The Five Dysfunctions of a Team
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable, by Patrick Lencioni is a quick read that illustrates five dysfunctions which happen in teams (imagine that) in the form of a story. The first three fourths of the book tell the story of a highly resourced technology company with a highly skilled executive team that is under-performing. Through the course of the story, you discover that the executive team is highly dysfunctional (imagine that), and then some solutions to their dysfuntionality are revealed. The final quarter of the book describes the five dysfunctions, how they’re intertwined, and gives specific exercises and practices which can help move teams to function.
Overall, I found the book an enjoyable and helpful read.
I had heard positive things about the book, but wasn’t particularly interested initially, due to its fable structure. In the past, I haven’t enjoyed the fable section of other leadership books that used this technique. Much to my surprise, the narrative in this book actually drew me in.
The simplistic story about a new CEO working out the dysfunctions of the executive team is strangely endearing. While each character is a stereotype, they’re also realistic. Each of the people reminded me of either a person I’ve known, or a circumstance I’ve been in.
Of course, most importantly, the narrative is insightful. The situations seem familiar, and the solutions seem realistic. While the narrative eventually gets a bit contrived, it’s all for the purpose of making the point clear.
What I appreciated most about the description of the five dysfunctions is that it’s made clear that the five are intertwined. Each piece must be in place, or the other four start to falter.
Finally, I appreciated that the book offered very specific applications for how to resolve each of the dysfunctions. The activities/practices listed even included an estimated length of time required. While it didn’t necessarily give detailed instructions, it gave multiple suggestions for each area.
While I did enjoy the narrative, the actual explanation of the dysfunctions is surprisingly brief. The book is only about 230 pages, and the practical descriptions don’t start until page 185. I enjoyed everything that is in the book, but I wanted more in the last quarter. What you get is a quick description of the dysfunctions, a quick description of how they relate, and a list of practical solutions. There’s no deeper exploration.
Normally in my reviews, I would discuss the “Ugly” parts of the book next, but there really wasn’t anything which struck me as “ugly” in this book. So, let’s do a more positive replacement.
MOST HELPFUL QUOTE
“Certainty. Great teams also pride themselves on being able to unite behind decisions and commit to clear courses of action even when there is little assurance about whether the decision is correct. That’s because they understand the old military axiom that a decision is better than no decision. They also realize that it is better to make a decision boldly and be wrong—and then change direction with equal boldness—than it is to waffle.
Contrast this with the behavior of dysfunctional teams that try to hedge their bets and delay important decisions until they have enough data to feel certain that they are making the right decision. As prudent as this might seem, it is dangerous because of the paralysis and lack of confidence it breeds within a team. It is important to remember that conflict underlies the willingness to commit without perfect information. In many cases, teams have all the information they need, but it resides within the hearts and minds of the team itself and must be extracted through unfiltered debate. Only when everyone has put their opinions and perspectives on the table can the team confidently commit to a decision knowing that it has tapped into the collective wisdom of the entire group.” PAGES 207-208
My nature inclines me to be highly analytical. I drift towards over-researching options. I want certainty. Then, when it comes to working with people, I want to build consensus. At the same time, I can see how these tendencies have stunted my decision making and my leadership on many occasions. Without certainty or consensus, I can become paralyzed looking at the options.
The reality is that sometimes there is no right answer, and sometimes people just disagree. What I need to understand is that that is okay; I have to move forward anyway.
Overall, this is an insightful and quick read. If you work with teams of people, this book will likely give you some helpful advice on how to keep the team healthy. However, don’t expect an in-depth study of team dynamics. The book truly is primarily “A Leadership Fable,” but it’s a fable I recommend you read.