Book Review: “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” by Patrick Lencioni

I read “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” by Lencioni. It is very readable, even entertaining… and it takes about 45 minutes to read through the “good parts”. (Like with all business books, the author knows how to use stories to spin 1-2 pages of content into a 150-page book!) Here’s my take.

  1. Absence of Trust – This stems from unwillingness to be vulnerable, not being genuinely open about their mistakes and weaknesses.
  2. Fear of Conflict – Teams that lack trust (from #1 above!) are incapable of engaging in an unfiltered, open and passionate debate of ideas.
  3. Lack of Commitment – Since these teams haven’t aired their opinions in a debate, they never buy in and commit to decisions.
  4. Avoidance of Accountability – Counterproductive actions and behaviors aren’t called out by other team members.
  5. Inattention to Results – Individual needs (ego, recognition, career) takes priority.

Cohesive teams…

  1. Trust one another.
  2. Engage in unfiltered conflict around ideas.
  3. Commit to decisions and plans of action.
  4. Hold one another accountable for delivering.
  5. Focus on the achievement of collective results.

Here’s the questions I’m asking myself after reading this book… What is our team goal? We’re running hard and running well – but to what destination?

And another thought came to me – scrum is what we do in the vacuum of leadership.Because we often get spotty/late feedback from the business – “this isn’t what I wanted at all!” “We need this done by Tuesday!” – we plan out our work, one or two weeks at a time, based on our best guess of what we should be doing.

But churning out work two weeks at a go doesn’t guarantee forward progress, and it can help enable a false feeling of security – that we’re making progress towards a definite collective goal, when in fact all the team/department/business is doing is treading water.

This especially becomes apparent when the team does not have one major multi-month project they can focus on collectively, but when everyone is still splitting up into 1-person “teams” following the DSU. Scrum and agile cannot make up for the lack of a specific, definite overarching goal and a definable metric, set by executives and followed up on regularly by everyone down the chain.

Quotable quotes:

  • Politics is when people choose their words and actions based on how they want others to react, rather than on what they really think.
  • Disagree and commit in meetings – consensus is horrible!
  • The basic gist of the book is that consensus is elusive. Peer to peer dynamics are difficult – you feel you’re sticking your nose into other people’s business. There’s no buy-in – people aren’t going to hold each other accountable if they haven’t bought into the plan – “I never agreed to that!”
  • We need to have a specific goal – something like “18 new customers by 12/31″. A goal could be a low bug count by X date, or having the Strat Cat project done in five weeks, etc.
  • The lead protagonist (Kathryn) is quite the Atlas Shrugged hero-character. “I’m pretty intolerant of behavior that demonstrates an absence of trust, or a focus on individual ego. I will be encouraging conflict, driving for clear commitments, and holding each other accountable.”
  • I liked her handling of a disagreement with one of her team, when he tried to show her up in a meeting – “Would you rather have this conversation here, or one on one?”

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