The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable Hardcover – 11 April 2002
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Building a cohesive team is not complicated, declares Lencioni, president of his own management consulting firm and author of The Five Temptations of a CEO. Departing from the dry, theoretical writing of many management books, he presents his case in the context of a fictional organization, and in doing so succeeds at communicating his ideas. The story is about a female CEO who is hired to bring together a dysfunctional executive staff to work as a team in a company that just two years earlier had looked promising. The scenarios that follow are recognizable and can be applied anywhere teamwork is involved, whether it is a multinational company, a small department within a larger organization, or a sports team. The five dysfunctions discussed are absence of trust, fear of conflict, lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability, and inattention to results. At the end of the story, the main points are summarized, and clearly written suggestions and exercises are offered to help, bring about change. Concise and easy to follow, this book is recommended for academic and public libraries with management collections and for anyone who is a member of a team that needs improvement. —Bellinda Wise, Nassau Community Call. Lib. Garden City, NY (Library Journal, April 15, 2002)
"...there is a lot of good sense in this book...certainly offers some useful pointers..." (Supply Management, 28 March 2002)
"...is worth exploring..." (Progress, Summer 2002)
"...an entertaining quick read filled with information easy to digest..." (The star online, 12 August 2003)
From the Inside Flap
After her first two weeks observing the problems at DecisionTech, Kathryn Petersen, its new CEO, had more than a few moments when she wondered if she should have taken the job. But Kathryn knew there was little chance she would have turned it down. After all, retirement had made her antsy, and nothing excited her more than a challenge. What she could not have known when she accepted the job, however, was just how dysfunctional her team was, and how team members would challenge her in ways that no one ever had before.
In The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni offers a leadership fable that is as compelling and enthralling as it is realistic, relevant, and practical. Through his keen intellect and storytelling power, he turns to the fascinating, complex world of teams.
Kathryn Petersen, DecisionTech's CEO, faces the ultimate leadership crisis: uniting a team that is in such disarray that it threatens to bring down the entire company. Will she succeed? Will she be fired? Will the company fail? Lencioni's riveting tale serves as a timeless reminder that leadership requires as much courage as it does insight.
Throughout the story, Lencioni reveals the five dysfunctions that go to the very heart of why teams--even the best ones--often struggle. He outlines a powerful model and actionable steps that can be used to overcome these common hurdles and build a cohesive, effective team.
Just as with his other books, Lencioni has written a compelling fable with a deceptively simple yet powerful message for all those who strive to be exceptional team leaders.
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However, his fifth, and ultimate, principle - focusing on results - includes the “package deal” that associates individual goals with team failure. Or, put another way, he believes that an individual who is focused on her own goals will sacrifice the team for her own success. So, Lencioni says the individual must therefore sacrifice her personal goals for the team’s. By assuming this false dichotomy of sacrificing others to you or you to others, Lencioni misses a third approach that rejects sacrifice altogether: an approach that treats people as traders - voluntarily exchanging values to mutual benefit.
For example, take his protagonist, Kathryn. She is hired to reform the leadership team and is well-compensated to do so. The company believes her leadership is good for the business. She accepts the position because she believes the job is good for her. She aligns her interests with the company’s. Both benefit. Neither subjugates nor sacrifices one side for the other. Yet, this stands in direct contrast to his own definition of his fifth dysfunction.
Even with this (all-too-common) transgression, the rest of the book has more than enough value to overcome its shortcomings. Ultimately, I would recommend it to anyone who wants to learn more about leadership.
The first problem is Lencioni as an author. He presents his case first in the form of a short story that has a 100% happy ending for Kathryn, the newly hired leader and protagonist of the story. It's a self-centered tale told from only a single point of view that gives no insight into the consequences of Kathryn's decisions one way or the other.
The second problem is Kathryn is treated as a cipher for good management, though she does not demonstrate it. In this very, very short story, Kathryn manipulates her way around her team, figuring out how to push their buttons to get them to do what she wants. Rather than coming out and requiring specific performance and being open about what she sees, Kathryn engages in double-talk, withholds valuable information, openly plays favorites, happily creates chaos, and gets a pat on the back from a board member who never holds her accountable. If I didn't know better, I would think the author was acting out some kind of fantasy to heal old wounds at a failed management endeavor.
