5 lessons on dysfunctional teams for People Leaders

April 13th, 8:40 am

The following is an overview of the work of organisational health expert Patrick Lencioni and the ideas raised in his book ‘The Five Dysfunctions of a Team - A Leadership Fable’.

So what can you do if your team is dysfunctional or toxic? Here are five lessons on what a people leader can do to help their team find success.

Dysfunction #1 Absence of trust

What are the leading causes of interpersonal and relationship dysfunctions? It's been proved that those who have low trust in others will be the first to criticise them. Leaders must be able to build trust and build their team.

Trust is established by seeking advice, listening, being an advisor and not viewing others as enemies. However, having a team full of negativity won't allow you to engage with them. For leaders to be able to create a caring and positive work environment and also to tackle organisational dysfunctions, they need to build relationships and form teams. It's like saying, ‘I'm okay with you, and I know I can be vulnerable and I'm still going to be okay’.

Read more on why team building experiences help organizations

What can you do?

Lead by example The biggest and easiest way to show your team you care is to lead by example. Everyone needs someone to lean on and vent to. This might be hard but, for example, when things aren't going well in the team, you could say, ‘I'm struggling with X and I need support in the form of Y.’ People will need to feel comfortable to share information and challenges. Also, you need to make sure you treat everyone as equals, and ensure everyone is given the same amount of autonomy, respect and opportunity. If you do not have that, they will not feel secure.

Dysfunction #2 Fear of conflict

The first problem is that teams are fear of conflict, says Lencioni. They think that problems will be 'discovered', and all will be lost. 'Those fears have been created over generations – by generations of people leaders who wanted to maintain control and generate profits,' he says.

So, when people agree or avoid committing because to do so would create conflict, the result is that productivity is stifled.

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What can you do?

The opportunity here is to empower your team to succeed and encourage open communication, demand that everyone weighs into a decision and shares their opinion and as a leader. Remember to present your opinion last, because when leaders go first, team members often just follow suit rather than say what they really think.

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Dysfunction #3 Lack of commitment

Your best effort doesn't get the result that you want. Your team members lack the commitment to see their job through. They're either overworked, overstressed, under-appreciated or feel unappreciated. Ultimately, they're just not dedicated. This is when people agree on the surface but don't really commit to a decision. Robust discussion and solid, clear decision-making processes will help the team support commitment.

What can you do?

The lack of clarity or buy in prevents team members from making decisions that they will stick to. Communicate clearly what you expect. When everyone is heard and views are respected, transparent decisions are more easily reached.

Read more about building a strong team.

Dysfunction #4 Avoiding accountability

The best and most high performing teams are where individuals hold one another to account. The team won’t function well if people are avoiding having difficult and upfront conversations. It starts with you as a people leader. Your team must see you leading the charge, catching that red flag early, not letting things go.

What can you do?

The first thing you need to do is find out what your people are avoiding because it's uncomfortable. We need to confront difficult issues, knowing that when built on a foundation of trust, commitment and clarity, holding each other accountable will help everyone and the overall good of the team.

Dysfunction #5 Inattention to results

Inattention to results is one of the most common dysfunctional team states. People want to feel like they're making a difference. This is reflected in the use of an "instrumental" approach to team performance. When people feel like their contribution is driving a positive outcome, they don't feel like they are a cog in the wheel, but a driver of change. It’s natural for people to put their own needs first. But when they’re too busy pursuing their own objectives, the team doesn’t get what it needs to succeed.

What can you do?

By now you should be able to see how each of these dysfunctions builds on the previous one. As the people leader, you need to be clear about collective goals and the importance of results. Make sure you talk about them, measure them, acknowledge and reward members for working towards them.

According to Lencioni, these five basic dysfunctions that teams commonly struggle with are the cause of confusion, misunderstanding, negative morale and can impact entire organisations. Remember, they’re all connected and the key is to start by building a strong foundation of trust.

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