The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Small Business Lens on Patrick Lencioni’s Framework

Companies run on teamwork. That’s why performance measurement is such a fraught topic – it’s rare for an individual to legitimately take 100% credit for the work that was produced. From electrical contractors to engineering firms, from marketing agencies to retail stores, success is not merely a product of individual brilliance, but a collective effort orchestrated by a cohesive team. And most of the people working in those organizations have had a lot of exposure to teams. They played sports as kids, did team projects at school…isn’t it odd then, that we are so bad at the basics of teamwork? Enter Patrick Lencioni’s seminal work, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, a book that calls out the most common dysfunctions of teams, all teams, and prescribes the antidotes to address them.

Dysfunction 1: Lack of Trust

The bedrock of any successful team is trust. If we can’t consistently rely on our teammates to do their jobs, we waste time, money, and emotional energy that could otherwise be allocated to the work. Trust, however, isn’t merely a matter of placing faith in each other’s intentions, crossing our fingers, and hoping for the best. Trust is about vulnerability. In small businesses, trust manifests in the unwavering belief that each team member will own up to their mistakes and shortcomings without fear of retribution.

Imagine an electrical contractor where a team member mistakenly wires a circuit incorrectly, leading to a potential safety hazard. In a trusting environment, they feel empowered to openly acknowledge the error, enabling the team to rectify the issue swiftly and prevent future mishaps. Conversely, in a climate of mistrust, team members may resort to finger-pointing or covering up mistakes, worsening the problem and eroding team cohesion.

How to Build Trust

Bringing a new person into a team or having someone leave a team causes the team to change. A new team requires trust to be built again, and again, and again. Even teams that have worked together for decades often need to deepen trust. The following are some exercises that can be used to address a lack of trust in a team:

Exercise 1: Personal Histories Sharing

Objective: To foster understanding and empathy among team members by sharing personal stories.

How it works: Each team member takes turns sharing significant events or experiences from their lives, such as childhood memories, career milestones, or personal challenges. This exercise helps team members understand each other’s backgrounds, values, and motivations, laying the foundation for trust.

Exercise 2: Strengths and Weaknesses Mapping

Objective: To promote understanding and appreciation of each team member’s unique strengths and weaknesses.

How it works: Have each team member create a visual map of their strengths and weaknesses, highlighting areas where they excel and areas where they may need support. Encourage open discussion around these maps, allowing team members to share insights and help where needed. This exercise enhances trust by fostering empathy and collaboration among team members.

Exercise 3: Appreciation Circle

Objective: To foster a culture of gratitude and appreciation within the team.

How it works: Arrange team members in a circle and designate a starting point. Each team member takes turns expressing appreciation for another team member, highlighting specific actions or qualities they admire. Encourage sincerity and specificity in the feedback. This exercise builds trust by reinforcing positive interactions and acknowledging contributions within the team.

Dysfunction 2: Lack of Conflict

Contrary to popular belief, conflict isn’t the harbinger of chaos; it’s the catalyst for innovation and growth. In small businesses, healthy conflict fosters a diversity of perspectives, driving the collective toward the best solutions. However, this presupposes a team culture where conflict is viewed not as a personal attack but as a constructive means of achieving excellence.

Consider a brainstorming session within an engineering firm tasked with devising a new solution for optimizing energy efficiency. In an environment devoid of conflict, ideas may be watered down or dismissed prematurely to keep the (artificial) peace. Conversely, in a team where healthy conflict thrives, divergent viewpoints spark heated debates, ultimately culminating in a breakthrough innovation that propels the firm ahead of its competitors.

Embracing Conflict

With trust developed, it’s now time to get good at conflict. These are some exercises to help you along:

Exercise 1: Devil’s Advocate Debate

Objective: To encourage healthy debate and critical thinking by challenging prevailing assumptions or ideas.

How it works: Divide the team into two groups, with one group tasked with defending a particular viewpoint and the other group tasked with challenging it. Encourage teams to argue their points passionately while maintaining respect for opposing perspectives. This exercise helps teams embrace conflict as a means of uncovering innovative solutions.

