Book Review: The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

Rick Eitzen Reviews The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni (Jossey-Bass, 2002).

Team Meeting

In The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni suggests the biggest issue upon which any organization (corporation, NPO, charity, sports, church plant) will succeed or fail is the executive team. An organization can have the best talent, product, financial standing and board of directors but if the staff team is dysfunctional, the organization will flounder. He has identified five dysfunctions that plague teams:

  1. Absence of Trust – Trust and vulnerability are the foundation of any team. Inability to be genuinely open with one another about our mistakes and weaknesses make it impossible to build a foundation for trust.
  2. Fear of Conflict – Teams that lack trust are incapable of engaging in unfiltered, passionate debate and instead resort to veiled discussions and guarded comments
  3. Lack of Commitment – Teams that can’t air opinions and debate passionately won’t buy in or commit to decisions, even though they may feign agreement during meetings.
  4. Avoidance of Accountability – Teams that can’t commit to a clear course of action hesitate to call each other out on counterproductive behaviours.
  5. Inattention to Results – Without accountability, team members will put their individual needs (ego, career development, recognition) or needs of their departments/congregations/small groups above the collective goals of the team.

The following are the opposite or positive attributes that make teams great. I have included at least one area under each that could be explored personally or as a church planting or church leadership team.

Trust – vulnerability-based trust is countercultural. Most organizations encourage competition among peers which wastes large amounts of time and energy managing behaviours and interactions within the group. Competitive instincts must be turned off for the good of a team. Learn to speak the truth in love without excuses.
Explore: Discuss one another’s weaknesses and support each other in them

Good Conflict – All great relationships require productive conflict to grow. Great teams engage in spirited ideological (not interpersonal) conflict to produce the best possible solution in the shortest period of time. Meetings should be more exciting than movies!
Avoiding ideological conflict in order to avoid hurting others’ feelings or tension results in back channel personal attacks.

Explore: Watch for topics raised often. These may indicate avoidance of conflict. Also, remember that process by which we arrive at a decision together is more important than the decision itself.

Commitment – Commitment is a function of clarity and buy-in. Great teams make clear and timely decisions and move forward with complete buy-in from every member of the team, even those who voted against the decision. They leave meetings confident that no one on the team is quietly harbouring doubts about whether to support the actions agreed upon. Consensus is not required for buy-in; reasonable people don’t have to get their own way in order to support a decision but only need to know that their opinions have been heard and considered. Don’t bypass the Conflict or Commitment processes for the sake of time or agenda. It will save time and energy down the road.

Explore: One useful tool is called Cascading Messaging. It’s the discipline of ending meetings by reviewing key decisions made and agreeing on what needs to be communicated to whom about those decisions. It gets everyone on the same page moving forward.

Accountability – Once a team has developed clear goals/decisions and committed to them, they can and must call each other on their behaviours and actions. This can be uncomfortable. We often overlook poor performance because we don’t want to impact personal relationship but the consequence is resentment. We’d rather pretend we’re getting along and accept mediocre results than to respect each other and have high standards for each other’s performance. Nothing motivates like the fear of letting down respected teammates. The leader can cause an accountability vacuum with self as only source of discipline. Problems arise when we assume the leader is holding everyone accountable and don’t say anything when we see something not right.

Explore: How we can better hold each other accountable and not defer to the lead pastor as the only source of discipline?

Collective Goals – The ultimate dysfunction of a team is the tendency of members to care about something other than the collective goals of the group. An unrelenting focus on specific objectives and clearly defined outcomes is a requirement for any team that judges itself on performance. The collective results of the team must be more important to each individual than individual member’s goals. Commit publicly to specific results to generate passionate, even desperate desire to achieve those results (not “we’ll do our best”).

As Lencioni says on page 148, “I want all of you challenging each other about what you were doing, how you were spending your time and whether you’re making enough progress.” As strongly as we feel about our own people and as wonderful as that is for them, it simply cannot come in the expense of the loyalty and commitment to our leadership team.

Explore: What would 2 year church goals look like? Which individual goals would contribute? How would your congregation accomplish these things together?

And here’s a final note of warning from Lencioni on page 217:

Team Status – For members of some teams, merely being a part of the group is enough to keep them satisfied. For them, the achievement of specific results might be desirable, but not necessarily worthy of great sacrifice or inconvenience. As ridiculous and dangerous as this might seem, plenty of teams fall prey to the lure of status. These often include altruistic nonprofit organizations that come to believe that the nobility of their mission is enough to justify their satisfaction.

Rick Eitzen
Southside Community Church, Surrey, BC.

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