The book, Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni, presents a model of a pyramid where each level builds on the other. At the base of the model is trust. Without trust in a team, nothing else can exist. The team must trust one another and be prepared to be vulnerable. This involves openness about what you might be good at and areas where you struggle. You are trusting others on your team to help you where needed and doing the same for them where they need it. You essentially have each other’s backs.
Once trust is established, the second tier can be overcome which is the Fear of Conflict. Conflict is healthy, but too many people misunderstand what conflict actually is and regard it as a fight or a series of personal attacks. Whilst that is still conflict, it is not a healthy conflict. Teams should engage in healthy conflict. If you take the emotion out of conflict, it really boils down to a difference of views. In relationships, healthy conflict is when the right to hold a different view is accepted and respected. Trust exists to the level that allows those holding differing views to discuss them in a respectful manner.
Figure 2: Lencioni’s Conflict Continuum
For a team to perform to its highest level, conflict is not only acceptable, but it is also necessary. Without conflict, the truth may not be found. Without conflict, commitment may be lacking.
Lack of commitment is the third level on the pyramid. Everyone on the team needs to commit to the goal or outcome. Those who haven’t committed will not share the passion of those who have. Such division will be noticeable to the whole team. Commitment comes when everyone is committed to the truth established and the goal of the team. This cannot occur without a degree of conflict. Everyone then has some “skin in the game” and commits to the project.
If commitment is missing, then the fourth level of the pyramid comes into play which is accountability. If team members have not engaged in healthy conflict to come to a common agreement of truth on a project, then there will be no commitment from some of the team members. Consequently, those who have disagreed with the agreed truth of the project will not be prepared to be held accountable because they didn’t agree in the first place.
When the team is working as one they will be prepared to challenge one another regarding the tasks they have committed to complete. If the team feels open and trusting enough to do this, then help can be offered where needed to team members. Using skills from healthy conflict where people are not attacked personally, team members can be asked about their performance and their struggles. Support strengthens trust and the team as a working unit.
If team members are not holding one another accountable, then the final dysfunction in the pyramid comes into play which is inattention to results. The results the team should be focused on are the goals and outcomes of the project. Without accountability, team members can reflect on their own results perhaps, but not those of the team. Team members can take an attitude of “I have achieved my goals” rather than “We have achieved our goal”. Teams are about collective results, not individual achievements.
So in summary, teams need to build trust so they can engage in healthy conflict. It is worth considering if trust is lacking, then is the team suffering from a toxic culture? In turn, this will lead to being committed to the goals and outcomes of the team which in turn leads to holding each team member accountable for their performance. This finally allows the focus on achieving the results and outcomes decided upon by the team in the first instance.
Review the images in this post. Is your team high performing or dysfunctional? If it’s dysfunctional, at what level is it failing and what can you do to address these issues? Don’t ever be afraid to go back to base one of Trust as it is the foundation upon which all great teams are built.