Exercise 2: Role Reversal Scenario

Objective: To encourage perspective-taking and empathy in conflict situations.

How it works: Present a hypothetical conflict scenario relevant to the team’s work environment. Have team members roleplay different perspectives within the conflict, including those they may not naturally align with. This exercise challenges assumptions, encourages active listening, and fosters understanding of diverse viewpoints, ultimately leading to more constructive conflict resolution.

Exercise 3: Perspective Swap

Objective: To encourage empathy and understanding of different viewpoints during conflict.

How it works: Present a contentious topic or decision facing the team. Divide team members into pairs, assigning each pair a different perspective on the issue. Encourage partners to roleplay and articulate the rationale behind their assigned perspective, focusing on understanding rather than persuasion. Afterward, facilitate a group discussion where pairs share insights and reflections. This exercise broadens perspectives and promotes constructive dialogue amidst conflict.

Dysfunction 3: Lack of Commitment

Commitment isn’t merely about acquiescing to a decision; it’s about wholeheartedly embracing it, regardless of personal reservations. In small businesses, commitment is the fuel that propels projects from conception to fruition. Without it, initiatives languish in limbo, draining resources and dampening morale.

Picture a scenario where a marketing agency is tasked with launching a groundbreaking campaign for a new product. In a team imbued with commitment, each member aligns their individual efforts with the overarching goal, executing tasks with unwavering dedication. Conversely, in a team plagued by ambiguity and wavering commitment, deadlines are missed, deliverables fall short, and client satisfaction dwindles.

Cultivating Commitment

It’s tough for people to commit to an idea that they weren’t able to challenge and that they don’t believe their team will follow through on. But with trust and conflict handled, these exercises can help build the commitment muscle:

Exercise 1: Commitment Clarification

Objective: To ensure alignment and clarity around team goals and objectives.

How it works: Facilitate a discussion where team members articulate their understanding of the team’s goals, ensuring everyone is on the same page. Encourage individuals to identify any potential obstacles or concerns. This exercise helps reaffirm commitment and resolve any ambiguity or misunderstandings.

Exercise 2: Vision Crafting Workshop

Objective: To co-create a compelling vision that inspires commitment and alignment among team members.

How it works: Facilitate a collaborative workshop where team members envision the future state of the business or project. Encourage creativity and imagination as team members contribute ideas and aspirations. Consolidate these inputs into a shared vision statement that reflects the team’s collective aspirations and values. This exercise instills commitment by providing a shared purpose and direction for the team to rally around.

Exercise 3: Personal Mission Statement

Objective: To align individual values with team goals and foster a sense of personal commitment.

How it works: Ask each team member to craft a personal mission statement that reflects their values, passions, and professional aspirations. Encourage individuals to consider how their personal mission aligns with the team’s objectives and overarching vision. Share and discuss the mission statements within the team, identifying common themes and connections. This exercise strengthens commitment by highlighting the shared values that unite team members towards a common purpose.

Dysfunction 4: Lack of Accountability

If you weren’t able to say no, and you didn’t agree, it’s not surprising you don’t feel any accountability to the group. Accountability isn’t about assigning blame when things go awry; it’s about taking ownership of one’s actions and their impact on the team’s collective success. In small businesses, accountability ensures that promises made are promises kept, fostering a culture of reliability and integrity. Teams should reliably hit about 90% of their short-term commitments and 70% of their longer-term ones.

Imagine a scenario where an electrical contractor commits to completing a project within a specified time frame. In a team characterized by accountability, each member takes proactive measures to fulfill their responsibilities, promptly communicating any obstacles that may impede progress. Conversely, in a team where accountability is lacking, missed deadlines and subpar workmanship become the norm, tarnishing the firm’s reputation and eroding client trust.

Promoting Accountability

How can you increase accountability on your team? Here are some ideas:

Exercise 1: Mutual Accountability Agreements

Objective: To establish clear expectations and commitments among team members.

How it works: Collaboratively create a document outlining each team member’s roles, responsibilities, and expectations. Encourage team members to hold each other mutually accountable for fulfilling these commitments and achieving shared goals. Regularly revisit and update the agreements to adapt to changing circumstances. This exercise promotes a culture of accountability and transparency within the team.

