The five dysfunctions of a team: A Leadership Fable by Patrick Lencioni

For long, I have adored Jim Collins, whose book ‘Good to Great’ had a lasting impact on me. Take the right people on the bus, he advised, if you want to grow together. Jim Collins may not have written much after that series, but there are more books that allow a glimpse on how teams flourish together. Or rather, ought to.


Author : Patrick Lencioni
Originally Published : 2002
Publication : Jossey-Bass
Pages : 229
Genre(s) :-
 Non-Fiction, Business, Management

Patrick Lencioni is one of the many management experts who go on to write books based on their teachings. I took some time to understood why he calls it a Fable, like his other books. Lencioni begins by eulogizing teamwork, saying it’s not finance nor strategy but teamwork that brings success. But for that to happen, all people in your company must row the boat in one direction. But teams are made up of diverse people and hence are dysfunctional inherently. 

The book starts out with the tale of Kathryn, who at 57, is hired as the CEO of DecisionTech, a company that has been crumbling. It’s chairman is the sole person who has trusted his instincts that Kathryn will succeed and who, in the first few days of her new stint, has announced a retreat at Napa Valley for the team. What she didn’t know was how dysfunctional her executive team was and how they’d throw up challenges at her. Like Jeff, who wanted to attend a customer’s meeting in place of the scheduled Napa retreat which Kathryn refuses. Being assertive, being clear about your goals and the means to achieve that must also be shared with your team. 

We soon see Kathryn addressing the core issues facing the team in light of the impending changes she plans to bring in. What she outlines is the crux of the book:

  • That trust is the foundation of a team
  • Great teams are never afraid to admit mistakes and show others some light on theirs
  • When everyone’s on the same page and no debate ensues, there isn’t much you’re moving towards afterall
  • Know your team well, many times you get gems up there from each other’s lives. Getting to know each other also breaks barriers- perceived or real
  • Understand and accept your strengths and weaknesses that impact your work as a team member
  • Play like a team, not for your own gratification. Care for the team’s results at all times even it means sharing credit for your own work
  • If someone can’t be a team-player, he can be benched. Lessons better be learned in time, the company has none

I actually loved the simple way in which the protagonist Kathryn is shown to present the five dysfunctions through her narrative. The simple pyramid makes for some interesting insights. 

The five dysfunctions beginning from the base of the problem pyramid are- 

  • Absence of trust – leading to invulnerability
  • Fear of conflict – results in artificial harmony
  • Lack of commitment – invariably creating ambiguity
  • Avoidance of accountability – means low standards of work or results
  • Inattention to results- causing an inflated focus on status and ego

What comes about through this is that teams ought to gel well and synchronize on all levels, not just on the outside but from the core. It’s complete human psychology at play here. Organizations fraught with internal politics never really make for great success, though they may make profit. 

The importance of conflict – Patrick has used some great dialogue as a tool to highlight the process of evolution of a team, though spoken by Kathryn in the ‘fable’. Conflict, she says, is as important in daily meetings, as in a movie. That’s the secret ingredient that makes things worthy of attending or watching. After Kathryn’s offsite retreat with her team, they’re back at work, things getting worse before they get better. Good leaders don’t just show what is to be done, they just remove the veil over things that the team realizes needs to be done. 

Key takeaways

  1. Good teams don’t just come together by chance, they need to be created, with much effort from leaders
  2. The five dysfunctions of a team need to be addressed with urgency before they go out of hand.
  3. Team building is an organic process that leads to genuine harmony at the workplace. It shows not just in good business but also in the way people interact with each other, support, help grow and stand in times of need. 
  4. Priorities, what comes at the cost of what, must be set straight very early and key urgently. Lacking that, teams just crumble under their own weight. 

Why I recommend this book

Read it if you’re a leader or even if you’re an employee. Make notes, for the fable method requires you to relate to what’s being said into your own life situations. 

Read chapters again and again and ponder. There’s plenty that’s being said by the characters other than Kathryn that you wonder if they’ve come alive on these pages straight out of your office setting! I would not tire to highlight the importance of a good team that everyone loves to work for and work with. 

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