Good Bedtime Reads – The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

Herodotos Ellinas, MD
Associate Professor
Medical College of Wisconsin
Milwaukee, WI


Book Review: The Five Dysfunctions of a Team
Book Author:
 Patrick Lencioni
Publisher: Jossey-Bass, an Imprint of Wiley
Review Author: Herodotos Ellinas

High-performance teams are not the result of sheer luck. During a crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic, leaders must assemble effective multidisciplinary teams or adapt existing ones. Leaders who assemble such teams should base membership on a careful evaluation of talents, which includes assessing members’ interactions and evaluating their critical thinking when they navigate rapidly changing terrains. Although Lencioni does not discuss an extreme crisis in The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, the reader can extrapolate from the author’s key concepts. Lencioni narrates a fable of an organization that hires a new CEO, Kathryn, to revive a struggling company. The author, in this easy-to-read book, cleverly walks the reader step by step through Kathryn’s challenges in putting together a “high-functioning” team.  

An old-school executive hired at a high-tech Silicon Valley company, Kathryn arrives at her first day of work and discovers that her staff of seven talented executives have total inability to work well together. Their constant disagreements and incapacity to take responsibility for their actions impart negativity to the workplace, further contributing to the existing chaos. As an experienced leader, Kathryn quickly realizes the dysfunction of these executives and subjects them to a pair of off-site retreats to identify the underlying issues that led to the company’s current situation. In the process, some of her decisions make her unpopular, but her persistence prevails in creating a high-performance team. 

Lencioni use this fable to illustrate the critical elements of a dysfunctional team: absence of trust, fear of conflict, lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability, and inattention to results. The author uses these elements to build a pyramid that signifies the ascending and dependent relationship of each characteristic. While I read Lencioni’s creation with interest, I prefer a similar one, portraying each element in a positive way:

  1. High functioning teams are built on TRUST in a collaborative and respectful environment. Trust allows team members to provide feedback and take risks without the fear of retaliation.
  2. Engaging in RESPECTFUL CONFLICT leads successful teams to early problem identification, resolution and innovation. Exploration of newly offered ideas and root cause analyses of witnessed challenges, promote effective solutions and adequate changes. 
  3. COMMITMENT leads to action, consistency and growth. When each member’s opinion is heard, there is a buy-in and commitment to clear directives.
  4. ACCOUNTABILITY establishes grounds for consistency in high standards. Empowering each member to hold others accountable ensures quality.
  5. Attention to RESULTS generates better outcomes. Team commitment prevails over self-interest, fostering a culture that promotes achievement of high-quality end products.

Leaders who are in charge of assembling high-performance teams should consider Lencioni’s principles at all times, and especially during a crisis, such like the COVID-19 pandemic. Leaders need to be inclusive yet adaptive while empowering team members to contribute equally, based on their diverse expertise. And an effective leader will guide co-workers to express their opinions and solve rapidly evolving situations. Team members have responsibilities too: they should step up and be committed in respectful deliberation during such uncertain but crucial times, and they should be willing to be held accountable to ensure high-quality results promptly delivered.

I highly recommend this book for every leader who desires a high-performance team whether, created de novo or adapted during crisis. We should all strive to be members of a team that relies on TRUST, resolves conflict in a RESPECTFUL manner, COMMITS to high-quality care, holds members ACCOUNTABLE and seeks collective RESULTS.

Share this post: