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A Review by Dirk Davis
on June 5, 2006
Lencioni begins the discussion concerning overcoming the five dysfunctions of a team by asking two questions that should be asked BEFORE any team building effort:
1. Are we really a team?
2. Are we ready for heavy lifting?
His definition of a team, "a relatively small number of people...that shares common goals as well as the rewards and responsibilities for achieving them" seems logical enough, but what I really liked was his overall attitude. He seemed to suggest that if your group isn't a team, well that's OK too, but regardless, be clear about who and what you are. The heavy lifting reference simply means that building a team, similar to any marriage or other worthwhile relationship, takes a considerable investment in time and emotional energy.
Dysfunction #1 is the absence of trust, so building trust is the key to overcoming this first dysfunction. Lencioni's definition of trust in one where vulnerability is paramount thus beginning to trust starts with showing vulnerability, usually by telling some personal history story that includes some important challenge that was overcome during childhood. The reasoning for this is based on something called the fundamental attribution error. Simply stated, this is the tendency to attribute (falsely) the negative behavior of others to their character while attributing our own negative behavior to the environment. In other words, I do bad things because of the situation I've been placed in, while you do bad things because you are a bad person. This personal story exercise helps individuals to understand each other at a more fundamental level by showing how each person became the individual that they are, at least in some small way. Lencioni's second exercise deals with behavior profiling (he recommends the MBTI for various reasons) in order to "give team members an objective, reliable means for understanding and describing one another" (p. 25). This is designed to facilitate individuals' discussion of strengths/weaknesses, and begin to make it "safe" at least in terms of constructive feedback.
Dysfunction #2 is fear of conflict and overcoming this fear, while admittedly uncomfortable at times, is essential in order to maximize a team's effectiveness. Lencioni argues that inevitability of discomfort is no reason to avoid conflict and goes on to describe a sort of conflict continuum where the ideal conflict point lies directly midway between artificial harmony and mean-spirited personal attacks. In order to engage in productive conflict, he advocates conflict profiling (MBTI and/or Thomas-Kilmann Instrument). This is important in order to understand all team members' comfort levels and viewpoints regarding conflict. Conflict norms among teams must be discussed, negotiated, and made clear and available. Lastly, there are times when an effective leader must "mine" for that productive conflict among respective team members especially if individuals are avoiding necessary, progressive conflict.
Dysfunction #3 is lack commitment and is best overcome by gaining buy-in and achieving clarity. Buy-in is not to be confused with consensus, and in fact, true commitment is about getting buy-in when all the team members don't agree. Clarity allows members to benefit from their commitment by removing assumptions and the accompanying frustrations. Lencioni discusses two techniques to best overcome this third dysfunction called commitment clarification and cascading communication. Commitment clarification deals with leaders asking: What exactly have we decided here today? This ensures that everyone leaves a meeting with the same impressions. Cascading communication demands that team members communicate these same impressions to the rest of the staff within 24 hours, again ensuring that everyone is on the same page.
Dysfunciton #4 is the avoidance of accountability. Lencioni argues that accountability is the willingness of team members to remind each other when they are not living up to whatever standards have been agreed upon by the group. This not only involves the leader, but peer-to-peer accountability is integral as well. Interestingly, most leaders are willing to hold team members accountable for results, but not so much for behavioral issues. When this filters down to the team members, and they become reticent to hold others accountable for their behavior, the result seems to be a lack of respect. Lencioni's team effectiveness exercise seems to be an effective method for beginning to hold others accountable by openly discussing each person's (including the leader) most important quality that contributes to or derails the strength of the team.
Dysfunction #5 is the inattention to results. Lencioni suggests that self-preservation and self-interest make this a difficult handicap to overcome. The key lies in keeping the results where members of the team can see them at all times, i.e. a visible scoreboard of some sort. How should these results be measured? It doesn't really matter, as long as the team has one or two items that they can consistently focus on and rally around. Distractions include egos, career advancement, and departmental priorities. Key points for negating this dysfunction are avoiding the distractions, and staying focused on clear, visible results.
Lencioni also goes into depth regarding many common questions, and obstacles to avoid. Additionally, he includes a host of exercises, schedules, definitions, and references that can be tailored to facilitate the team building process in any organization. I found that this book offers specific, practical guidance toward team building that any novice should be able to understand. Additionally, the tools, assessments and examples provided a clear picture of a roadmap to overcoming the five dysfunctions of a team. In short, an easy read, full of practical ideas and examples that bring the points home.