Case Studies

The Five Dysfunctions Of A Team

Aug 2016

Please note that all references to “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” refer to Patrick Lencioni’s book and related content, originally published 2002.


Since 2012 Legitimate Leadership has been engaged with a client in South Africa to improve its leadership capability at all levels within its manufacturing function.

One of the client’s shift managers is enrolled with South Africa’s Gordon Institute of Business Science (University of Pretoria) on a Foundation Management Development Programme. As part of a section of the course entitled Creating High Performance Teams, the shift manager recently submitted an assignment entitled “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team”.

A core conclusion of his assignment is that avoidance of accountability and inappropriate intent are the greatest downfalls of leadership.

COMMENTARY ON THE SUBMITTED ASSIGNMENT BY WENDY LAMBOURNE OF LEGITIMATE LEADERSHIP: What this shift manager has understood and articulated so well is that the core criterion for success as a leader, at any level in the hierarchy, is intent. At the root of all the five team dysfunctions is the intent of the leader to get rather than to give.

What follows is a summary of the shift manager’s assignment.


The shift manager’s team manufactures initiating systems for commercial explosives. This entails the processing of explosive and pyrotechnic powders. Clearly safety is of the utmost importance. The shift manager directly leads four lead operators who each have seven operators in their teams. He gives direction to the entire team, always mindful of the safety aspects.


There is currently some division between the four lead operators, leading to communication issues. The operators are also aware of these divisions. Team leaders do not fully utilise their authority – they are hesitant to make decisions within their micro-teams and defer to the shift manager. This may also include avoiding confrontation with their operators. This can lead to planning dilemmas – for instance, when operators are given leave, resulting in their being too few people to achieve required outcomes. Timekeeping and a lack of sense of urgency are also challenges. For example, breakdowns are not reported in a timely manner, leading to downtime.


What follows is a description of the five dysfunctions, proposals on how to address them, and the beneficial consequences of doing so.

  1. Absence Of Trust

Absence of trust is manifest among members of the manufacturing team. Hence, they do not hold one another accountable when standards are compromised or when results are not achieved.

Trust is an important element in building solid, strong teams. It is very challenging to build trust in teams especially if the team members do not trust each other. Behavioural change needs to be brought about by the team leader and cascaded down to the workforce.

For transactional trust to work it needs to be reciprocal – “give trust to get trust”. Leadership needs to give trust in order to get trust back from the workforce; then trust will spread among the teammates.

Action steps in this regard include:

  • Hold regular, transparent feedback meetings with the team. The meetings should be reciprocal in views and ideas, to improve team contribution.
  • Be open to the team on a personal level and be interested in members as human beings as opposed to human resources.
  • Beneficial consequences expected from these actions include:
  • Uniting the team and building a communication platform where people will raise their views and ideas openly. They will also be informed about the organisation’s status, issues, challenges and ways to progress.
  • People will feel connected on a personal level. They will also be comfortable to be open and demonstrate trust.
  1. Fear Of Conflict

This entails avoidance of confrontation that will lead to conflict or disagreement. It involves the avoidance of hurting people and a striving to be liked, by your team or subordinates. However, it is difficult to hold friends accountable for their actions. Fear of conflict can also mean we are not open to one another in terms of views, facts and opinions. This can lead to issues being left unresolved, great ideas being lost, and trust issues being questioned.

The Thomas-Kilmann model lists the ways in which conflicts are handled. Some people avoid conflict in order to keep the peace, to be liked, or just out of fear of confrontation. Others accommodate the situation for the benefit of the team or to not hurt other people. Others compromise or would prefer to collaborate.

Action steps in this regard include:

  • Establish an environment where everyone is free to openly raise their views and concerns.
  • Teach the team that conflict is good if it is handled correctly at the right platform.
  • Beneficial consequences expected from these actions include:
  • Fostering open discussions where views, ideas and concerns are openly raised discussed and resolved by the team.
  • Team members will better understand each other and their differences by engaging in controlled conflict and that will stimulate ideas.
  1. Lack Of Commitment

This is a willingness issue arising from lack of involvement and engagement and disconnections in the hierarchy. This will lead to division to the detriment of the organisation. The workforce tends to do what is called “go slow” because they see their views and ideas as void. Leadership needs to get buy-in from the workforce by involving all parties and being honest about the scope and the required standards. By following the four steps of the WIFI model (below) worker engagement is achieved. The four steps are:

  • Wellbeing – feeling good about oneself and the organisation one works for.
  • Information is shared with all transparently and there are no hidden agendas.
  • Fairness from all parties leads to openness.
  • Involvement – employees are involved for the greater good of the organisation.

Action steps in this regard include:

  • Delegate simple tasks to some committed team members.
  • Subsequently, hold those who are not committed to their jobs accountable.

Beneficial consequences expected from these actions include:

  • Restoring the interest of team members by not just doing routine work.
  • By providing consequence for lack of commitment (for instance, they may lose their jobs), they will approach their jobs with changed behaviour.
  1. Inattention To Results

Inattention to results is normally caused by lack of trust. Strong teams are built on trust, delegation and unity rising above pride, greed and self-ambition. Results will never be achieved if everyone is pulling in different directions. Also the goal or objective or results need to be clearly and honestly defined and communicated.

Action steps in this regard include:

  • Set clear standards/objectives/targets and individual KPIs for every team member to know what is expected in order to reach the results.
  • Continuously communicate the status of the objective and the drawbacks in reaching the results.
  • Beneficial consequences expected from these actions include:
  • Striving to achieve excellence, arising from people knowing what is expected of them. For this, a visible scorecard display should be installed.
  1. Avoidance Of Accountability

Avoidance of accountability is the worst downfall of leadership. Avoiding holding people accountable, avoiding engagement on burning issues, and avoiding crucial decisions, all lead to standards dropping and loss of control of the organisation. Conversely, strong accountability enforcement uplifts the organisation because standards are maintained, targets and delivery are adhered to, and team members will censure each other.

Action steps in this regard include:

  • Standards need to be made known to everyone, including the reasons behind the standards. This applies to safety, quality, delivery, environment, time and attendance, OTIF (on time in full), training and operational instructions.
  • Always remind people of standards when in a meeting, as you walk the floor, and on an informal basis.
  • Beneficial consequences expected from these actions include:
  • People will acknowledge the standard and admit when it is breached. They will be willing to accept the consequences of their actions.
  • Leadership will be firm yet fair in holding people accountable.


In summary, it all boils down to intent. Is the leader’s intent benevolent or malevolent? Is he a giver or a getter? What is the leader’s intent with regard to team members (are they tools or human beings)? Does the leader want results for selfish reasons or for the team as a whole? Intent will sustain all the actions listed above.

People should be treated as human beings not as human capital. Capital does not have feeling; people do. I need to trust my team in all aspects of what we do. If we trust people, we will consequently receive their trust. That is when people will open up in raising issues that they are not happy about, in bringing forward ideas for continuous improvements and in having open dialogue to deal with conflict.

People will be responsible and be committed in what they do, due to the fact that they know what is expected of them and that they are involved. This will bring about accountability in the team so that they can hold each other accountable on standards, objectives and goals. If teams are able to trust, engage in fruitful conflict discussions, and are committed and accountable to set goals, then the results will follow naturally.


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