Isaac Yuen's Reviews > The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni
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Aug 01, 14

bookshelves: non-fiction

Usually books about leadership, teamwork, and organizational culture bore me to death, but this one is different; I finished it in around two hours, and it was an interesting read all the way through. As the description notes, Lencioni crafts a fictional but realistic story around a high-tech Silicon Valley startup in crisis: although they have better technology, expertise, and initial investments, in recent months they have been rapidly ceding their advantage to competitors. A new CEO renowned for her experience in building teams is brought in to shake things up; the story revolves around her dealings with the various personalities within the company and her attempts to steer the company around.

The five dysfunctions of a team outlined in this book are quite simple, and their results are also outlined:

1.) Absence of trust LEADS TO need for invulnerability
2.) Fear of conflict LEADS TO fear of conflict
3.) Lack of commitment LEADS TO ambiguity
4.) Avoidance of accountability LEADS TO low standards
5.) Inattention to results LEADS TO individual status and ego over the team

I’m not going to go into too much detail here; read the book. Many of us have seen and been part of touchy feely team-building exercises. Chances are they work for a little while, and then we settle back into our old habits. Lencioni even admits that "while there are certainly some benefits derived from rigorous and creative outdoor activities involving collective support and cooperation, those benefits do not always translate directly to the working world.

But he contends that it is teamwork - not finance, not strategy, not technology - that is the ultimate competitive advantage, because it is at once so powerful and so rare. So it’s worthwhile to focus on building one properly if you have a group of highly skilled people who have to constantly work together. (This emphasis on teambuilding might not be relevant for short term “hot groups” that are just put together for short durations to get a task done and then disbanded afterwards).

This storytelling approach works wonders for material that might otherwise be too fluffy or abstract; I was under the impression that it was a bunch of short fictional examples to depict specific concepts, but I was pleasantly surprised at the long continuous tale. Its uninterrupted length gives the reader an opportunity to relate to the various characters within the story, and keeps him/her engaged throughout. Indeed, I immediately began to associate those fictional characters to past team members in the real world: the insufferable know-it-all, the socially inept and tactless, the genius introverts, the awesome dude that fills whatever role that needs doing to get the job done. They’re all here.

On a personal level, I also recognized my own personal dysfunctions in team situations, and will seek to work on them in the future. Two examples:

1.) On many teams, I just want to get my stuff done, without regard for the performance of the overall team. Putting the individual ego aside is tough to do without someone holding you accountable.
2.) I actively avoid interpersonal conflict, even when it would be prudent and constructive to engage in it. It’s a character flaw.

In summary, I highly recommend the book. It’s a super easy read, simple but engaging (a difficult thing to pull off), and very relevant if you spend any time slogging it out with a group of individuals instead of working as a team. I’m sure we’ve all been there.
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