Overcoming the 5 Dysfunctions of Teams

No matter how cohesive and successful a team may be, it is inevitable that they will face challenges that could potentially derail their productivity. When this happens in high performance teams (or indeed, any team), we need to look beyond the symptoms of low performance to find the true cause of this behavior. Based on the work of Patrick Lencioni, the 5 Dysfunctions of Teams explores the idea that to resolve surface level issues, you must first attend to lower level needs. Each dysfunction impacts on overall performance and must be overcome in order for teams to perform at their best. 


Dysfunction 1: Lack of Trust

The first dysfunction Lencioni identifies is a lack of trust amongst team members. When trust is minimal or absent, it is often because individually, we are afraid to appear vulnerable in front of others, and want to maintain an image of infallibility. This stops us both individually, and as a team, from asking for advice and developing collectively. We may even hesitate to provide positive feedback to others, or assist in areas outside of our own responsibilities.

Overcoming this fear of vulnerability, opens up opportunities to understand each other on a more personal level. Nobody is perfect. Being able to own up to that and admit to our weaknesses makes others around us more comfortable, and more likely to start doing the same. Learning about Rumbling with Vulnerability is a pillar of the Dare to Lead™ program, based on the work of Brene Brown. This section of the program aims to dispel many misconceptions people have about vulnerability. Typically thought of as a display of weakness, in Dare to Lead™, vulnerability becomes known as one of the fundamental tools for leaders to establish trusting relationships in their teams.


conflict Overcoming the 5 Dysfunctions of TeamsDysfunction 2: Fear of Conflict

Team performance is enhanced when there are diverse voices contributing to the conversation. While this provides an incredible opportunity to achieve better results, it can also cause hesitancy to share an opposing idea for fear of creating conflict. Controversial topics are ignored even if they have the potential to create success for the team.

A great first step to take in creating constructive conflict is to be intentional about how these conversations take place. Designating even one-hour a month is an opportunity for your team to be able to voice their opinions, safe in the knowledge that they will not be negatively received. A leadership excellence program can be useful in building group dialogue skills that help teams to have conversations that matter. These are conversations that allow teams to delve deeper into topics or issues that are important to them, and they are then able to come up with resolutions as a unified group. It is important too, that these conversations be held regularly for sustaining high performance.


Dysfunction 3: Lack of Commitment

Perceived inaction, avoiding difficult conversations, and ambiguous goal setting are just a few reasons why there may be a lack of commitment from team members. Without clearly defined goals, teams do not know what it is they are working towards and therefore, have no real investment in the work they are doing. The same is true when there is limited communication surrounding decision making and problem-solving. 

When decisions are made that impact your team, explaining the rationale that led to that decision will help them understand and accept new changes. Inviting your team to be part of the decision making process also gives them a personal incentive to successfully implement those changes. Understanding the ‘why’ is important for building commitment to the actions being taken. Giving your team a strong reason for, and belief in, the work being done leads to increased dedication and better performance.


Dysfunction 4: Avoidance of Accountability

The ability to hold oneself accountable is a skill that is closely tied to our willingness (or lack thereof) to be vulnerable and admit to our mistakes. We fear failure. Sustaining high performance in teams also requires that team members hold each other accountable as well. Often we avoid doing this for fear of causing conflict even when an error would be costly. This results in team leaders becoming the sole source of accountability for the whole team. This can quickly become an overwhelming task for one person, especially in large teams.

5DT Overcoming the 5 Dysfunctions of Teams


Owning up to mistakes shows that you are responsible for your own actions. True self-accountability goes beyond this when you make conscious and demonstrable changes in your behaviour, or work to correct specific errors. Holding others accountable does not have to be a combative exercise. Intent is important here. Criticism for its own sake is counterproductive to team effectiveness. Blame is not the same as accountability. Feedback should aim to support the recipient and help them to constructively improve future performance.



Dysfunction 5: Inattention to Results

When the vision of team success is overlooked in favour of individual achievement, collective progress stagnates. You may even lose valuable market competition, or results-oriented team members. While leading high performance teams usually means there are high levels of self-motivation to completing tasks, it is the leader’s role to ensure a clear team focus. As with the avoidance of accountability, leaders must ensure that each member of the team has a concrete understanding of how their individual role contributes to the team purpose and achievement of results. 

Measurable metrics will be a considerable aid in maintaining team focus. A useful practice in developing leadership excellence within teams creating habits for success. By setting simple goals, and rewarding the team as a whole for their success, fosters a greater connection amongst team members and continued desire to achieve results. 


Understanding the 5 Dysfunctions of Teams is important for leading high performance teams. The capability to diagnose workplace challenges and overcome them is an integral part of developing leadership excellence. Dysfunction prevents effectiveness in the pursuit of team success and cohesion. Delving into how each dysfunction contributes to challenges, helps teams to form better and long lasting solutions. 


For more information about The Leadership Sphere and how we can help you unlock performance through leadership, by supporting your leaders at every level of the organisation with leadership development, executive coaching and high performance team programs please visit our website or call us on 1300 100 857.


0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply