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Part 3

Attributes of a Team


Examining the 5 dysfunctions

Diagnosing the dysfunctions

  • Evidence of Dysfunctions

  • Deciding to Change

  • A Collection of Individuals

Overcoming the dysfunction

  • Trust

  • Conflict

  • Commitment

  • Accountability

  • Results

The rewards

Examining the 5 Dysfunctions

       The five dysfunctions are nothing new to any team or organization. These dysfunctions can be mistakenly interpreted as five distinct issues that can be addressed in isolation from the others. Realizing the dysfunctions are linked and should be addressed together is the first key to success. The second is understanding how each dysfunction flows into setting up the next to stop a dysfunction before it starts. With practice and familiarity with each dysfunction, it will be easier to see them when they occur and get to the root cause immediately while minimizing damage to the team and the bottom line.


Trust – An unwillingness to be vulnerable within the group. Team members who are not genuinely open with one another about their mistakes and weaknesses make it impossible to build a foundation for trust.


Conflict - A team that lacks trust is incapable of engaging in an unfiltered and passionate debate of ideas. Instead, they resort to veiled discussions and guarded comments.


Commitment - Without having aired their opinions during a passionate and open debate, team members rarely, if ever, buy-in and commit to decisions. However, they may feign agreement during meetings to maintain false harmony.


Accountability - Lack of real commitment leads teams to develop an avoidance of accountability. Without committing to a clear plan of action, even the most focused and driven people often hesitate to call their peers on actions and behaviors that seem counterproductive to the team's good.


Results - Failure to hold one another accountable leads to team members putting their individual needs (such as ego, career development, or recognition), or even the needs of their divisions, above the team's collective goals. This results in team members working towards different goals. 

Diagnosing the Dysfunctions

          Evidence of Dysfunctions  

      To begin improving your team and to better understand the level of dysfunction you are facing, ask yourself these simple questions:

  • Do team members openly and readily disclose their opinions?

  • Are team meetings purposeful and contribute to the team's results?

  • Does the team come to decisions quickly and avoid getting bogged down by consensus?

  • Do team members confront one another about their shortcomings?

  • Do team members know how their actions affect the team results?

       If any of these sound familiar and you want to know more, you don't have to guess. By taking the team dysfunction quiz as a team, your team can grade itself, and you can get measurable results that show you your team's strengths and weaknesses. The quiz is a free download that your team can take once a year, or once a quarter and you can see how effective your efforts of strengthening your team have been, as well as find the dysfunctions you need to target.

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         Deciding to Change

       Although no team is perfect, and even the best teams sometimes struggle with one or more of these issues, the finest organizations constantly work to ensure that their answers are "yes." If you answered "no" to many of these questions, your team might need some work. The first step toward reducing politics and confusion within your team is to admit that one or more of the five dysfunctions exists in your team. Now that you can see the issue for what it is, you can address each one that applies, one by one. The second step is realizing that dysfunctions are linked and need to be worked on from the ground up. Without trust, you can’t fix a lack of accountability.

        A Collection of Individuals

       Some managers may say, “I consider that each team member has their own job, I let them be accountable for their own area, and I help them on a one-on-one basis when needed.” Imagine a basketball coach at half-time. He calls each player to his office on a one-on-one about the first half, without letting any of them knowing what the coach had talked with everyone else about. That’s not a team. It’s a collection of individuals. If you treat your team as a collection of individuals, that’s how they will function.

If you treat your team as a collection of individuals, that is how they will function.

Overcoming the Dysfunctions

        Overcoming a Lack of Trust

       Trust lies at the heart of a functioning, cohesive team. Without it, teamwork is all but impossible. The kind of trust that is characteristic of a great team requires team members to make themselves vulnerable to one another and be confident that their respective vulnerabilities will not be used against them. Trust is usually the first and largest dysfunction to overcome. Still, much like the first part of a rollercoaster, once you have reached the peak, much of it is downhill, and you have the momentum to help continue pushing you forward because you trust those on your team to put the team first. 

Being Vulnerable
       These vulnerabilities include weaknesses, skill deficiencies, interpersonal shortcomings, mistakes, and requests for help.

