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The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. A novel
By Patrick Lencioni
review by Riccardo Paterni

This is a readable and enjoyable management book. The novel format makes it easy to relate to the ideas and practices featured; the relevant model introduced by Lencioni at the end of the novel in order to solve team dysfunctions (and we are mainly talking about executive level teams) is simple to understand and straightforward to implement. Most of all the books gets you to think more in depth about your own work experiences, slow down your action-reaction-action mindset, and properly focus upon the impact of your own behavior and other people behavior upon group dynamics and executive decisions.

The five dysfuntions of an executive team and their sources...
The five dysfunctions are step by step unfolded within the plot of the novel and they are set in a pyramid shaped model featuring (from bottom to top): 1) absence of TRUST; 2) fear of CONFLICT; 3) lack of COMMITMENT; 4) avoidance of ACCOUNTABILITY; 5) inattention to RESULTS.
All of these dysfunctions are linked one to another in terms of causes and effects; the sources of each one of them pointed out by Lencioni are quite insightful: 1) the absence of TRUST is generated by team members’ need to to show a sense of INVULNERABILITY; in other words, each team member wants, first of all, to affirm his/her own strengths making sure not to show the own weaknesses, and this creates group and individual dynamics that are bound to fuel a lack of trust; 2) the fear of CONFLICT is generated by the need to create within the group a sense of artificial ARMONY in order to avoid uncomfortable tensions; it is to note that all of this is artificial because there are tensions within team members and these tensions are bound to surface in a powerful and disruptive way if not properly managed out in the open (the novel is quite convincing on this issue); 3) the previous two dysfunctions are bound to create a context of AMBIGUITY which is the cause of a lack of actual COMMITMENT to ideas and actions that the group develops both at the team and at the individual level; 4) this sense of ambiguity lowers the performance STANDARDS utilized by the group to drive and focus their actions and this makes group members avoid real ACCOUNTABILITY on choices and actions taken both at the group and at the individual level; 5) all of this strengthens the focus of each team member toward his/her own STATUS and EGO pushing aside the key issue to pay more attention to actual RESULTS relevant for the company.

Big egos and their “deflating” effects...
The model Lencioni articulates to prevent and manage the team dysfunctions is straightforwad and based upon a common sense practical approach to step by step tackle each issue; it all begins with acknowledging their presence and I think this is the toughest part of it all. This because of a key barrier to recognize the presence of such dysfunctions: big individual egos. The bigger they are the stronger the dysfunctions within the team; the novel shows this over and over. Big egos are the source of organizational politics focusing more on individual status and power than the actual achievement of group and organizational results. Big egos lower the individual perception of other team members’ contribution, or potential for contribution, to teamwork and therefore directly affect the way an organization fully values and utilizes its own resources. Often this is why team (and organizational) results are lacking. Eventually an extended period of lack of results leads to an ego “deflating” effect; too often too little, too late, for both the individual and the organization.

At the same time egos are important to fuel the proper amount of energy, vision and passion to an organizational endeavor, they just need to be managed (and self managed) properly and timely. An organizational solution to the issue is to make everybody (executive room included) accountable to organizational values and the all essential relevant behaviors to support them. This values based behavioral approach essentially supports Lencioni’s model to prevent and solve team dysfunctions.

We have introduced this approach a few weeks ago - see interactive link - (“INSIDE BRANDING. The values and behaviors based approach to truly engage the entire organization") and we will continue to articulate it within these pages soon.

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