I recently read, “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” by Patrick Lencioni (Jossey-Bass – www.josseybass.com) While it is essentially a book on business management, its insights apply directly to sports teams, church leadership teams and ministry teams. It is subtitled, “A Leadership Fable,” and that is an apt description of its literary style. It is an allegory of leadership with various characters and situations being emblematic of the five dysfunctions of a team. The team described in the book has all five in living color.
For our purposes here, I will simply list the dysfunctions and some potential applications to the sports world. In the book they are slowly unveiled and applied to the shape of a pyramid with the first dysfunction at the base and the fifth at the apex. Please give this book some consideration as it may be of value to you and your teams.
1) Absence of Trust – when there is an absence of trust among teammates they will not be genuinely open with each other about their weaknesses and mistakes, it becomes impossible to build a foundation for achievement. This happens in sport when players perceive themselves to be self-sufficient or project the attitude that they don’t need anyone else. This occurs when the player believes he is superior to his teammates and cannot trust them to fulfill their responsibilities. This often results in the shifting of blame, finger pointing, gossip among team members and division.
2) Fear of Conflict – the failure to build trust results in this dysfunction. Teams which don’t trust each other will not engage in unfiltered and passionate debate of ideas. They will spin off to side discussions, private phone calls and political caucuses which inhibit the team’s function. This is easily seen in the minutes following a team meeting when players naturally gather to process what they just heard and often to criticize the coaching staff, game plan, etc…
3) Lack of Commitment – when the team has not aired their thoughts nor engaged in open discussion, even in debate, they will rarely buy in and commit to the game plan. They may nod their heads and seem to agree with decisions made, but in their hearts they remain at least ambivalent to and often in opposition to what the team’s course of direction. The desired quality of everyone being “All In” is lost, even if they all join the huddle and shout it on queue.
4) Avoidance of Accountability – this comes about due to the team’s lack of commitment. If they aren’t committed to the team’s direction, game plan, etc. there is no way they’ll call others to account for the commitments which were agreed upon by the others. Leaders will hesitate to call others to account for behaviors and attitudes which can inhibit the team’s success. We’ve all seen this on the practice field when players act defiantly toward their coaches or team leaders and no one calls them on it. The awkward silence hangs in the air and only serves the defiant ones, feeding their counterproductive attitudes.
5) Inattention to Results – as teams fail to hold each other accountable they create an environment where this dysfunction thrives. When team members put their individual goals and aspirations (ego, personal performance, statistics, etc.) over the collective goals of the team (victory, team statistics, collective achievement, team development, etc.) the result will be an inattention to results. This is most easily seen when team members pick up a stat sheet after a competition’s conclusion. Does the player first look at the team’s statistical results or his individual stats? Some of this is simply human nature, like looking to find one’s self when handed a photograph. Human nature when left to its own, unabated by loyalty to team or more altruistic values, will focus on its own welfare and inattention to team results will be the inevitable results. This dysfunction is at the apex of the triangle because it is the capstone, the place where one’s attention is drawn. This is true for your team – the simplest and most profound measure of your team’s results is on the scoreboard, in the stat sheet and in the hearts of your players.
The author turns these dysfunctions inside-out and describes positive behaviors which describe cohesive teams. (Quoting now from pages 189 and 190.)
1) They trust one another.
2) They engage in unfiltered conflict around ideas.
3) They commit to decisions and plans of action.
4) They hold one another accountable for delivering against those plans.
5) They focus on the achievement of collective results.
Finally, the author outlines a number of ideas, exercises and tools for leaders to use in overcoming the dysfunctions they find within their own teams. If found this to be an engaging and readily applicable book with tremendous insight. Like most good stories I could see the faces of the characters in my own mind as they reminded me of my own teammates and situations on the best and worst teams in my experience. I heartily recommend it to you.