How Dysfunction Destroys and Trust Prevails

The foundation of an effective, healthy, and cohesive team is vulnerability-based trust. How is that so? When vulnerability-based trust starts with a team’s leader, team members can follow suit. Sharing doubts, admitting mistakes, and listening to everyone’s thoughts and concerns is the basis of team trust. 

Patrick Lencioni’s book “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” is a resource we use in annual planning sessions with clients to exemplify team dynamics and how team health can be improved. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team outlines the root causes of politics and dysfunction on the teams where you work and keys on how to overcome them. 

Contrary to popular belief, the causes of dysfunction are both identifiable and curable. However, they are not easily changed. Developing a team functional and cohesive team requires levels of courage and discipline that many individual team members cannot seem to muster. 

“Achieving vulnerability-based trust is difficult because in the course of career advancement, most successful people learn to be competitive with their peers and protective of their reputations.  It is a challenge for them to turn those instincts off for the good of the team, but that is exactly what is required”.¹

A healthy team has members that are willing to admit their mistakes and their weaknesses.  They are focused 100% on the collective good of the team, even if it requires sacrificing their individual or their department for the overall good of the business. 

They have healthy, sometimes heated, and passionate discussions on key issues and decisions, which help them make better decisions. Everyone is heard so that when a decision is made they are committed to it. They are unafraid to hold themselves and each other accountable for achieving the mutual goals for the team and they are focused on results.

I had a wonderful experience leading a high trust leadership team on their EOS Implementation journey during my years as the CEO of a family-owned manufacturing company. We had passionate debates on key issues and often made decisions I would not have thought of. 

These were much better decisions that I couldn’t have made on my own. We had team members that were willing to sacrifice their department’s headcount for the good of the overall business, putting those resources where needed most. When we made decisions, we were committed to following them through and achieving the needed results for the business.

The 5 Dysfunctions and Contrasting Best Practices

1. Absence of Trust

Dysfunction: The fear of admitting mistakes and weaknesses prevents team members from building trust with each other.

Positive Takeaway: Once you have trust, you can then have a healthy conflict on the team – all based around problem-solving. Leaders may have blind spots and it’s important for the team to help get leaders through those areas. People start to trust you and see that you’re human.

2. Fear of Conflict: 

Dysfunction: The desire to preserve artificial harmony stifles productive ideological conflict within the team. Decisions are made that are less than optimal for the business. 

Positive Takeaway: In teams with a high level of trust, members are willing to contribute their ideas and thoughts for the good of the team, even if they are opposite to other ideas. In the long run, better decisions are made for the good of the business. 

3. Lack of Commitment

Dysfunction: A lack of healthy conflict ensures a lack of commitment to team decisions since not all team members have been heard. The lack of clarity and/or buy-in prevents team members from making decisions they stick to.

Positive Takeaway: When people are heard, they generally will commit to a team decision, even if it is opposite to what they recommend. 

4. Avoidance of Accountability

Dysfunction: When team members lack commitment to team decisions, they tend to avoid the interpersonal discomfort from holding each other accountable for their responsibility to the team, especially if they themselves lack commitment to the decision. 

Positive Takeaway: When high trust teams are fully committed, they are comfortable challenging each other to ensure their goals are achieved. 

5. Inattention to Results

Dysfunction: The pursuit of individual goals and personal status erodes the team’s focus on collective success.

Positive Takeaway: High trust teams put the team’s results ahead of their individual and department needs, for the good of the business.

team chart

As we see exemplified in these five areas, trust and healthy conflict are the foundation of a healthy, cohesive, and effective team. 

If you as a leader want to build a healthy, cohesive, effective team, feel free to schedule a 15-minute discovery call with our team! We teach these to you with Vision, Traction, and Healthy. Ready to learn more?

¹The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, by Patrick Lencioni, page 196