Five dysfunctions of a team

A non-performing team is not a team

Deliver with each iteration a done piece of meaningful work and collaborate as a team. If you do only these two things and forget about all the concepts and procedures we like to talk about in the agile world, you already have made a good part of the agile journey.

Teams deliver – the better the team, the better the performance. We can not think about a team without thinking about performance. Some people being nice to each other and chatting around at the coffee corner does not mean they are a team. They may only be a group of people sharing the same coffee machine but not sharing their goals and rewards.

Good teams find solutions. All, really all of our agile concepts and procedures do not work if they are not backed up by a functioning team.

Patrick Lencioni provides with his „Five Dysfunctions of a Team“ [Lencioni 2002:188] a model to understand how team dysfunctions will build on one another with worsening effects from layer to layer.

Figure: The five dysfunctions of a team

See how the dysfunctions will typically be masked by a team in the below table.

How a team will typically mask dysfunctions.
LayerDysfunctionBehavioral pattern
1Absence of trustUnwilling to be vulnerable within the group
2Fear of conflictSeeking artificial harmony over a constructive passionate debate
3Lack of commitmentFeigning buy-in for group decisions creates ambiguity throughout the organization
4Avoidance of accountabilityDucking the responsibility to call peers on counterproductive behavior which sets low standards
5Inattention to resultsFocusing on personal success, status, and ego before team success

I find the model useful to analyze team dysfunctions, isolate root causes and work through each layer, starting with the most basic and going to the top. E.g., if you can not establish a trustful environment you will not be able to get real commitments.

The dysfunctions can be rephrased to give a positive direction. The below table states what should be achieved by a team on each layer.

Rephrased dysfunctions in a positive way, describing what should be achieved by a team on each layer.
LayerTry to achieve
1Nurturing a trustful environment, allowing oneself to be vulnerable
2Have an open and fair communication culture and engage in conflict around ideas
3Commit to shared goals and decisions
4Hold each other accountable against the shared goals and decisions
5Focus on the achievement of collective results

Lencioni offers a field guide for leaders, managers, and facilitators with exercises and concepts to overcome the five dysfunctions. [Lencioni 2005]

References #

[Lencioni 2002]
Patrick Lencioni, „The Five Dysfunctions of a Team,“ Jossey-Bass 2002
[Lencioni 2005]
Patrick Lencioni, „Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Field Guide for Leaders, Managers, and Facilitators,“ Jossey-Bass 2005