Members of a trusting team

  • Admit weaknesses and mistakes

  • Ask for help

  • Accept questions and input about their areas of responsibility

  • Give one another the benefit of the doubt before arriving at a negative conclusion

  • Take risks in offering feedback and assistance

  • Appreciate and tap into one another’s skills and experiences

  • Focus time and energy on important issues, not politics

  • Offer and accept apologies without hesitation

  • Look forward to meetings and other opportunities to work as a group

How does a team go about building trust?

       Unfortunately, vulnerability-based trust cannot be achieved overnight. It requires shared experiences over time, multiple instances of follow-through and credibility, and an in-depth understanding of the unique attributes of team members. However, by taking a focused approach, a team can dramatically accelerate the process and achieve trust in relatively short order. Here are a few tools that can bring this about:

  • Personal Histories Exercise. This low-risk exercise requires nothing more than going around the table during a meeting, and having team members answer a short list of questions about themselves.

  • Team Effectiveness Exercise. This exercise requires team members to identify the single most important contribution that each of their peers makes to the team, as well as the one area that they must either improve upon or eliminate for the good of the team.

  • Personality and Behavioral Preferences Profiles. Some of the most effective and lasting tools for building trust in a team are profiles of team members’ behavioral preferences and personality styles.

  • 360-Degree Feedback. These tools call for peers to make specific judgments and provide one another with constructive criticism.

The Role of the Leader
       The most important action that a leader must take to encourage the building of trust on a team is to demonstrate vulnerability first. This requires that the leader risk losing face in front of the team so that subordinates will take the same risk themselves. Team leaders must create an environment that does not punish vulnerability. Displays of vulnerability on the part of a team leader must be genuine; they cannot be staged.

        Overcoming a Fear of Conflict

       Teams that engage in productive conflict know that their only purpose is to produce the best possible solution in the shortest period of time. They discuss and resolve issues more quickly and completely than other teams do, and they emerge from heated debates with no residual feelings or collateral damage, but with an eagerness and readiness to take on the next important issue. As long as some team members believe that conflict is unnecessary, there is little chance that it will occur.

Outcomes of a lack of effective conflict

  • Ineffective meetings

  • Controversial topics ignored

  • Opinions not expressed or heard

  • Time wasted on posturing and interpersonal risk management

  • Back-Channel politics and personal attacks thrive

How does a team go about developing the ability and willingness to engage in Healthy Conflict?

       The first step is to acknowledge that conflict is productive and that many teams tend to avoid it. But beyond mere recognition, there are a few simple methods for making conflict more common and productive:

  • Mining. Members of teams that tend to avoid conflict must occasionally assume the role of a “miner of conflict” — someone who extracts buried disagreements within the team and sheds light on them. Some teams may want to assign a member of the team to take on this responsibility during a given meeting or discussion.

  • Real-Time Permission. In the process of mining for conflict, team members need to coach one another not to retreat from healthy debate. One simple but effective way to do this is to recognize when the people engaged in conflict are becoming uncomfortable with the level of discord, and then interrupt to remind them that what they are doing is necessary.

  • The Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument. This tool, commonly referred to as the TKI, allows team members to understand natural inclinations around conflict so they can make more strategic choices about which approaches are most appropriate in different situations.

Outcomes of effective conflict

  • Promotes Learning personally and organizationally

  • Enhances creativity thought constructive challenges, open conversation, and interchange of opinions, ideas, and perspectives.

  • Present diverse views and information that are thoroughly considered with transparency

  • Better decisions are made through increased involvement and more invested individuals

The Role of the Leader
       It is key that leaders demonstrate restraint when their people engage in conflict, and allow a resolution to occur naturally, as messy as it can sometimes be. A leader’s ability to personally model appropriate conflict behavior is essential. By avoiding conflict when it is necessary and productive — something many executives do — a team leader will encourage this dysfunction to thrive.

        Overcoming a Lack of Commitment

       In the context of a team, commitment is a function of two things: clarity and buy-in. Great teams make clear and timely decisions and move forward with complete buy-in from every member of the team, even those who voted against the decision. They leave meetings confident that no one on the team is quietly harboring doubts about whether to support the actions agreed on.


