“The Five Dysfunctions of a Team”

In order for any educational institution to run effectively, teamwork needs to be of the utmost importance. One way to study teamwork is to look at what the characteristics of a dysfunctional team are. In other words, what prevents a team from functioning as it is intended too? Patrick Lencioni, a management scholar, wrote a book titled The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, in which he effectively lays out the five reasons teams fail.

Why does team dysfunction matter?

An organization that doesn’t function as a team cannot provide a quality service.  In a child care setting, if two team teachers cannot work cooperatively as teammates, they will fail to provide quality programming for the children in their class.  Dysfunctional teams make for dysfunctional workplaces. Dysfunctional workplaces cause stress, create negative conflict, and decrease work satisfaction.

What are the five dysfunctions of a team?

Absence of Trust:

Lencioni Definition: “The fear of being vulnerable with team members prevents the building of trust within the team.”

This is the fear of trusting one’s teammates. This can be caused from numerous things, including but not limited too: negative past experiences with the team, fear of looking unintelligent, or an unwillingness to share due to a teammate being gossipy.

Fear of Conflict:

Lencioni Definition: “The desire to preserve artificial harmony satisfies the occurrence of productive ideological conflict.”

Conflict is often thought of as negative, but it isn’t always. In-fact, positive conflict is necessary for a team.  Negative conflict can be defined as any conflict that doesn’t produce a positive outcome (yelling, fighting, demeaning, etc.) Positive conflict is any conflict that produces positive outcomes (debating respectfully, voicing differing viewpoints, and  offering varying perspectives to force one’s colleagues to think differently).  Fear of conflict refers to fear of positive conflict. This is the result of a lack of trust between teammates.

Lack of commitment:

Lencioni Definition: “The lack of clarity or buy-in prevents team members from making decisions they will stick to.”

Decision making is difficult, but it needs to be done.  When a team is committed to its values and its members, then it has a large ownership stake.  Commitment by all team members is needed for a team to function effectively.

Avoidance of Accountability:

Lencioni Definition: “The need to avoid interpersonal discomfort prevents team members from holding one another accountable for their behaviors or performance.”

When a team lacks trust, fears conflict, and is not committed to team goals and values, then individual team members will inevitably avoid accountability. It is natural to not take accountability for one’s actions if they don’t really feel a strong connection to the team.

Inattention to Results:

Lencioni Definition: The pursuit of individual goals and personal status erodes the focus on collective success.”

In other words, when an team of individuals begins to care more about individual results than team outcomes, it ceases to function as a team.  A team can only have one goal, and that is to succeeds as a team.  Too much focus on individual results hinders a teams ability to focus on TEAM goals.

The Pyramid Effect of the Five Dysfunctions

Patrick Lencioni displays the five dysfunctions in a pyramid format.  Absence of trust is the base, and inattention to results is the apex. Each layer of pyramid builds on the layer below.  In essence, absence of trust leads to fear of conflict, which results in lack of commitment, fostering avoidance for accountability, which displays itself as inattention to results.

What does a functional team look like?

A functional team pyramid can be seen below. Again, it should be noted that each layer is essential to the layer above and below it. As you can see a functional team is the opposite of the a dysfunctional team!


Questions to Ponder:

  • What dysfunctions are plaguing your center’s team?
  • How will you fix to mend those dysfunctions?
  • What are some teamwork exercises you can do with your colleagues to improve team functionality?

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