Two, and Plowing On

In Leaks, Kathryn learns about details from the first off-site that should not be discussed outside the executive team.

In Off-Site Number Two, Kathryn forces the conversation to discuss — what is team #1 for you, this executive team or the team you are managing?

Kathryn encourages an open discussion and does not dodge the truths of people’s current beliefs.  But does hold the line (p. 138):  “Well, you don’t have to destroy it (the team you built and manage).  But you do have to be willing to make it secondary.  And for many of you, that might very well feel like abandonment”.

In Plowing On, Kathryn opens up with the simple question of “How are we doing?”.  Kathryn does NOT avoid conflict, but encourages an open and frank discussion after the issue of resource allocation is raised.

In Plowing On, the author (Lencioni) demonstrates a difficult conversation when team members do not hold back because “Fear of Conflict” and hold each other accountable to the team’s goal (established in chapter Application).  The team, through Kathryn’s facilitation skills, was able to come-up with  a revised resource allocation plan that all believed will increase sales to meet the team’s concrete, year-end goal.

Week-10, Chapters – Accountability, Individual Contributor, and The Talk

From Overcoming the FIVE Dysfunctions of a Team – A Field Guide

(p. 62) “most leaders I know have a far easier time holding people accountable for their results than they do for behavioral issues”

But not Kathryn and not in these three chapters, as Kathryn concludes Mikey “must go” after seeing her poor team attitude in chapter Accountability and the “develop-it in isolation” in chapter Individual Contributor.  Even though the product brochures produced were of excellent quality, Marketing (Mikey) did not seek input from Sales (Nick) or input from anybody else on the team.

Kathryn has the tough conversation with Mikey and states her concern — Mikey really does not want to be here.

Week-11, Chapters – Last Stand, Heavy Lifting, and Rally

Last Stand – Kathryn and Mikey discuss Mickey’s departure; Mikey did not leave without a fight, but Kathryn handled the situation very well.  Both the company (DecisionTech) and Mikey will be better off.

Lesson:  do not keep team players who are not actively trying to improve within the team; no matter how talented they might be.

Heavy Lifting – after a morning session, Kathryn asks the team how they feel about Mikey’s departure.  Kathryn hears out people’s concerns and explains why she fired Mikey — for the well being of the team.

Kathryn learned a hard lesson early in her career, but keeping a star perform who was hurting the rest of the team.  The team understood Kathryn’s motives after she opened up told her story.  All this help relieve the team’s fear of “who is next”.

Rally – the team had conflicts, but the right kind of conflicts.  Conflicts about the issues and did not cross the line with personal attacks.

In “Overcoming the FIVE Dysfunctions of a Team – A Field Guide”, Lencioni describes a session he does with teams that have some trust and experience with each other (TEE).  The session is designed to build accountability among the team.

Have everyone jot down two answers for each team member.

Question #1:  what is the single most important behavioral characteristic or quality demonstrated by this person that contributes to the team?

Question #2:  what is the single most important behavioral characteristic or quality demonstrated by this person that can sometimes derail the team?

Start the feedback sharing with the leader.

Week 12, final chapters of the story

The team is now a high functioning team, but we are warned to be vigilant about team dynamics and remind ourselves of the 5 dysfunctions of a team.

Week 13, The Model and Team Assessment

From “Overcoming the FIVE Dysfunctions of a Team – A Field Guide”, page 80
The key points about “Focusing on Results”.

  1. The true measure of a great team is it accomplishes the results it sets out to achieve.
  2. To avoid distractions, team members must prioritize the results of the team over individual or departmental needs.
  3. To stay focused, teams must publicly clarify their desired results and keep them visible.

Week 14, Understanding and Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions

A great summary of the model and you can read more in the companion book “Overcoming the FIVE Dysfunctions of a Team – A Field Guide”

This companion book has a chapter entitled “Obstacles To Avoid”.  In there is a key obstacle – “The leader isn’t truly committed to building teams”.  The leader MUST be or you have no chance of success.  But the write-up also points out that a leader might seem uninterested, but can be turned around if …

  1. The leader is skeptical (not cynical) about success of actually building functional teams.
  2. Does not want to admit that the team is dysfunctional because it may reflect poorly on her / him.

These can both be turned around, if the leader can start the process with good intentions.

Week 15, Final Thoughts

This book is well known.  It is a classic and for good reason.  No matter what framework you prescribe to — agile, scrum, lean start-up, kanban, waterfall — the outcome depends on teams working well together.  The better your team works together, the better the outcome for both the organization and individuals.

My only complaint is that the Fable sets the fictitious high-tech company, DecisionTech, in the location of Half Moon Bay, when Silicon Valley locations of Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Mountain View are within 50 miles.  However, I do heartily approve of the Napa Valley location for the off-site.