Exercise 2: Feedback Exchange Circle

Objective: To cultivate a culture of constructive feedback and accountability within the team.

How it works: Arrange team members in a circle and designate a starting point. Each team member takes turns providing constructive feedback to the person on their right, focusing on specific behaviors or actions relevant to their roles. Encourage a balance of praise and constructive criticism, emphasizing actionable steps for improvement. This exercise builds trust and accountability by normalizing feedback exchange and continuous improvement.

Exercise 3: Goal Setting Accountability Partners

Objective: To increase accountability and support for achieving individual and team goals.

How it works: Pair team members together as accountability partners, ensuring each member has someone to hold them responsible for their goals. Encourage partners to meet regularly to review progress, provide feedback, and offer support. Facilitate open communication and goal adjustment as needed. This exercise fosters a sense of mutual accountability and encourages proactive goal management within the team.

Dysfunction 5: Inattention to Results

At the summit of teamwork lies results, the ultimate litmus test of a team’s effectiveness. In small businesses, results aren’t merely measured in terms of profitability but also in customer satisfaction, innovation, and employee engagement. Without a relentless focus on results, teams risk losing sight of their overarching purpose, succumbing to complacency or internal strife.

Consider a scenario where a small business, be it an engineering firm or a marketing agency, strives to outshine its competitors through superior quality and innovation. In a team laser-focused on results, each member channels their collective efforts towards achieving tangible outcomes, be it surpassing revenue targets or garnering accolades from satisfied clients. Conversely, in a team where results take a backseat to individual agendas or ego clashes, stagnation ensues, and the business flounders in a sea of mediocrity.

Focusing on Results

Exercise 1: SMART Goal Setting

Objective: To establish specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) goals that drive team performance.

How it works: Facilitate a brainstorming session where the team identifies overarching goals and breaks them down into actionable objectives. Encourage team members to ensure each goal meets the SMART criteria and is aligned with the team’s vision and priorities. Assign ownership and establish timelines for achieving each goal. This exercise ensures clarity and focus, driving the team towards tangible results.

Exercise 2: Progress Visualization Board

Objective: To track and celebrate incremental progress towards team goals.

How it works: Create a visual board or digital dashboard where team members can track key metrics, milestones, and accomplishments related to their goals. Regularly update the board during team meetings or huddles, highlighting progress made and identifying areas for improvement. Encourage team members to celebrate achievements collectively and brainstorm strategies to overcome challenges. This exercise reinforces a results-oriented mindset and fosters a sense of shared accountability for achieving outcomes.

Exercise 3: Future Casting Workshop

Objective: To visualize and articulate future success scenarios for the team.

How it works: Facilitate a brainstorming session where team members envision their ideal future state, focusing on tangible outcomes and achievements. Encourage creativity and detail as team members describe what success looks like for the team, both short-term and long-term. Capture and document these visions, identifying common themes and priorities. This exercise ignites motivation and focus by painting a vivid picture of the team’s desired results and aspirations.

Leading Team Excellence

In building excellent teams, there are two roles to consider – that of Team Member and that of Team Leader. It’s no surprise that Lencioni has written books on these topics as well, The Ideal Team Player, and The Five Temptations of a CEO. In our experience, it is the Leader more than anyone that sets the tone and charts the way for all other team members to behave. Show me a strong leader and I’ll show you a strong team, fortified by trust, fueled by healthy conflict, propelled by commitment, anchored in accountability, and guided by a relentless pursuit of results.

Instead of just mitigating dysfunction, a strong leader cultivates a team culture where collaboration thrives, innovation flourishes, and success becomes not just a destination but a way of life.

Written By:
Tara Landes

Tara Landes is the Founder and President of Bellrock. She has spent over 20 years consulting and training in small to medium-sized enterprises. A sought-after speaker on a wide range of business topics, Tara has delivered workshops and seminars at conferences and industry associations across Canada. Tara obtained a BA (Honours) in Political Science from the University of Western Ontario (UWO) and earned an MBA from UWO's Richard Ivey School of Business.

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