       Politics is when people choose their words and actions based on how they want others to react rather than based on what they really think. 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.

Causes of a lack of commitment

  • Consensus. Great teams understand the danger of seeking consensus and find ways to achieve buy-in even when the complete agreement is impossible. They understand that reasonable human beings do not need to get their way in order to support a decision, but only need to know that their opinions have been heard and considered.

  • Certainty. Great teams also pride themselves on being able to unite behind decisions and commit to clear courses of action even when there is little assurance about whether the decision is correct. They realize that it is better to decide boldly and be wrong — and then change direction with equal boldness — than it is to waffle.

How does a team go about ensuring commitment?

       By taking specific steps to maximize clarity and achieve buy-in, and by resisting the lure of consensus or certainty. Here are a few simple but effective tools and principles:

  • Cascading Messaging. At the end of a staff meeting or off-site, a team should explicitly review the key decisions made during the meeting and agree on what needs to be communicated to employees or other constituencies about those decisions.

  • Deadlines. One of the best tools for ensuring commitment is to use clear deadlines for when decisions will be made and honor those dates with discipline and rigidity.

  • Contingency and Worst-Case Scenario Analysis. A team that struggles with commitment can begin overcoming this tendency by briefly discussing contingency plans upfront or, better yet, clarifying the worst-case scenario for a decision they are struggling to make.

  • Low-Risk Exposure Therapy. Another relevant exercise for a commitment-phobic team is to demonstrate decisiveness in relatively low-risk situations. When teams force themselves to make decisions after substantial discussion but little analysis or research, they usually come to realize that the quality of the decision was better than they expected.

The Role of the Leader

       More than any other member of the team, the leader must be comfortable with the prospect of making a decision that may ultimately turn out to be wrong. And the leader must be constantly pushing the group for closure around issues, as well as adherence to schedules that the team has set. What the leader cannot do is place too high a premium on certainty or consensus.

        Overcoming a Lack of Accountability?

      In the context of teamwork, accountability refers specifically to the willingness of team members to call their peers on performance or behaviors that might hurt the team. The essence of this dysfunction is an unwillingness by team members to tolerate the interpersonal discomfort that accompanies calling a peer on his or her behavior and the more general tendency to avoid difficult conversations.

The Danger Zone
       Members of great teams overcome these natural inclinations, opting instead to “enter the danger” with one another. Members of great teams improve their relationships by holding one another accountable, thus demonstrating that they respect each other and have high expectations for one another’s performance.

Positive Peer Pressure
       The most effective and efficient means of maintaining high standards of performance on a team is peer pressure. More than any policy or system, there is nothing like the fear of letting down respected teammates to motivate people to improve their performance. Once we achieve clarity and buy-in, it is then that we have to hold each other accountable for what we sign up to do, for high standards of performance and behavior.


The enemy of accountability is ambiguity.

How does a team go about ensuring accountability?

        The key to overcoming this dysfunction is adherence to a few classic management tools that are as effective as they are simple:

  • Publication of Goals and Standards. A good way to make it easier for team members to hold one another accountable is to clarify publicly exactly what the team needs to achieve, who needs to deliver what, and how everyone must behave in order to succeed.

  • Simple and Regular Progress Reviews. Team members should regularly communicate with one another, either verbally or in writing, about how they feel their teammates are doing against stated objectives and standards.

  • Team Rewards. By shifting rewards away from individual performance and toward team achievement, the team can create a culture of accountability. This occurs because a team is unlikely to stand by quietly and fail because a peer is not pulling his or her weight.


A team that holds one another accountable.

  • Ensures that poor performers feel pressure to improve

  • Identifies potential problems quickly by questioning one another’s approaches without hesitation

  • Establishes respect among team members who are held to the same high standards

  • Avoids excessive bureaucracy around performance management and corrective action

The Role of the Leader
       One of the most difficult challenges for a leader who wants to instill accountability on a team is to encourage and allow the team to serve as the first and primary accountability mechanism. Once a leader has created a culture of accountability on a team, however, he or she must be willing to serve as the ultimate arbiter of discipline when the team itself fails. This should be a rare occurrence. Nevertheless, it must be clear to all team members that accountability has not been relegated to a consensus approach, but merely to a shared team responsibility, and that the leader of the team will not hesitate to step in when necessary.

