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Five Dysfunctions of Team and How To Address Them

Picture of Kunal S

Kunal S

Kunal S., General Manager- OD consulting and facilitation, Marching Sheep. Kunal is a Learning and Organizational Development Professional | Culture and DEI&B Consultant | ICF Trained Coach | Applied Behavioral Scientist


The Indian workforce is only getting younger, with millennials and GenZ projected to make up 75% by 2025. These generations are more digitally native, socially conscious, and diverse than previous ones. Building a high-performing team with such a diverse and dynamic workforce requires HR professionals and people managers to equip themselves with knowledge, skills, and tools that are fundamental to understanding the human psyche and team dynamics. That’s when Patrick Lencioni’s book “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” comes in handy. In his book, Lencioni identifies the five most common challenges teams face: absence of trust, fear of conflict, lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability, and inattention to results. The presence of one or more of these is detrimental to a team seeking better performance and will eventually lead to low morale, ineffective communication, and poor decision-making. Let’s understand how each of them appears in practice, what impact it and what it takes to overcome them.


Dysfunction One – Absence of Trust

This occurs when team members are unwilling to be vulnerable with one another, and may be caused by past experiences, lack of familiarity, or fear of being judged. Without trust, team members may be hesitant to share ideas or feedback, leading to a lack of open communication and poor decision-making.

Addressing this dysfunction requires team members to build trust through vulnerability, honesty, and integrity. Sharing personal histories, taking personality and behavioral style assessments, and sharing the results with the team, and team-building retreats can help to build trust which thereby creates a foundation for open communication and collaboration, leading to increased productivity and success.

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Dysfunction Two – Fear of Conflict

Fear of conflict is manifested as team members avoiding disagreement or debate in order to maintain a sense of harmony or to avoid personal discomfort. This can lead to unproductive meetings, missed opportunities for innovation, and poor decision-making.

To address this dysfunction, team members are required to learn how to engage in healthy, constructive conflict. This can be achieved by establishing team rules for handling disagreements, using structured conflict resolution processes, and engaging in constructive criticism.


Dysfunction Three – Lack of Commitment

When team members are hesitant to commit to decisions or plans, often due to a lack of clarity or buy-in, it’s a sign of a lack of commitment. Without commitment, team members may be less motivated to follow through on decisions, leading to missed deadlines, confusion, and wasted resources.

To overcome this dysfunction, team members must create a sense of ownership and accountability for decisions which is possible by establishing clear goals and objectives, aligning around shared values and priorities, creating a shared understanding of roles and responsibilities, having open communication and feedback loops.


Dysfunction Four – Avoidance of Accountability

This occurs when team members are unwilling to hold themselves or others accountable for their actions or performance, often due to a fear of conflict or discomfort. Without accountability, team members may be less motivated to meet their commitments or take responsibility for their mistakes, leading to a lack of trust and a culture of blame.

Addressing this dysfunction requires team members to establish clear expectations and performance metrics, communicate effectively, and hold themselves and each other accountable for meeting their commitments. Creating a culture of feedback and recognition, and regularly reviewing progress toward goals further aids.

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Dysfunction Five – Inattention to Results

If team members prioritize their individual or departmental goals over the overall objectives of the team, or when they become complacent and lose sight of their goals altogether, it is most likely because of the inattention to results. Without a focus on results, teams may struggle to measure their progress or evaluate their success, leading to a lack of direction and a loss of motivation.

Establishing clear performance metrics by creating a scorecard to measure progress towards goals, regularly tracking progress towards their goals through periodic check-ins and reviews,  and holding themselves and each other accountable for achieving results and celebrating successes along the way really helps address this dysfunction.


Five Dysfunctions and Hybrid Work Environment

The five dysfunctions are highly relevant in remote and hybrid work environments. The absence of trust can be exacerbated in remote work environments, where team members may not have the opportunity to build relationships and establish a sense of camaraderie. The lack of commitment can be a significant challenge in remote and hybrid work environments, where team members may have competing priorities and distractions. Autonomy and independence of hybrid work come with less oversight which may perpetuate the avoidance of accountability. Team members may struggle to stay focused on their goals and may not have regular opportunities to celebrate successes.

Therefore, it is vital to create opportunities for team members to get to know each other and build trust, whether through virtual team-building activities or regular check-ins. Communicate expectations clearly, provide regular feedback and recognition to keep team members engaged and motivated, and find creative ways to celebrate successes.

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we need to understand that individuals make up a team and teams make an organization. There’s a reason for the Mount Everest expedition being a team activity and not a solitary mission. Building a high-performing team with a diverse workforce requires HR professionals and people managers to equip themselves with the necessary knowledge, skills, and tools to understand the human psyche and team dynamics. Patrick Lencioni’s book “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” provides a useful framework for addressing the most common challenges teams face. By building open communication, and trust, engaging in healthy conflict, establishing clarity and buy-in, creating a culture of accountability, and staying focused on results, teams can become more productive, collaborative, and successful. It is essential to recognize the early signs of dysfunction and take proactive steps to address them, especially in the context of remote and hybrid work environments. In this way, teams can thrive and achieve sustainable business results in the changing landscape of the Indian workforce.


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