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Susan's Business Book Reports

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

Book Summary, November 2020, Susan Alban
Susan Voiceover
I love a good business parable (the other one that comes to mind is , which deftly teaches operations in the context of a normal guy struggling with life)! Five Dysfunctions offers a simple story about a struggling team that needs to overcome five key issues that are blocking it.
It’s useful in that it’s a quick and accessible book that nudges the reader to consider times when they have found themselves on a dysfunctional team. The reader can easily relate to the issues in the book and through the characters’ conversations and issues, reflect on parallel challenges they may have experienced.
For me, writing up my own notes and a short book report was critical in pulling out a practitioner’s guide for handling these five dysfunctions. I note that the author helps facilitate the distillation of the book’s takeaways with a lengthy guide at the end of the fable.
(1) Lack of trust // invulnerability
Definition of trust =
Trust is the confidence among team members that their peers’ intentions are good, and that there is no reason to be protective or careful around the group.
Being vulnerable (divulging weakness, skill deficiency, interpersonal shortcomings, mistakes, requests for help) and being confident that their vulnerabilities won’t be used against them.
Evidence of lack of trust = lack of debate in meetings; unwillingness to be vulnerable within the group.
Ways to build trust:
Ice breaker, get to know each other. Sentiment: “I want to hear about your life as a child, but I’m not interested in your inner child” - Hometown? Number of siblings? Interesting childhood hobbies? Biggest challenges growing up? First job? Worst job?
You typically will learn something new about everyone in the team.
Team effectiveness exercise: team members identify the single most important contribution that each of their peers makes to the team, and one area that they must either improve or eliminate for the good of the team.
Do an enneagram or personality test and discussion (MBTI, DISC, etc)
360 degree feedback - DON’T tie to comp.
Talking through greatest strength and weakness demonstrated so far in the company’s situation.
💡 Leader must demonstrate vulnerability first. Risk losing face in front of the group.
(2) Fear of conflict // artificial harmony
Happens when people don’t trust each other.
Teams will have abstract discussions and make guarded comments.
Goal should be open, constructive, ideological conflict. Most reasonable people don’t have to get their way in a discussion. They just need to be heard, and to know that their input was considered and responded to.
Creating Healthy Conflict
Discuss importance of constructive conflict in meetings.
Rely on key “miners” to surface unspoken discourse and to help the group stay on point until resolution
Remind people in the moment that conflict like this is good. Remind them at close too.
Thomas Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI) -
💡Leader must hold back and not try to prematurely cut off conflict. Must also lead by example.
(3) Lack of commitment // ambiguity
Without good discourse, the group doesn’t land on a solid committed decision / direction.
People weren’t able to safely air opinions and debate openly, so they won’t buy in and commit to decisions, even with feigned agreement.
Teams that need consensus or certainty will not thrive
This dysfunction can lead to confusion and inefficiency among the group of teams that are organized below the conflicting executives.
Creating commitment
Following a meeting where decisions are made, the team should explicitly review the key decisions made and agree on what needs to be communicated to employees or other constituencies; by doing this, you will surface if there are remaining disagreements or ambiguity.
Use deadlines
Contingency and worst case scenario analyses - helps reduce fears and helps remove need for certainty.
💡 Leader must help nudge group to decisions and not fall pray to need for consensus or certainty.
(4) Avoidance of accountability // low standards
Without commitment to a plan (3rd dysfunction, discussed ), people won’t hold themselves or teammates accountable. People rely excessively on the leader versus each other. Need to have more “peer pressure” on this among the group.
Create accountability by
Publishing goals and standards.
Simple process reviews
Team rewards. (Versus individual rewards)
💡 Leader must rely on the group / team, but step in if necessary.
(5) Inattention to results // ego and focus on individual goals
Team members put their own needs (e.g., ego, career development, recognition, needs of their own division) over the collective goals of the team. If everyone is focused on team results, it’s difficult for ego to get out of hand
Create focus on team results by:
Publicly declare the results the team will achieve. “Doing our best” isn’t enough.
Compensation tied to results.
💡 Leader must be highly focused on this. If others smell an alternative agenda, it will be very difficult to keep the focus.
Positive counter example
👩‍🎤 This is what a functioning team looks like:
They trust each other
They engage in unfiltered conflict around ideas
They commit to decisions and plans of action
They hold one another accountable for delivering against those plans
They focus on the achievement of collective results.
Other themes / resources
Vision: CEO keeps returning to the theme: “we have more cash, more experienced executives, better technology, and more connections than our competitors, and yet they are ahead of us in the market. Our job is to increase revenue, profitability, and customer acquisition and retention and maybe even IPO. But none of this will happen if we don’t function as a team.
Definition of Politics: when people choose their words and actions based on how they want others to react rather than based on what they really think.
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