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Turning Dysfunctions into Actions – Fighting the 5 Dysfunctions of a Team

December 17, 2013

Hi All :)

I just got this challenge today, from a colleague of mine, to convert my post   5 dysfunctions of a team  into something  positive we could show people without  scare them.  So rather than just posting on walls why we suck, the challenge is to post something that would make us think about it and maybe even make us do something to improve it.

So, @ghostrich: Challenge Accepted!

Let us turn the 5 Dysfunctions into Actions that will help people  grow their teams into the most awesome teams ever. This post  will, as you’ll figure out,  replace the post I promised about how to fight the dysfunctions :), so I’ll use that idea plus the challenge and combine all in one because it makes totally sense.

Disclaimer: all you may read here is not in the book, I mean, some ideas may actually be there, I read it long time ago so I don’t remember how much of my brain is influenced by it. Either way I honestly believe that whatever you see below is solely the product of my poor brain. As such feel free to disagree, within the boundaries of respect, and don’t criticize by saying the same with other words, i’m not an English native speaker ;). Before exploding ask me what I meant, that is after all the first step we’ll be talking about: Trust.

As always, a picture to enlighten us :) :

5growing steps

Let me now tell you how I see these steps and what we can do to help people go from one to the other.

1- Trust

Trust in you, trust in others. Don’t start your day with suspicion in your heart and mind, trust everyone is doing the best they can with the information, time and  skills they have.

Ask before answering. Above all ask before criticizing. I know it’s not easy, I preach about this now and probably I’ll say something unfair to someone in the next hour, but I’ll try not to.

Now, there’s a trick to start trusting others more and more. You have to start trusting yourself  first. If you trust yourself, your judgment, emotions, fairness, then you can afford to trust others and  you won’t feel vulnerable because you know you can take it whatever happens.  I’ll tell you something, and I can do it because I trust myself and my judgment to tell this in the open, some years ago I had this, let us call it epiphany. I realised that what I perceived as my “weaknesses” where  actually “weaknesses” because I rated them as that.  Two important observations or events changed my mind about weaknesses. First I observed that what I considered as a weakness, most people wouldn’t see it that way and some of them  hadn’t even noticed them before I talked about them. The second thing, and  most important for me, was that I realised that after talking openly about my weaknesses they suddenly became strengths at the eyes of others, and most importantly at my own eyes. Problems were no longer problems after being released in the open, they were mere facts or simple situations, not that important or that I could actually solve pretty easily.

So there you go. Don’t mistrust others just because you actually can’t trust yourself. Work it out, work out your self-confidence, think about how lucky you are of being here, reading this. How many billions have passed since the beginning of earth, imagine how any slight change in any even occurred until now would have easily changed your chances of being here, right now.  You don’t think about that often do you? You should.

As my great number 1 friend and  number 1  preferred reviewer would add:

In case you do trust yourself and are highly confident on your skills, don’t fall in the trap of being judgmental. Yes, some people judge others that have doubts calling them rookies and being inconsiderate by getting also into the presumption that everything they do is so very well done and obviously clearly documented. Don’t do that. Some people may be stuck on something that may be obvious for you, but because it is not obvious for them, that does not mean they are less intelligent or capable.  – @pintolaranja


How to get there (some examples):

–  Practical advice for companies? Do Culture Hacking Workshops with your people. If you do so, choose one of the best, here: (@OlafLewitz), (@mccarthyjim1) and (@siraju)

–  For individuals, you have several places where these people do free workshops (there’s one happening  this week  in Berlin for example – I’m going!) , meditation is also something people recognize as positive for you to embrace your strengths and not so strong points :) – I’ve never done it, sorry I don’t have enough patience to be quiet for an hour :/

– Ask for help when you need. Just do it. Give it a try. Or if someone else bolder than you is asking for it then offer your sincere help.

2- Nurture discussions

Discussing inside a team is the most important mean of communication. You  discuss priorities, decisions, opinions, emotions (maybe regarding your cat or your fear of not delivering on time), all very important for you, as a team, to take action and plan how to, together, fight adversities. That’s why we have team too right? So that we have more perspectives on stuff.

Yves wrote in his blog about the Power of the Junior and it’s really interesting when you think about it, how powerful is someone who has the nerve :)) to do the stupid questions. I normally embrace this role very well, and that’s one of the reasons I let go my technical skills and focus more on the soft skills nowadays. Being away from the IT entrails gives the clarity of mind to embrace the End user perspective and allows me to do stupid questions. The funny this is,  I’m never the only one who says ” Ahhhhhh” when my stupid question is answered.

Stupid questions are really powerful. They will focus on things everyone assumes that are there by default. And they will also demand a most simple way to understand the answer. Rather than that ugly jargon you geeks use. (;P)

How to get there (some examples):

– Ask questions, lots. Make sure all angles are covered and sum up all the answers, so that you guarantee that everyone is in the same page. You’ll be surprised how, after 1 hour discussing the topics, 2 or 3 people understood something different. Make sure everyone can speak up without regretting it 2 seconds later.

– Take in consideration how humans learn . With this in mind try to not only talk but actually do things, prototypes, drawings, flowcharts, whatever. Pick up your pens create stuff.

– Doesn’t matter which framework or process you are using, take your team out. Go for a beer and talk  frankly about things you could make better as a team, with no blaming just a friendly talk of small steps we could take in order to change some things. If you’ve never talked to your team, of if they are not used to do this, then just take them out for a beer and talk about sports. Leave the improvements talk for the next round, try  to create some team momentum first. And please, take care of the action items they give you, if you ignore them, then you are telling people to stop giving you ideas, feedback or point out impediments.

