Lencioni’s Five Dysfunctions of a Team

by Kayla Crum on Mar 21, 2024

As a leader, it can be tough to guide a struggling team from average to outstanding. If you aren’t seeing the business outcomes you need or are constantly dealing with personnel issues, it can start to feel like there is no way forward.

In situations like this, it can be helpful to use an outside framework to examine your team dynamic with fresh eyes. Many books and articles have been written on the topic of teamwork, but one of the most widely referenced texts is Patrick Lencioni’s 2002 book “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.”

With millions of copies wielding influence in organizations across the world, “Five Dysfunctions” might be just the tool you need to zero in on to help your team improve. In brief, here are the five dysfunctions covered in the book.

1. Absence of trust

The first and most severe dysfunction Lencioni lists is an absence of trust. Without trust, a team isn’t as productive and has less growth potential. In teams that lack trust, you might observe behaviors like resource and idea hoarding, which prevents the team as a whole from achieving success.

Another indicator of a lack of trust is a lengthy timeline on projects. When team members are slow to share their thoughts, decision-making moves at glacial pace, frustrating everyone involved and resulting in lower output. Additionally, with so much energy spent on protecting oneself and possibly undermining others, less energy is available to put toward group goals.

2. Fear of conflict

The second of Lencioni’s five dysfunctions is a fear of conflict. On the best teams, productive conflict is a powerful tool that can turn a good idea into a great one as team members bring their varied perspectives to the group.

However, a team that is afraid of conflict cannot achieve their full potential. In meetings, team members can reflexively defer to superiors or outspoken peers. Decisions are rarely questioned outright, even if valid concerns exist. Instead, gossip blooms in the office behind closed doors.

3. Lack of commitment

Lencioni’s third dysfunction is a lack of commitment to the team. When this dysfunction is present, individual team members often don’t feel heard or valued, which leads to apathy.

Signs of a lack of commitment may include an inability to make a decision until it’s clear that it will succeed, over-attention to activities like file organization or digital decluttering in order to avoid productive work, or missed opportunities due to delays.

4. Avoidance of team accountability

Dysfunctional teams may also struggle with an avoidance of accountability. While this includes a lack of repercussions for inappropriate behavior, it also references an unwillingness to hold a high standard for one another in an effort to succeed as a team.

Behaviors related to this dysfunction manifest in a refusal to admit to a knowledge deficit, a lack of follow-up on assigned responsibilities, and big deadlines or projects that fail as a result of one or more people’s inability to admit a mistake.

5. Inattention to team objectives

The fifth and final of Lencioni’s dysfunctions is inattention to team objectives. This can mean poor focus on team goals, but it can also mean intense focus on goals that don’t serve the team as a whole.

Teams with this issue are often image-conscious, focused more on the appearance of success than innovation or long-term achievement. Leaders will see this dysfunction reflected in poor profit margins and a high turnover rate as people leave for individual pursuits or because the group was too dysfunctional for their liking.

What are the solutions?

If you recognized some of your team’s behaviors in Lencioni’s five dysfunctions, it’s time to take action. Knowing the nature of the problem is a good place to start, but it isn’t enough to effect lasting change.

Here at Teamalytics, we have spent three decades working with high-level leaders and their teams on dysfunctions just like these. We offer proprietary tools and analytics that use science to pinpoint team hotspots such as the ones above. Our Teamalytics 360 includes behaviors that point to one’s ability to build trust, along with some behaviors that are known to erode trust.  We also have measures that correlate strongly with conflict, accountability, and commitment, helping individuals and teams identify risks and map out a plan to mitigate those very risks.

If your team is struggling with any of the dysfunctions described above, download our free guide: “Building A-Teams: Balancing Results and Relationships for Long-Term Success”. It can help you take the first steps towards a healthy, successful future.