// 14 mins read
I finished a book recently that may help your team become more successful.
Our CEO, Kenny, suggested that I read “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team,” a 2002 novel by Patrick Lencioni. Kenny said he likes the fable style that Lencioni uses to teach business lessons, and this is a perfect example.
Kenny did not mention that the foundational lesson taught in this novel is trust in one’s team.
Some backstory: Although last year I read the classics “War and Peace,” “Moby Dick,” and “Don Quixote,” I’d never read a business book in my life. That has certainly changed.
Maybe my interests changed because Kenny challenged me. Earlier this year, I made a career switch from a newspaper editor to a content strategist.
As an editor, I called most of my shots. As a strategist at TSE, I find myself collaborating and seeking feedback more often. While the processes look somewhat different, the products have improved because I trust my team.
Open to becoming a better teammate? Read further!
Note: While reading through, think of the team dysfunctions in five layers, just like the infamous food pyramid, starting at the bottom. Additionally, each dysfunction has an outlier that works in relation to the problem.
1. Absence of Trust
“Absence of Trust” is the foundation of any dysfunctional team. Ground zero. ‘Invulnerability’ is its related outlier. I think ‘untouchable’ when I think of ‘invulnerable.’
People who manage to stay invulnerable either have fake friends, no friends, a fake family, no family, etc. Real family and friends need more from us. They need to speak to us. They need constant care and feedback.
The message may be that people do not look at their coworkers with enough care. But imagine if you did. What would change? Would your workplace improve? Your job? Motivation?
And I’m not just talking about care for your coworker, but also your boss. What if your boss was someone you cared about on a more human level than you currently do? Of course, they need to treat you like a human, with care and respect, as well.
It’s a two-way street, this trust thing. If your team isn’t practicing it, good luck remaining successful.
2. Fear of Conflict
It makes sense that “Fear of Conflict” is layered on top of the Absence of Trust. The outlier to this one is ‘Artificial Harmony.’
At TSE, we practice Radical Candor when it comes to giving and receiving feedback. Feedback is a form of conflict. But without it, a team’s work suffers greatly.
Running is also a form of conflict. The body is in conflict with gravity. But likely your body will look and feel better for putting yourself through it. Same with our work!
Conflict is healthy, even though it’s probably going to be uncomfortable. Practice is the only way to make it less uncomfortable. Real harmony exists when your team trusts that it won’t hurt to invoke opposition. If it hurts, we must be considerate enough to soften the blow for one another.
I know that sounds nice and all, and the truth is that you may be scared to death to tell your teammates how you really feel. That is why before your workplace culture learns to embrace fear, leadership must exhibit a conscious effort to promote and practice a feedback culture.
If we don’t fear conflict, we don’t fear mistakes. But more on that soon.
3. Lack of Commitment
“Lack of Commitment” is such a logical layer on top of the last one. The outlier of this issue is ‘Ambiguity.’
Ultimately, a team is going to have to make a decision. That’s what we do all day, and not just at the office. We get over our fear of conflict, and we make decisions.
Here is the key message. And this goes beyond the workplace, i.e., family, America, etc. Once a conflict is initiated, the dissenting teammates have to be willing to support the team’s decision 100% (because of trust).
We learn much from our successes, but we also need to understand that we learn from our mistakes as well. It’s not a cliché. As soon as possible, we acknowledge a mistake so that we minimize loss and right the ship as a team.
It’s extremely important to be heard. Say all of it, in fact. The sooner you do, the less desperate you’ll become. Share your voice in your meetings. If the team moves in a different direction, commit to everything anyway.
If mistakes are made, take a few deep breaths and let it go. It happened for a reason. Revise your plan as a team, and stick to it. You’ll be fine!
4. Avoidance of Accountability
We’re getting closer to the tip of the iceberg. The fourth dysfunction of a team is “Avoidance of Accountability.” The outlier of this layer is easy: ‘Low Standards.’
The easier it becomes for teammates to pass the buck, the worse. You probably witnessed this at a gig in college, but even CEOs can avoid accountability. This calls the former television series Mad Men to mind.
The leaders of the advertising agency in Mad Men are often too busy with other priorities than work. This leads them to many problems over time: losing clients, employees, mergers, etc. (Going out on a limb here, but they might not have made it as far as they did in real life.)
One solution is setting clear guidelines in meetings. Make sure you are practicing trust, embracing conflict, growing your team’s commitment, and now making sure everyone knows what is expected of them. Make it impossible to slack.
My further suggestion, whether you’re in a position of management or not, is to ask yourself if you are committed to your team’s success or are you apathetic. Write it down. Share your thoughts with someone you trust. Do some honest soul searching.
5. Inattention to Results
“Inattention to Results” is at the tip-top of this rather unfortunate triangle. The outlier is ‘Status and Ego.’
Without saying a bunch of previously said things about ego and even prestige, I’ll simply add that our work speaks for itself. And it speaks much more clearly than just about anything. A common trap people fall into includes fantasy and delusions.
Now, if you are happy in your delusional state, then by all means, go forth. However, if you are miserable in a delusion, your inattention to results in your work and perhaps life is only the tip of the iceberg. (And you may honestly need to seek help.)
Our careers are a part of us. Everyone is different, though, and the level of personal interest in our work varies. So maybe I ask managers and business leaders, particularly: “Are you really paying attention to your company?”
You should! Suggestion: understand and hold firmly to your company’s vision.
Our values at TSE can be summed up in an acronym: “BAIT.” Better. Adventurous. Impactful. Together. We often discuss as a team how important it is for us to leave our mark on the world. Do we want to be remembered as producers of mediocre writing and design?
NO! We want to crush it, not only for our clients but for ourselves and the world around us. This leads me into our mission, which is to “Challenge common thinking to create an uncommon future.”
Stephen Colbert tweeted in 2011: “Some people say journalism is like peeling layers of an onion, but I just deep-fry it till it blooms.” In other words, just like the inside of an onion could make us cry, suffering businesses are alike.
The “Five Dysfunctions of a Team” calls to mind a business that is rotten from the core. If the absence of trust is the core of a dysfunctioning team, the outer layers are fear of conflict, lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability, and inattention to results.
The model for success is dire but also essential. The novel challenges company executives to pay attention, be proactive, live their values, and consistently gauge the morale of clients and employees to achieve success.
I suggest reading it for yourself. Not only is it a fun story, but Lencioni offers a non-fiction workshop section near the end for putting the lessons to use in your business.