3-  Commit

 Commit, Commit, Commit! Take the Challenge! :) Really , do it. It is the best way to excel, to learn new things. If you don’t feel comfortable in taking all on your shoulders, then ask for help, ask someone else to share this with you. Take the lead and make it a team challenge. 

But don’t commit because you want to show off. If you think your light is brighter then of the others around you, then you are doomed. No one will help you. I wouldn’t. I won’t. Don’t take your personal agenda or ambition above the others, of course we all want to be good, but we don’t need to be better than the others. I’ll explain: we need to be better, but better than ourselves, not the others. Again goes to trust. If you trust yourself, you’ll set your own standards on what you can achieve, not what others can.

I personally am very reluctant to help people who think they can use me or others to shine. I wish them luck, but i am not a ladder. Nor a mule to carry others. Weakness? No. strength. My standards are different and so I’m better than I used  to be.

My wise friend added:

Remember that not everybody is comfortable in taking the first step to ask questions. It is nice to state that you should be brave and expose yourself in this vulnerable manner, but still there are those who will be more reluctant in taking the first step. Ultimately, we are also all responsible for identifying people that have difficulty to overcome this and take the leap of faith, be the ones to start trusting. Be an example. @pintolaranja

How to get there (some examples):

– First thing: Set clear goals for everyone. People need to understand what you want from them in order to get there.

– Try to set Team goals above all. Personal goals should not be bound to salary increases or whatsoever. Personal goals are an investment. Team goals are, goals, objectives, targets. That’s how i see it (at least now while writing this post to you).

– Talk about how the Team should commit to challenges, you may even define your own commitment procedure :). Do it together, it will most probably be very fun.

– Last thing is: Commitment is better when shared, it’s also  stronger and wider. When shared, commitment is no longer something we have to, is rather a bound, something we want to. Lights are brighter together. 

4- Be accountable

Commit whole heartily to things and then be accountable for them. Do your best. Take ownership of results. I was once taught about the origin of the words Responsibility and Accountability. The person explained me that Responsibility can be broken in 2 (as Accountability can). I still use this in some of my trainings when i see people can’t distinguish both.. let us see if you find it helpful to:


So responsibility is our own ability to provide a response to something.


Accountability is then our ability to take something into our account. To own it.  So you can be accountable without being responsible.. you may not know how to respond to something, but, BUT, you will ensure it will be responded. That is accountability.

Useful? :) I found it too :)

How to get there (some examples):

–  The team should define what will you all be accountable for (as a team).

– Don’t be afraid to be accountable for things, even when it’s not in your job description. Embrace the challenge, ask for help, make things happen. If anyone can do it, that is you. Set higher standards for you. As someone said:  Challenge your limits, don’t limit your challenges.

– Help others who step up. Help others to step up! Don’t criticize. If you could do it better then you could have taken the challenge before or help that person. Either way you should be quiet rather than criticizing. (unless it’s a show off, then you can throw stones)

– Managers: make sure people are not crucified when taking accountability or responsibility on something. Protect them from unfairness. People will do their best, with the time, information and kills they have available.

5- Focus on Results

There’s much that can be said about this, and you probably heard it a lot of times. So, this is already a long post I’ll try to provide a newer perspective.

@ChristopherAver author of “Teamwork is an individual skill“, starts by explain why teams are created in first place. And I think this is the thing we forget more often and we shouldn’t. Teams are not brought up because of the people in them. Teams are created because a product is waiting to be created.

Remember this, work can and should be fun, but we go work everyday because we need to create something. Can be a pair of shoes, a presentation, a new App, create awareness, or change a mindset.. Doesn’t matter: either way, whatever product or service it is, you are there to create something (or maintain). It is then most expected that results actually matter.

How to get there (some examples):

– Team objectives, goals. Get together and plan on how to achieve them. track them, take notice of their progress. Make them happen. Achieve together whatever exist to be won over! :)

– Aim for your Team to be a reference in your company. Share that status together. Set the bar.

And there you go, transforming 5 dysfunctions into 5 things we can aim for. And they are not that difficult to obtain right? If only you could make everyone else act this way..

What can you do right now?

.. and you can.

Start small.

Most important, create Intention in your team.  Tomorrow morning, casually tell them the one thing you would like to change in your team in order to make it better.

Then every time you see something going against that intention, point it out and make sure you all find a way of not letting t happen again.

Do it as my colleague, to whom I’m writing this post, does: Slowly sometimes, steadily always, but never give up.

See ya ,


Ps: @ghostrich , I wrote this post because more than just doing it in our trenches I think you deserve to see online your awesome challenges and disruptive thinking online. This is in the end the most simple way I have of  honoring your work and effort and thank you for never giving up. See ya around!

To the rest of you that are still reading this, get up and go do some magic!

Ps2: I had another epiphany today: I found out I’m capable of changing the world. As long as this happens before 5 ;).

PS3: Thank you again @pintolaranja for your sincere feedback :) you are one of a kind.


From → Agile, People, Tips

  1. Thank you so much for taking on the challenge. You rock!

    Related to that, I came across this handy test, which let’s you find out where areas of improvements lay.
    Especially interesting to look at are the symptoms (of which you also describe some in your previous post).

  2. Hey Catia, great post, along with time actually gives me a totally different perspective on some problems and is a missing piece to a puzzel.

    I still think there is fusion going on, I regularly go back to Deming’s deadly diseases : to find the root causes of some of these issues.
    However I find even if you resolve the root cause you still end up with the Monkey’s in a cage experiment scenario:
    but for me the 5 dysfunctions of a team actually start to show a way to highlight and resolve them.

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