QUICK HITS – The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable


The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable

Patrick Lencioni

In this leadership fable, Lencioni outlines five common dysfunctions that teams face:

  1. Absence of Trust
  2. Fear of Conflict
  3. Lack of Commitment
  4. Avoidance of Accountability
  5. Inattention to Results

Below is a summary of Lencioni’s five dysfunctions as well as ways to overcome them.

Absence of Trust:

In this case, trust is defined as “the confidence among team members that their peers’ intentions are good, and that there is not reason to be protective or careful around the group…teammates must get comfortable being vulnerable with one another.

  • To overcome this: Trust requires “shared experiences over time, multiple instances of follow-through and credibility, and an in-depth understanding of the unique attributes of team members.” To speed up this process, teams can utilize different strategies, a couple of which are listed below.
    • Take time to learn about the personal histories of each team member such as siblings, hobbies, former team experiences, etc. This will help encourage greater empathy and understanding in the future.
    • Have team members identify the most important contribution each of the other members makes to the team (can add in the one area they must improve upon or eliminate for the best interest of the team). All players then report their responses, focusing on one person at a time, usually starting with the team leader.

Role of the leader: build trust by demonstrating genuine vulnerability first. Create an environment that does not punish vulnerability.

Fear of Conflict 

Fear of conflict is natural, but great relationships require productive conflict. When teams avoid ideological conflict, they often do so to avoid hurting teammates’ feelings, which can lead to tension. This tension can fuel talking behind backs, resentment, and can escalate problems.

  • To overcome this: teams must first acknowledge that conflict is productive and that the natural tendency is to avoid it.
    • Someone must be willing to bring to light the buried disagreements within the team. This tricky situation requires a degree of objectivity and commitment to staying with the conflict until it is resolved.
    • As people retreat from confrontation, remind them that talking through the problem is healthy and necessary. This can help give team members the confidence to continue the discussion.

Role of the leader: most leaders have an inclination to want to shelter people from harm, potentially stopping conflict too early. It is important to allow the conflict to be discussed and to let the resolution occur naturally. When engaging in conflict as a leader, be sure to do so in a healthy and constructive way.

Lack of Commitment

Commitment comes from clarity and buy-in. Two causes of lack of commitment are the desire for consensus and the need for certainty. Great teams understand that buy-in does not require everyone to completely agree, rather everyone must feel that their opinion has been considered. Additionally, great teams can unite behind decisions and commit to one even if there is not complete assurance. “decision is better than no decision.”

  • To overcome this: teams must maximize clarity and achieve buy-in
    • Clarify messages and decisions at the end of meetings/practices, to help everyone stay on the same page
    • Have deadlines and follow through on them

Role of the leader: be comfortable making decisions, knowing that it may be the wrong decision. Bring closure to the group when faced with issues, and keep to deadlines.

Avoidance of Accountability

In this sense, accountability refers to the willingness of team members to call their peers on performance or behaviors that might hurt the team. Some close-knit teams find themselves hesitating to hold peers accountable for fear of damaging personal relationships. However, this can cause resentment due to peers not living up to expectations.

  • To overcome this: 
    • Publicly display team goals, what the needs to achieve, who needs to do what, and the team culture that is require to achieve these goals
    • Have simple and regular meetings to check in and give feedback
    • Provide awards for “team” goals, not just for individual achievements

Role of the leader: allow the team itself to be a mechanism for instilling accountability, don’t try to do it alone. A culture of accountability must be created, not a situation where only the leader can hold someone accountable.

Inattention to Results

If team members are focusing on something other than the collective goals of the group, such as individual status, dysfunction can occur. Great teams must have an unrelenting focus on specific objectives and clearly defined outcomes.

  • To overcome this: provide clear results and reward the behaviors that contribute to those results.

Role of the leader: set the tone for a focus on results. If a leader is valuing other goals, such as personal stats in a game, others will think that it is okay to do so. Be selfless and objective, reserve rewards and recognition for those who make contributions to the achievement of group goals.


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