I wanted to give a brief overview of one of my favorite management books. Although I have read hundreds of these types of books there are only about 10 that truly stand out as “Must reads” and “Must keep for reference”; one of these is The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni. While Lencioni has written many books none are as good as this one. Why do I consider this book one of the best? Because the author has kept it short and to the point and has made the reading interesting by explaining some rather complex team building concepts in an interesting story format (similar to The Goal, another one of my top 10).
The story is about a new CEO who refuses to get bogged down as a referee in the many battles between her staff and instead, chooses to spend a great deal of her time building a team. Even though the organization she leads is faced with some serious financial issues she realizes that without an engaged and cohesive executive team everything she does to “fix” problems will just be a stop-gap measure and fall apart at some point. Just as in true life, her executive staff can’t believe that she is wasting so much precious decision making time on team building – “Why can’t we just get to work and fix our problems” is the common lament.
In the story we follow the actions of CEO Kathryn Petersen as she makes the courageous decision to deal with the root cause of the organizations problems – a completely dysfunctional executive team. We learn that there are 5 team dysfunctions that must be addressed before a TEAM can be created. The 5 dysfunctions in order of hierarchy are: Absence of Trust (Invulnerability), Fear of conflict (Artificial Harmony), Lack of Commitment (Ambiguity), Avoidance of Accountability (Low Standards), and Inattention to Detail (My Status and Ego take precedence over team needs).
While I could detail all five dysfunctions let me briefly talk about the first dysfunction referred to as Absence of Trust because it is the foundational base of a great team. I doubt that you will find many executive teams who are willing to admit that the organization lacks trust however you would be lucky to find more than 20% of all organizations that have made a serious commitment to build trust and even fewer that have declared such a competency a core organizational need (beyond lip service) and in-turn have dedicated the time and resources to achieve a high level of Trust. Saying you have “Trust” is not the same as having it and when you are a process improvement expert you can spot whether an organization has a culture of “Trust” within the first few days of executive and staff interviews. While there are many organizations that have good margins and “succeed in spite of themselves” there are only a few that consistently stay at the top of their game in terms of financial and quality results. It is a guarantee that those firms at the top of their game admit there is work to be done regarding the 5 dysfunctions and they work at improving core team-work capabilities every single day.
My experience is that the most difficult barriers to overcome are the first two; Absence of Trust and Fear of Conflict. Both require a significant and committed effort by the CEO because without his/her involvement politics will win out. I’m sure many of you have heard the phrase “Culture trumps Strategy” and it is very true. An organization with “Team Trust” and the ability to handle “Constructive Conflict” requires certain behaviors (which in turn become culture) that the CEO needs to make a priority. If you have an organization that wants to become “world class” I suggest you find a way to make this book required executive reading.