Why Teams Fail

You’ve probably heard it more times than you can count – individual employees or managers complaining about dysfunctional teams. It’s especially frustrating because you know how vital it is to your organization’s success for teams to be highly functional and achieve optimal productivity. Knowing why teams fail is a good starting point. If you’ve never read what has become something of a classic, now is the time to become familiar with the work of Patrick Lencioni in The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable.

The problem, of course, is who has time to read? But at 230 pages (give or take ten pages depending on the format), not only is it a fairly quick read, but once you start it you’ll have a hard time putting it down – it’s that compelling. When’s the last time you could say that about a business book?

Lencioni takes a different approach to leadership and management topics by crafting fictional narratives to show what he’s talking about. He did this to great effect in his previous books, , The Five Temptations of a CEO and Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive, and it works equally well here.

The scenario is a Silicon Valley firm having a hard time with its teams and overall business, so when it was time to hire a new CEO, people were surprised by who was hired – a retired executive from traditional manufacturing who everyone described as an old-school manager. The story reveals how teamwork can go awry in spite of the best intentions, great products, and awesome talent. But it can also be revived through good leadership.

First, however, an understanding of why teams fail is needed. Through his page-turner story, Lencioni reveals the five dysfunctions that cause teams to fail:

Absence of Trust

Trust is the foundation upon which high-functioning teams are built. What it means in this context is establishing an environment in which team members can be open and vulnerable with each other. Without this basic trust, everyone puts up façades and masks to appear right, strong, and competent, protecting their individual interests – all of which gets in the way of actually working together as a team and results in huge amounts of wasted time and energy. The antidote is making sure your team establishes the kinds of bonds that can only be formed when time is taken to get to know each other on a deeper level.

Fear of Conflict

When trust is absent, teams are ill equipped to deal with conflicts when they arise. But it’s working through conflicts in productive ways that transforms them into creative friction leading to team growth and productivity. When a team is dysfunctional, conflict might be glossed over or avoided altogether, and becomes yet another barrier to achieving high-performing teams. Conflict is essential to air all viewpoints and ideas, fearing and avoiding it hurts the team.

Lack of Commitment

Without a foundation of trust and the unwillingness to deal with conflict productively, the work of the team feels less and less viable. Decisions become increasingly difficult to reach if team members aren’t confident that their opinions and viewpoints have been considered. Not surprisingly, members become less and less committed to the work of the team. And it’s not that people need to get their way, but they at least need to feel heard to get buy-in for whatever decision is eventually taken.

Avoidance of Accountability

As commitment flags, morale declines. Confidence in the work and ability of the team wanes. Lacking buy-in around decisions means members feel less and less willing to accept accountability for the team’s work, output, and results. They no longer feel invested in the team, and certainly don’t feel like being held accountable to the team.

Inattention to Results

The mounting absence of trust, fear of conflict, lack commitment and avoidance of accountability, there is little motivation to care about the results the team gets. As a result, the team fails to achieve its most important objectives and goals. The ball has been dropped.

With a thorough understanding of why teams fail, team leaders can begin to get a handle on what it takes to make teams better, which will be the focus on my next article.

February 3, 2017   Updated :February 3, 2017   dysfunctional teams, Patrick Lencioni, teams, teamwork   

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