Dysfunctions of a Team

Hi  :)

Today I want to share with you part of  what I’ve learned with this amazing book  from Patrick Lencioni –The Five dysfunctions of a Team – which I truly recommend you to read. Doesn’t matter if you are a Scrum Master, developer, tester,  manager or other, as long if you are a person capable of reading and if you work with other humans, then read this book as  it will help up understand why sometimes things happen in a certain way.

I’ve just captured, roughly, some precious information from the book and match it with my experience, and that’s what I’m sharing with you today. Hope it’s helpful :).

So, let us start with a picture ( for me the best way to convene information :) ) showing the 5 dysfunctions of a team according to Lencioni.


Let me now explain you what this means.

1- Absence of trust  – Invulnerability

This is the first dysfunction of a team: The absence of trust among the team members.

You may find several causes to this but the main as written by Lencioni is our human need to feel invulnerable. It is part of our survival instinct to avoid being vulnerable to others, including the people with whom we work daily.  We try to survive inside a team by not showing vulnerability.

How do you detect this? (some symptoms)

– They do not talk about mistakes (bugs, bad code quality, wrong requirements, … you see people hiding trouble and trying to fix it before anyone notices

– They do not ask for help (for fixing stuff or figuring out something, nor to pair work for example) nor offer it (or if they do they do it in a way they are just showing off how good they are)

– They assume things as for example that other’s mistakes where on purpose or because of lack of skills.

– Normally these people try to ruin retrospectives, by being sarcastic or making fun of others when they try to speak up.

2- Fear of Conflict – Artificial Harmony

Because we want to be invulnerable we are afraid of conflict so we avoid it at all costs. This creates a false sense of harmony inside the team, which people will seek in order to avoid confrontation.  I don’t  know about you but I’ve  joined teams who looked awesome together,  looked like they were all happy, very friendly to each other and in the end I discovered all this was a bit fake. People were just pretending, playing  social games in order  to maintain an appearance of harmony . The problem with this is that not only it is fake, but it will also burn out people who have to maintain it (play this game to be accepted) and it will, dangerously, take the problems to another level. People will not openly discuss stuff, there’s a sarcasm battle instead. People will smile but say the most hideous things while smiling, and pretend all is good. So, in the end nothing is really discussed, problems will always be avoided or  ignored or under estimated . I even had  the experience of people saying I was actually imagining or even creating these problems. This is a very tricky situation for a Scrum Master but later I’ll tell you what you can try in order to deal with this (when you cannot fire or move those who are  pushing for this social gaming).

How do you detect this? (some other symptoms)

– Nothing is really discussed (in retrospectives or other meetings). You feel everyone is avoiding the hot topics and are just going around or not speaking at all.

– Office politics substitute open dialog. People start speaking about other’s failures or lack of skills not openly but behind their backs or in a way they look like they are kidding but they are actually hurting someone’s else pride.   (Guerrilla strategy)

3- Lack of Commitment – Ambiguity

If there’s no trust inside your team, if there’s a false harmony then as a team member you’ll not feel totally committed. You’ll most probably just play along. Actually if people avoid open discussions then there can’t be a real buy-in from them,  and organisation objectives versus  personal objectives will be very ambiguous.

How do you detect this? (some symptoms)

– No one takes the lead. If someone does (example a team leader because he has to or someone that still believes in change)  then that person is dragged down with problems, with a negative posture from the rest of the team.. “that won’t work because…” rather “..that may work and…”

– Long meetings discussing things to detail, with no final decision or sincere commitment from team members. You’ll see that nothing happens after the meeting- no action items will evolve or be delivered.

4- Avoid Accountability – Low standards

So, if there’s no trust, no discussion and no real belief in the objectives, you’ll avoid to be accountable for anything. Team members feel both their sphere of influence and concern is very very small. If no one feels accountable then no one will try to help  others become better, setting the whole company in lower standards.

How do you detect this? (some symptoms)

– Criticism towards people who actually take responsibility on matters or who perform better.

– Excuses to take responsibility on something, normally these excuses are something like:

” I don’t have the necessary empowerment from the company to do this”

” If I try to do this, other people who don’t want to take responsibility (not me of course) will not help but rather push me down and make me fail miserably ..you are asking me to do the impossible, this is a poisoned gift”

” I will never be able to do this with this kind of people around me. I don’t have anyone caring as much I do”

or simply : “That’s not part of my job description”

5- Inattention to results  – Status & Ego 

This inattention to results means people don’t care anymore about company results, people will most probably focus on their own individual objectives as they know they’ll be accountable for these. And so the most important is not to make the company succeed but rather maintaing your status. The so called personal agenda:). Unfortunately I’ve met some people like this during my life, but sometimes we need to understand it’s not actually all their fault, some companies create such a dysfunctional environment that these things are mostly normal to emerge.

How do you detect this? (some symptoms)

– They do  not care with team results, rather care on fulfilling their personal goals.  And when you ask how did they succeed so well in personal but failed on team level, they’ll tell you they did their best but the team is so bad that they couldn’t do anything else to improve it. (This sometimes is true, or part of it.. but if everyone in the team says the same, then it’s a team problem and everyone is responsible)

– Low performing team: not delivering what they promised.

– Focus more on the “I” than on the “We”. You notice this when they open their mouth.

So this is it. I don’t want to make a bigger post out of this, you should definitely read the book.

Later I’ll post about how you can fight these things if you are interested.

See ya



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