How to Fix the Five Dysfunctions of a Team

30 July 2021 by Shweta Jhajharia

As part of our business growth services at Growth Idea, we help businesses to reach their next level by evaluating a number of different leadership areas. One such factor we pay particular attention to however is team management – and more specifically, team dynamics.

It’s been said that “You can’t touch the sky without getting dirt on your hands” and when it comes to employees, this rings true. Unhealthy patterns in dynamics can cascade down an organisation causing all sorts of effects from time-management problems to high turnover rates.

To address this, author Patrick Lencioni modelled the five dysfunctions of a team in his book of the same name. His identified five dysfunctions are useful when helping to build stronger teams that are collaborative, productive and overall, harmonious.


What are the five team dysfunctions described by Lencioni?

In his book, Patrick Lencioni stated that there were five basic dysfunctions that teams struggle with, which ultimately lead to conflict, confusion and negative morale.

They are:

1.   Absence of Trust

Trust lies at the heart of any successful team. But remarkably the root cause of lack of trust is usually down to team members feeling they are unable to be open or vulnerable with one another. This could be because they (correctly or incorrectly) feel other team members are unapproachable, or they struggle overall with asking for help.

If there is lack of trust in a business environment, the environment will eventually become a drain on energy and time because team members will adopt defensive behaviour and fail to communicate or assist one another, dampening productivity.

2.   Avoidance of accountability

If in a team setting a member says, “I don’t care what we do as long as I get my paycheck at the end of the week” This is a key indicator that accountability may be falling short. Usually this will be because team members are not committed to a project and thus lack any feelings of responsibility for the project’s success or failure.

Teams are only as strong as their members and a lack of commitment to a project means that it will be difficult for the team to hold each other accountable. That then leads the overall organisation down an endless spiral in which one member’s failure leads them and their teammates astray from success.

3.   Fear based cultures

Teams that lack trust also cultivate fear in their dynamics, because team members actively go out of their way to avoid conflict in fear of retribution.

This culture then transforms into what’s known as an artificial harmony – where teams falsify that everything is fine on the surface and tiptoe around each other, whilst being inwardly unhappy and ducking out of important conversations and debates that are vital to driving a project forward.

We’ve spoken before about how conflict in teams is not necessarily a bad thing, and how sometimes it’s actually necessary to motivate team members and drive results. So once a team begins to lack that healthy conflict, you can bet that results will stagnate too: Something else that will worsen the overall atmosphere.

4.   Lack of commitment

As mentioned, it’s decidedly not easy to make good decisions without conflict. Without team members buying into decisions, the environment becomes one of ambiguity with no clear direction for success.

This lack of direction and inability to buy in leads to a distinct lack of care and commitment from employees. After all, why should they enter into something if it’s not clear what they’re entering into? This breeds apathy, leads to dreaded sentences like “It’s not my problem” and completely derails team harmony and project progression.

5.   Lack of focus on results

Teams only become results-oriented when all members are working to place the team’s success first. If individuals within the team aren’t then held accountable or held to responsibility, it can be very easy for team members to prioritise their own results, rather than those of the team.

This leads to a breakdown in team harmony and an overall lack of progression or drive to complete the project to meet set results targets.

Improving team performance doesn’t need to be a daunting task. Use our six strategies to make it easier.


How do you fix the 5 dysfunctions of a team?

If left unidentified and unresolved, these dysfunctions can have significantly detrimental effects on organisations as a whole.

Thankfully however, no matter the shape or size of the organisation there are ways in which to fix and unify unharmonious teams. Using the five dysfunctions of a team as a guideline, team leaders and senior staff members can deploy different strategies to turn each dysfunction functional.

Below are some ways to approach the different areas.

1.   No trust? Build some

It may sound like a case of easier said than done, but building trust between team members can be done at no painstaking cost.

Lack of trust comes when team members feel that they cannot be open or vulnerable with each other, and the primary way to change this is to promote communication.

Unlock the key to effective communication.

Communication is vital to drive a team’s success. If team members feel that they can communicate with one another without judgement or blame, it removes the air of ambiguity that makes members distrustful of one another’s motives, intentions and true feelings.

2.   Create a culture of accountability

Too often, new or inexperienced managers fail to implement accountability because they fear it coming across as either a reprimand or criticism that could be demeaning to employee morale.

Accountability is neither of those things: It is simply a case of delivering on a commitment and a responsibility to an outcome. Once managers can frame the definition in such a way that employees understand that accountability is not a trap to deliver consequence, accountability becomes much easier as employees will willingly step up to the plate and take ownership of their roles and responsibilities.

Two great methods to build a culture of accountability include:

  • Demonstrating connection: Showing how an employee, or team’s, work connects with the bigger picture, such as driving the goals of the organisation or boosting team objectives around them can engage employees to own and deliver on their slice of the pie.
  • Setting expectations: When outlining expectations managers need to ensure that goals are both measurable and achievable. For example, a manager telling the team that they need to increase their leads is too generalised and provides no identifiable end-goal. Whereas a manager saying “we need to increase our leads by 250 by the end of this month” gives teams an achievable end-point to work toward.

3.   Show the bigger picture to cement good team culture

A strong team is composed of individuals who are focused on a greater cause than themselves. A compelling purpose can make or break any group, so it’s important for leaders to clearly articulate how the members will contribute and why they belong in the first place.

The most crucial part of this process though is each member knowing that they have something valuable to offer, and it’s a team leader’s duty to regularly emphasise this.

A good way for leaders to keep this vision at the forefront of all decision-making is to find ways in which it can be reinforced through words or actions, such as by telling stories about past successes or bringing up future goals on occasion.

4.   Encourage commitment

Encouraging commitment amongst teams is all about removing ambiguity about direction and goals, and promoting healthy conflict, discussion and trust.

One easy way to promote commitment is to show team members how valued they are. The key to retaining great employees is making them feel as if their contributions are valuable, and you can show your team members how much you value the work they do by considering it a contribution to both their careers and organisational goals.

Further, you can clarify everybody’s roles and responsibilities so that everyone knows exactly who is working on what, removing any uncertainty about role clashes or unbalanced workload.

Nurturing corporate entrepreneurship can be one way to cement commitment. Read more about how to implement it here.

5.   Foster a results orientated environment

Implementing a results orientated approach isn’t easy, but the outcome of the approach can be one that is capable of boosting productivity, improving employee morale, and creating high levels of collaboration, cooperation and communication.

To switch teams into results-orientated thinking, team leaders need to effectively communicate the results that the team are working towards, be transparent in how they expect to achieve those results and then provide tools that allow for the measurement of progress toward end-goals and objectives.


Want to bolster your team leadership?

At Growth Idea our Business Growth Services for companies within the construction industry uses cutting edge management strategies, the latest tools and best in class consultants to fast track building your business into a successful asset with long-term value. To find out more about which strategies would be suitable to gel your team together and grow your business, request a free consultation with us here.


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Shweta Jhajharia

Shweta Jhajharia is one of the leading authorities on Business Value Building and the creator of the unique 6M Model. Shweta is widely respected as an impactful, intelligent and results orientated professional who helps business leaders unleash their potential to reach meaningful, higher objectives. This realisation of potential and maximisation... Read more