Book Review

Team Dysfunction


The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni. Jossey-Bass, 1st edition, 2002; 240 pages, hardcover; ISBN-10: 0787960756, ISBN-13: 978-0787960759; $16.47 at Amazon.com

Reviewed by Gary Waldron

It has been said that a group is a bunch of people standing in an elevator; a team is a bunch of people standing in an elevator but the elevator is broken. Teams exist to accomplish tasks; however, all too often it is the tasks themselves that are the focus and not the building of highly effective dynamic teams. When tasks become the primary focus and not the development of the team, people become burned out, overworked and feel underappreciated.

A significant shift must occur in leaders if they are to guide an organization to greater levels of kingdom effectiveness. That shift is from doing work to building a dynamic team that gets the work done. In essence, all leadership is team leadership. A prime minister does not lead a country; he leads a cabinet of ministers who through their departments lead the country. A chief executive officer does not lead a corporation; he leads a team of vice-presidents who oversee various departments. A pastor does not lead a large congregation; he leads a team of ministry heads who lead through their ministries.

The ability to lead a highly effective team distinguishes growing vibrant churches and ministries from ones that start out well but plateau and eventually stagnate. Church research has shown that pastors who see themselves as doing most of the work of the church can lead a church of about 150-200 maximum. It will take all their time and effort to prepare regular sermons, keep up the building, carry out administrative tasks, visit people in the hospital, lead a small group, plan outreaches and all the other things that a congregation expects of them. This is why the majority of churches never grow beyond that number. However, if pastors see themselves in a role of building and equipping a dynamic team of leaders, the potential for growth, expansion and vitality is endless.

In The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni tells a fable about an upstart high-tech company that is well funded, well staffed and has a great product, but they have failed to prosper and increase their market share. They bring in a new CEO from outside the industry, and her first job is to get them to see that the problem is not with the product or their work goals but with how the team is currently operating. She makes it her primary job to develop the team. This is met with a great deal of skepticism on the part of the team members who do not see their own dysfunction and at first criticize her priorities and tactics. The new CEO begins by taking the team to an offsite retreat and their interactions there expose the five dysfunctions.

Dysfunction #1: The Absence of Trust

High performing teams develop between themselves the ability to trust each other at deep levels. They not only trust that each other will tell the truth, they trust that they can be vulnerable with each other without reprisal. Members of this kind of team know each other well and take the time to build strong relationships. They know each other beyond the office and care about each other in a broader sense. They know that they can trust the other team members with who they are. When making decisions they can give their honest feedback. When mistakes are made or deadlines missed, they can be honest about why and invite the team to forgive and examine how the situation can be changed next time. Individuals in teams with a high level of trust do not need to hide or pose in the group; rather they can genuinely be who they are. It takes a commitment on the part of the team leader to foster a culture of honesty and vulnerability and to value the team relationships above all other priorities.

Dysfunction #2: Fear of Conflict

In the name of unity, Christian organizations and their teams can often justify what is truly a fear of conflict. Surface politeness can mask deep differences that never get aired and ultimately lead to serious fractures on the team. Teams that trust each other are not afraid to enter into spirited debate over issues that are critical to success. They can disagree about issues without attacking people. These kinds of teammates can seize an issue or decision and question it from all sides and allow for unfiltered discussion. This kind of team values the collective wisdom of all of its members and believes that when anyone holds back their opinions the entire team suffers. In order to foster a culture of positive conflict, the leader should facilitate a time where debate and conflict norms are discussed and agreed to. While conflict might be uncomfortable at times, lively passionate debates around critical issues helps to ensure that the team is making the best decisions possible.

Dysfunction #3: Lack of Commitment

When there is a high level of trust and positive conflict present in a team, it leads to a high degree of buy-in from the team members. Team members do not need to be on board with a decision one hundred percent, but they acknowledge the process, have had their honest input, and can commit to doing their part to see that the goals are achieved. Team members on dysfunctional teams will give a half-hearted nod to the imposed team goals and then either give a token effort towards achieving them or may even sabotage the team through backstabbing, gossip or lack of effort. A high performing team will have team members who will go above and beyond what is expected to see that the team goals are met, and the entire team will share the credit.

Dysfunction #4: Avoidance of Accountability

Teams that commit to group decisions that require interdependence of effort to achieve are not afraid to hold each other accountable for performance. These teams map out mile stones and deadlines and are free to check up on each other as to how the work is coming along. Team members who fall behind for some unforeseen circumstance or are not able to meet projected deadlines are free to ask for help from other teammates. Some who may have finished earlier that expected can offer their time to assist the others. There is a great deal of mutuality in that this is “our” goal, not just “my” goal, and all are accountable to pitch in and help even beyond doing their own part. A team that practices appropriate accountability does not look to the leader to keep everyone on track; rather teammates go directly to their peers.

Dysfunction #5: Inattention to Results

Teams that have a high level of trust, engage in appropriate conflict, commit to following through on group decisions and hold one another accountable set aside their individual agendas and that of their departments to see that the team goals are met. The collective results of the team are their focus, and they prioritize their activities accordingly. Teams exist to accomplish tasks. The leader and the team need to know exactly what it is the team exists for and develop measurable results. When team goals are fuzzy and tasks are ambiguous, the team will falter. Clear results will allow the team to celebrate their successes and build towards the next challenge.

After writing The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, author Patrick Lencioni was inundated with requests to help overcome them. In a companion book, Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions of a Team, he gives suggestions and tools for how to address each of these areas and move a team towards greater relational health and work productivity.

When a leader places his or her primary focus on the development of the team everyone wins. The result is a team that becomes a healing, nurturing community where every person is viewed as a whole person (not just a human resource). The team then takes responsibility to see that every person is operating in their giftedness and from their strengths for the good of the entire team. A high level of trust creates a positive atmosphere where people can genuinely bring the best of themselves to the team and not hide or try to create a false impression. Teams like this accomplish extraordinary results and will attract other motivated individuals to join them. It takes a visionary leader with a calling and vision from God that is beyond what they can accomplish on their own to commit to making team building a priority.

Image credit: china by 俊玮 戴, on Flickr

Gary Waldron

Gary Waldron, PhD is the director of the Faith Leadership Initiative and has been involved in China service for 22 years. He may be contacted at gwaldron@faithleadership.net. View Full Bio