The final problem is that the book and its points are utterly obtuse. The story consumes 80% of the book. The worksheet and associated instructions comprise the remaining 20%. This is less required reading and more a fatally flawed jumping off point to terrible management.
The book specifically suggests:
- A team can achieve anything if they're "all rowing in the same direction." While it's a cute sentiment, it does nothing to actually explain the vision of this book.
- Managers should be free to cut each other down, as long as its done via calling out someone on their missed deadlines (even though they are not personally responsible for managing those deadlines), and other passive-aggressive tactics.
- Everyone should reveal deep personal details about themselves, ignoring all respect for privacy. (For those who think this point is harsh, remember that Lencioni's innocent low-risk questions only apply to people who are perfect. For anyone who is an actual human, being interrogated about details that have no place in a work environment is deeply disrespectful and borderline psychpathic.)
- It should be up to anyone but the actual boss to decide what the goals are. Just think for a minute about how well this would fly at Apple or Tesla.
- Everyone should sacrifice their personal goals in favor of the "team" goals. That's right. You don't get to think about your career. You don't get to decide what is and what is not best for you. Don't like it? Get out. Why would anyone ever want to work for a boss who thinks like that? That's a team killer is what it is. It's a philosophy of pure poison.
This is a book written by a mediocre consultant who will help you achieve mediocre results at best. This book is the opposite of "A players want to work with A players." It's a cast of B and C players who behave more like children than professionals. It's simply not realistic.
Mickey is the perpetual debbie downer who rolls her eyes at everything. Sorry, if Mickey was this bad in real life she would not have risen to the level she is at. Here's a more realistic picture: if I were Mickey I would roll my eyes, too. She's absolutely justified in the contempt she has for the clueless board above her, and for her do-nothing co-workers. The story admits that Mickey produces outstanding marketing material. She's quick, efficient, and she takes great care of her team. Even when she's facing termination for insubordination, she deftly negotiates herself a severance. Yet the story throws Mickey under the bus and paints her as a toxic saboteur instead of the A player she is.
Martin the senior engineer slash developer is another A player ground into submission by Kathryn who admits -- ADMITS -- she does not understand technology and has never led a technology company before. Yet, here she is, telling Martin how to do his job and publicly chastising him for using his laptop during a meeting -- something Martin points out is standard procedure and doesn't bother anyone but Kathryn. This is poison! A leader should be intimately familiar with a company's products, inside and out. Do you think Elon Musk doesn't know how batteries work? Do you think Carly Fiorina doesn't know how toner and fusers work? (Well, maybe she doesn't. She single handedly ruined HP.) The point is, no one can respect a leader who doesn't have at least a general understanding of what she's been asked to lead.
The rest of the cast is what you would expect from a mediocre team: a manager who can't manage unless he has a bullet point agenda, a do-it-all guy who has no initiative of his own, a couple of D- level people who only left because they were probably hired by C- level managers. Everyone sounds like a desperately out of touch boomer or generally clueless GenX at best. There is no trace here of actual managers you might encounter in your career. It's grotesque in its poor representation of what a modern team looks like.
This is a book that tells a convenient story in favor of a consultant's business proposition. It's more than a little like a proselytizer who also happens to sell Bibles. In other words, this book is snake oil. Like other reviews have pointed out, there's no data to back up the book's assertions. There is no real world analysis and comparison. There is no admittance of flaw anywhere. This is a book that teaches leaders to demonstrate vulnerability, but presents itself as utterly invulnerable. Lencioni is God, and this is his Infallible Word.
Actually, I encourage you to buy and read this book. While it won't help you succeed, it will help you recognize incompetence (especially in consultants) and avoid it.
Update: I took this book back to the people who recommended it to me. I asked them what specific lessons they absorbed and put into practice in their own companies. After some awkwardness, I found that no one actually implemented anything from this book. They just read it and fell for the glowing story. This book isn't a treatise, or even a lesson. It's fan-fic that CEOs and entrepreneurs drool over the same way your assistant drools over new office supplies.
It took me four hours to read this book. That's four hours I'm never getting back.
The biggest problem I see is that both books are framed about C-level and top level executive teams. Very few mid-managers would have the leverage and ability to implement all of these principles at lower levels of the organization. It's definitely possible in some cases, but it would significantly more challenging. His principles are universally true, but his coaching is directed at executives.