Elaheh Nazari

Posted on 15th October 2020

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: the highlights

news-paper Management | News |

There are always internal problems in every organization which might look hard to solve, but understanding them and finding solutions for them can develop internal teams’ satisfaction and make them work better.


  1. The absence of trust: When members of a team do not trust each other, they do not open up and share ideas. Trust is the foundation of teamwork. A team with trust embraces personal disclosure.  The leader demonstrates vulnerability first and leads by example to build trust in your team and have each member answer a short list of questions about themselves to share with the group.
  2. Fear of conflict: It creates artificial harmony. The team says things to please everyone or chooses not to engage at all. Functional teams need healthy debates. A team should not confuse productive conflict which is a healthy open debate that keeps everyone participating and engaged with destructive fighting and interpersonal politics. To help your team overcome their fear of conflict explain why conflict is important and don’t allow team members to retreat from conflict. Remember you must have a foundation of trust in your team first to overcome the fear of conflict.
  3. Lack of commitment: People are unsure about the team’s direction and priorities. To prevent this have everyone on your team weigh in on decisions and commit to the final one. A committed team creates clarity around directions and priorities. Another solution is to always set clear deadlines. This prevents ambiguity.
  4. Avoidance of accountability: This leads to low standards in the workplace. Dysfunctional teams have members unwilling to call out others on their behavior and poor work performance. A team that holds each other accountable pushes with respect. It does not punish. Consider resolving the problem of avoiding accountability with team rewards. Shift rewards away from individual performance to team achievement.
  5. Inattention to results: This is the ultimate dysfunction when a team is inattentive there is unnecessary focus on personal status and ego. Members put their individual needs such as career development or recognition above the needs of the collective. A team that directs attention to results understands that if a team loses, everyone loses. An attentive team adopts a set of common goals and makes collective decisions on a daily basis towards them. Overcome inattention to results by publicly declaring them. The leader needs to set the tone to focus on these results. 
team problem solving

How to overcome dysfunctions

Building Trust

“The key ingredient to building trust is not time. It is courage.”

Have members answer a set of questions about themselves. It’s better to be on a personal basis and experiences, so team members can relate to one another and see each other as human beings and start understanding each other better.

When members have some trust to each other ask them “to identify the most important contribution that each of their peers makes to the team and one area that they must improve or eliminate for the good of the team.” then they should talk about each peer one at the time. The results will be useful and positive information with little tension.

Other experiences that can help with building trust are using personality and behavioral profiling, 360-degree feedback, and experiential team exercises. But the leader of the team should show vulnerability so others would take the risk, and vulnerability won’t be punished.

Encouraging Conflict

First, the team should acknowledge conflicts as something productive. The leader should establish conflicts as welcoming.

“Real-time permission: when a leader sees her people engaging in disagreement during a meeting, even over something relatively innocuous, she should do something that may seem counterintuitive but is remarkably helpful: interrupt. That’s right. Just as people are beginning to challenge one another, she should stop them for a moment to remind them that what they are doing is good.”

Explain what a healthy conflict is. Members should discuss everything, and nothing should be left behind. Leaders should make it clear what expectations they have and what are the guidelines.

It can be better if you make everyone give their opinions and interpret silence as disagreement. As different people with different characteristics have different attitudes toward conflicts, and they can be used in making the final conclusion.

Making Commitment

Cascading messaging: at the end of team meetings, the key decisions should be reviewed and agreement reached on what should be communicated with other teams. So all members ensure they are on the same page about the main decisions.

Deadlines: Just define clear deadlines especially for major decisions and milestones. And respect them.

Contingency and Worst-case scenario analysis: when a team has a problem with commitment, it is better to analyze possible outcomes or even worst-case scenarios for the decision they are trying to make,  so they become aware of the costs of what will happen next and take actions accordingly.

The leader should be ready if the decisions go wrong and he should push the group to closure around issues. He should not think of certainty or consensus too highly.


It’s better to use a few simple effective management tools.

Open publication of Goals, who’s in charge of which part and the standards needed so no one will be able to ignore them. Also, let members give feedback on each other’s performance. But this feedback should have a clear structure to avoid negativity. Shift rewards from individuals to teams. This way the team members will not keep quiet if someone does wrong, because who doesn’t like rewards? Members try to do everything so their members become accountable after some time.

Focus on Results

If you show results publicly, teams will deliberately become more passionate about succeeding in the projects and try purposefully. Also, reward only those actions that contribute to objectives and results. Don’t change things because someone wants to win a promotion.

“The leader must set the tone for a focus on results. If the team members sense that the leader values anything other than results, they will take that as permission to do the same.”

In any of these situations, leaders have a critical role, and they should encourage everyone to unite and develop.


The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable, Patrick Lencioni, John Wiley & Sons, 2010

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