           Overcoming a Lack of Attention Focused on Results?

      The ultimate dysfunction of a team is the tendency of members to care about something other than the collective goals of the group. An unrelenting focus on specific objectives and clearly defined outcomes is a requirement for any team that judges itself on performance.

Measuring Results
       Results are not limited to financial measures, like profit, revenue, or shareholder returns. This dysfunction refers to a far broader definition of results, one that is related to outcome-based performance. Every good organization specifies what it plans to achieve in a given period, and these goals, more than the financial metrics that they drive, make up the majority of near-term, controllable results.

But what would a team be focused on other than results?

       Team status and individual status are the prime candidates.

  • Team Status. For members of some teams, merely being part of the group is enough to keep them satisfied. For them, achieving specific results might be desirable, but not necessarily worthy of great sacrifice or inconvenience.

  • Individual Status. A functional team must make the collective results of the group more important to each individual than individual members’ goals.

How does a team go about ensuring that its attention is focused on results?

       By making results clear and rewarding only those behaviors and actions that contribute to those results.

  • Public Declaration of Results. Teams that are willing to commit publicly to specific results are more likely to work with a passionate, even desperate desire to achieve those results.

  • Results-Based Rewards. An effective way to ensure that team members focus their attention on results is to tie their rewards, especially compensation, to achieving specific outcomes.


Staying focused?

       One important tool is having a scoreboard of some sort. Have some kind of metrics that people can look at and quickly understand whether or not the team is succeeding. Publicly declare the goals, and reward the team based on achieving those results.

       Make the results that need to be achieved so clear that no one would even consider doing something purely to enhance his or her individual status or ego. Because that would diminish our ability to achieve our collective goals. For goals to be meaningful and effective in motivating employees, they must be tied to larger organizational ambitions. Employees who don’t understand the roles they play in company success are more likely to become disengaged

The Role of the Leader
       Results Perhaps more than with any of the other dysfunctions, the leader must set the tone for a focus on results. If team members sense that the leader values anything other than results, they will take that as permission to do the same for themselves. Team leaders must be selfless and objective, and reserve rewards and recognition for those who make real contributions to achieving group goals.


The Rewards


       Striving to create a functional, cohesive team is one of the few remaining competitive advantages available to any organization looking for a powerful point of differentiation. Functional teams avoid wasting time talking about the wrong issues and revisiting the same topics over and over again because of a lack of buy-in. Functional teams also make higher quality decisions and accomplish more in less time and with less distraction and frustration.


       Additionally, "A" players rarely leave organizations where they are part of a cohesive team. Successful teamwork is not about mastering subtle, sophisticated theories, but rather about embracing common sense with uncommon levels of discipline and persistence. Ironically, teams succeed because they are exceedingly human. By acknowledging the imperfections of their humanity, members of functional teams overcome the natural tendencies that make teamwork so elusive.

                Characteristics of High Performing Teams

       Teams willing to address the five dysfunctions can experience the following benefits. High performing, cohesive teams:

  • Are comfortable asking for help, admitting mistakes and limitations, and take risks offering feedback

  • Tap into one another's skills and experiences

  • Avoid wasting time talking about the wrong issues and revisiting the same topics over and over again because of a lack of buy-in

  • Make higher quality decisions and accomplish more in less time and fewer resources

  • Put critical topics on the table and have lively meetings

  • Align the team around common objectives

  • Retain star employees

HUMBLE team members are able to be vulnerable, engage in honest conflict, and hold others accountable. They define success collectively, commit to team goals, and do not value status or ego.
HUNGRY team members are willing to engage in uncomfortable conflict and hold others accountable. They will go above and beyond to achieve results and are always contemplating the next step.
SMART team members understand group dynamics and can tactfully engage in productive conflict. They have good interpersonal skills and tend to understand how to deal with others in the most effective way.
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