Podcast: Patrick Lencioni on What to Do About Team Dysfunction


All leaders should address the dysfunction that exists among their people or within their organizations, but it can be tempting to avoid those conversations. No one wants to talk about dysfunction: it's uncomfortable, and where do you even start?

Patrick Lencioni based his career on doing just that. Patrick is a team health expert and author of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. He is a Leadercast Live 2019 speaker, and founder and president of The Table Group, a management consulting firm specializing in team health.

In this episode of the Leadercast Podcast, Patrick walks us through how to be a leader who recognizes and addresses team dysfunction confidently and from a place of vulnerability. Read on for a break down of the episode and listen above to discover what to do about the dysfunction that exists among your team.


The Symptoms of a Dysfunctional Team

Before we dig into what the dysfunctions are, let’s talk about symptoms of dysfunction. Patrick shares there are five main symptoms of a dysfunctional team: political behavior, confusion, low morale, low productivity and high turnover among good people.

If any of these symptoms exist on your team, it may be a sign that your team is experiencing dysfunction. So, what is dysfunction? And what can you do about it?


The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

1. The absence of trust.
We're talking about vulnerability-based trust. If a team lacks this type of trust, team members don't trust each other enough to admit when they’re wrong or when they've made a mistake. They don't acknowledge when they're not good at something or when they need help. But this type of trust starts with vulnerability.

2. The fear of conflict.
Trust is important because it enables us to embrace conflict. If people don’t trust each other, they’re not going to be able to disagree in the way they need to on a team. Passionate conflict around ideas is necessary for team health, because it allows team members to overcome the third dysfunction.

3. The inability to commit.
If you don’t have trust, you can’t have conflict. And if people haven’t debated a problem through conflict, they’ll struggle to find a solution. People need the chance to weigh in before they can buy in. They need to disagree, challenge ideas and form their own opinions before they can truly get on board.

4. The unwillingness to hold each other accountable.
Team members need to be able to commit to decisions so they can hold each other accountable in the follow-through. They need to be able to say, "Hey, you need to do better," "That's not what we agreed to," or "You need to improve." Great team members hold each other accountable for improvement and performance.

5. The inattention to results.
Team members have to be more interested in helping the entire team succeed than they are in their own needs. That only happens if the team is willing to hold each other accountable. Being attentive to results means you’re focused on the results that lead to outcomes, not on the outcomes alone. People tend to think of results as the outcome. But focus on achieving a good input, and the outcome will follow.


Addressing Dysfunction Starts With Trust and Vulnerability

“A leader is a leader because they’re willing to be vulnerable first,” says Patrick. TWEET

You can imagine the five dysfunctions as layers in a pyramid. Each dysfunction builds on the previous one, and at the base is trust. A lack of trust is the first thing that destroys a team and the first thing a team must overcome.

Building trust has to start at the top. Leaders can build trust by being vulnerable, though they are often unwilling to be. They're afraid they're going to look bad, lose control or be criticized. But a leader must share their vulnerabilities first. They must put themselves out there. They must admit what they’re not good at and acknowledge when they’ve made a mistake. Leaders have to apologize. If leaders avoid vulnerability, they send a strong message to the team that they don’t need to be vulnerable either. And that's where dysfunction starts.

So, as a leader, what can you do to open up and be vulnerable? Start simply, says Patrick. Consider inviting your team to sit around a table. Ask each person to share where they grew up, how many siblings they have, what number they are in that order and what was the hardest thing about growing up for them. Here’s the catch: you, as the leader, go first.

You’ll probably be surprised at how little your team actually knew about each other. As a team, you’ll start developing an admiration and respect for each other. And, each of you will realize you were vulnerable… and it was OK. You might have even liked opening up and letting people in.

Once you start with a simple 15-minute exercise like that, you can employ some tools to dig a little deeper. Have your team take the Myers Briggs test and print out the one page summary of their personality type. Have each team member read the summary out loud to the team. Again, you go first.

As each team member reads their one page summary, they’ll share their strengths and their probable weaknesses. And they’ll likely realize that it feels good to talk about these things. Start simply with exercises like these. You and your team will realize that being vulnerable feels good and benefits the team.


The Signs of a Healthy Team

How will you know if your team is healthy? Well, in a healthy team, there's an absence of politics. People say what they mean and they mean what they say. They go to meetings and they’re up-front with each other. Team members have clarity. They know what they’re supposed to do and how it impacts the rest of the team. They’re excited to be at work. They’re being very productive. And good people, the truly great employees, aren’t thinking about leaving.

Patrick likes to think of joy as the leading indicator on this. Joy is what tells you if a company is in a good place. If people are coming to work, serving customers and getting their work done with a sense of joy, things are probably going well. Of course, issues will come up: Dysfunction is inevitable. But if people have a sense of hope and joy, you’re probably on the right track.  

So, what are you doing to overcome dysfunction and build joy in your organization?

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This post is based on an episode of the Leadercast Podcast with Patrick Lencioni, founder of The Table Group and author of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. Learn more about Patrick and all his books here. To hear this episode, and many more like it, subscribe on iTunes, Spotify, Google Play or Stitcher.

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