Skip to main content

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

By Patrick Lencioni

Jossey-Bass, 229 pages, $33.50

When Teams Work Best

By Frank LaFasto and Carl Larson

Sage, 221 pages, $46.95

Which team in your company is the most dysfunctional? Most likely it's your top team -- the senior managers who guide the firm, and preach collaboration and teamwork.

Frank LaFasto and Carl Larson have studied hundreds of teams in the past two decades and have found that when assessed on their ability to work collaboratively, nearly all of the executive management teams fell near the bottom of the heap.

And that's not unexpected, they say: Senior managers are experts who are often difficult to challenge, making the give and take of collaboration harder to attain. They get to the top because of their strong will and a healthy belief in their own abilities, but this may make them quick to put other people down and slow to offer the support or display the vulnerability that helps to build teams.

Patrick Lencioni illustrates the problems -- and a corrective path -- in The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, a fable in which a new CEO is brought into a high-tech firm to work with the senior executives because of her team-building prowess. The five interlinked dysfunctions the book highlights are:

Absence of trust, which stems from an unwillingness to be vulnerable in a group. "Team members who are not genuinely open with one another about their mistakes and weaknesses make it impossible to build a foundation of trust," the author notes.

Fear of conflict: Teams that lack trust are incapable of engaging in passionate debate of ideas. Instead, they resort to veiled discussions and guarded comments.

Lack of commitment: Without an opportunity to air their opinions in open debate, team members are unlikely to buy into the decisions, although they may feign agreement during meetings.

Avoidance of accountability: As they're not totally committed to the plan, the team members will hesitate to call their peers on actions and behaviours that seem counterproductive to the team's efforts.

Inattention to results: This occurs because of that lack of accountability and also because the members put their own individual needs such as ego, career development and recognition above the collective goals of the group.

To overcome that, team members must start building trust with one another. They must learn that conflict in meetings over ideas is vital.

After a thorough debate, team members must commit to decisions and plans of action, and hold each other accountable for delivering against those plans. And they must focus on achievement of collective goals, which for a senior management team includes putting their connection to that team and its members above their commitment to the members of their own departmental teams.

The book outlines those ideas and offers suggestions about how to implement them. Since it's a fable, the model obviously works well, but it might be helpful with your own team.

When Teams Work Best uses results from interviews with more than 6,000 team members to highlight five crucial dynamics of a team:

Team members must have sufficient experience to do the job well and the necessary problem-solving skills to overcome obstacles.

Team relationships: Team members must be capable of giving and receiving feedback.

Team Problem-Solving: The team must be clear and focused in its goals, have a relaxed, informal, fun atmosphere, and maintain open communication.

The team leader must be focused on a goal, ensure a collaborative climate, build confidence, demonstrate sufficient technical know-how, set priorities, and manage performance.

The organization surrounding the team must have management practices that set direction, align effort, and deliver results; structure and processes that ensure the best decisions are made as quickly as possible by the right people; and systems that drive behaviour toward desired results.

The book offers a thorough explanation of each of those elements, with lots of practical examples and specific tools to improve your team. It's a rich book that can serve as an encyclopedia for a team in distress, but it lacks the clarity, focus and inspiration of Mr. Lencioni's book. Harvey Schachter is a freelance writer based in Battersea, Ont.

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe