Book Notes – The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

What do you do when your team is falling apart?

We all know that in most cases you can accomplish more as a team than as an individual. But what happens when the “teamwork” part erodes away and all you have left is a group of individuals masquerading as a team?  How do you diagnose the problem and go about it curing it?  A book I recently read does a great job of helping to answer those questions.

Book Notes - The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

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A Faltering Startup

The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni was an enjoyable and engaging read about what it takes for a team to be successful.  The book tells the story of a fictitious tech startup, DecisionTech.  After a promising start two years ago, the company is fraught with problems.  Critical deadlines were starting to slip, several key people abruptly left the company, and morale was plummeting.  Something had to be done.

To stop the bleeding, the board fires the CEO and hires, Katheryn, an outsider, to step in.   The story line follows her actions from the first days on the job, to turning her stalled executive team around.

Through the story of Katheryn’s experiences, Lencioni is able to explain what he sees as the five dysfunctions of a team.  I found it interesting and engaging to see the many stumbling blocks that Lencioni throws in her way.  It was fun to consider what I would do under those circumstances, and then see how he has Kathryn handle them.

My purpose here is not to repeat those five dysfunctions and analyze them – Lencioni does an excellent job of those himself.  But what I do want to do is highlight a key point he makes through the story, even before we start learning about dysfunctions.

A Do-Nothing Leader?

In her first two weeks as CEO, Kathryn does…almost nothing.  Aside from attending a welcome reception, she makes no formal decisions, convenes no special meetings, and in fact doesn’t even lead the regular meetings she does attend – she asks the former CEO to continue to run them while she observes.

“It wasn’t that Kathryn did anything controversial or misplaced.
It was that she did almost nothing at all.”

Instead, during this time, she walks the halls and talks with as many employees as she can.  She silently observes as many meetings as she can find time for.  And she interviews her direct reports.

Of course we can rightly suspect that what she was doing as an outsider was trying to understand the environment she would be working in, the function and processes of the company, and the people in it.

While Lencioni doesn’t return to this approach later in the book, what Kathryn does is fundamental to her ability to lead her team from dysfunction to achievement.

The Temptation to Answer…

When we find ourselves entering into a leadership position, we have a natural desire to immediately assert our authority, make an impact, and somehow demonstrate our worthiness to lead.  But it is risky to act boldly if you do not understand the environment.

What is harder, but smarter, is to have enough confidence to resist making decisions before you really know what is going on.  It is far better to begin by asking questions than dispensing answers.

The best place to begin is with questions, not answers. Click To Tweet

There are lots of good reasons why this approach can be more effective, not the least of which is that the more you ask, the more answers you will get, and the more you will learn about the people providing them.

Because Kathryn has the courage and confidence in herself to wait and learn before acting, the chances that her decisions will be good ones are far higher.

It’s a good prescription for us all.

Good leaders ask good questions. Click To Tweet

Tools to Help Leaders

Another thing I liked about The Five Dysfunctions was its structure.  It begins by telling the story of Kathryn’s struggles and how she identified and overcame the five team dysfunctions. Lencioni follows up by adding some helpful tools at the end of the book so we can apply his framework to our own situations.

First there’s a 15-question assessment tool you can use to sort out where your team might be stuck.  Then he adds a section that breaks down each dysfunction, outlines its symptoms, and provides several suggestions for overcoming them.  Importantly, those sections also include discussion about the leader’s role in the process.

It’s one thing to be able to dissect and analyze.  Far better is having an understanding of what to do about it when the analysis is complete.  This book is a big help in that direction.

The Five Dysfunctions – The Takeaway

Overall, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team was an excellent read and well worth the time for any leader.  It provides an ideal of what effective team interaction looks like, as well as a powerful framework to evaluate your own team, and take steps to reach that ideal.

And, having read it, I imagine you might even spend some time thinking about your own team, and how it might stack up against this list of dysfunctions.

My challenge to you would be this:  why not go a step further and actually use the tools, find out where your team falls, and then develop a plan to improve?

Lead On!

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About the Author: Ken Downer
Ken Downer - Founder RapidStart Leadership

Ken served for 26 years in the Infantry, retiring as a Colonel.  From leading patrols in the Korean DMZ, to parachuting into the jungles of Panama, to commanding a remote outpost on the Iran-Iraq border, he has learned a lot about leadership, and has a passion for sharing that knowledge with others.  Look for his weekly posts, check out his online courses, subscribe below, or simply connect, he loves to talk about this stuff.

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