The five dysfunctions of a team
Business, teamwork

The five dysfunctions of a team

When it comes to creating a healthy organisation, leadership teams must work incredibly well together, and in nearly all cases, they don’t. Instead, they each carve out a path to their vision of the organisation in isolation, and combat different departments into seeing things their way.

Business author Patrick Lencioni, says the way great organisations succeed is to overcome the five common dysfunctions of a team, illustrated beautifully in his book, which we thought we’d flesh out here.

Lack of trust

The first dysfunction of a team is the absence of trust. Without trust you simply can’t get anything done. To really introduce trust, everyone must feel safe enough to be vulnerable. This is never easy, but in leadership roles, it requires real work and courage. Can you admit areas you don’t understand very well? Can you own up to a mistake you’ve made? Do you really put in the effort required to get something done? Most people in leadership roles have their guards up, but only when we’re truely vulnerable do we overcome the most basic step in becoming a world class team – trust.

What happens in most teams is we pretend to be invulnerable, and this is the real barrier holding us back. We think by being strong, by showing no signs of weakness, that moves us forward, but the truth is the opposite. Ask yourself if you really feel you trust your team, and if they trust you. Would you trust them enough to tell other leaders that you’re afraid?

Without trust, we simply cannot overcome the next dysfunction.

Fear of conflict

Conflict is not bad, in-fact it’s very necessary in teams who want to perform well together and move organisations in the right direction. What happens when we can’t argue something out, is we create the worst situation possible – an environment of artificial harmony.

When you have leaders pretending to be nice to one another, but behind the scenes, there is constant undermining and back talking, it is the manifestation that your leadership team simply can’t have an honest conversation with one another. We’ve talked at length about radical candor here before, but if your leaders are afraid to go toe to toe over an important issue, behaviour will enter an awful place.

Ask yourself, do your leadership teams actively hash out problems, or do they play a political game of trying to influence from the edges. If so, you might have a fear of conflict on your hands, which needs to be addressed.

This is why we need trust first. When we have trust, we can have really passionate conversations, trying to flesh out the truth about something. Great teams actively seek out conflict so they can make the best decisions possible.

Lack of commitments

When teams don’t have real honest conflict, they often don’t commit to the decisions they make. They miss deadlines, and nobody cares. They sit in a passive state, creating a state of ambiguity.

What is the marketing team committing to delivering this week? Oh, it’s hard to know. They don’t really have commitments.

Imagine if someone feels they haven’t really weighed into a decision about how the marketing department should work. If they don’t weigh in because they are afraid of the conflict that conversation might bring, then any commitment they make will be halfhearted. Only when everyone really thrashes something out, can they buy into a decision 100%. That’s why teams who don’t commit to things 100% will always struggle.

Great teams really force clarity on particular commitments. If you find it difficult to set commitments, one method is to use a goal setting framework called OKRs, which we’ve talked about a lot before.

Avoidance of Accountability

The fourth dysfunction of a team is by far the most common. When people don’t make real commitments to things, they will avoid holding each other accountable about performance, behaviour and outcomes. What this ends up with is a team that accepts low standards by default.

Great teams have the wisdom and the courage to confront difficult topics like a team not delivering against objectives. Which brings us to the last and pointy end of the pyramid.

Inattention to results

If we’re going to focus on results, then we really have to do a lot of work to get there. We have to trust everyone on the team, we have to be brave enough to have conflict and chime in on important issues. We then have to really commit 100% to the path we decide is best moving forward, and hold people accountable to those results.

And that gets us to achieve true, collective results.


One way to unleash the potential of your team is to help them uncover the things that are slowing them down. OHNO helps with that. Try it for yourself and unlock performance like never before.

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