Notes from 5 Dysfunctions of a Team


1. Absence of Trust

  • This is not about predictive trust – where we have known someone for some time and can predict what they will do, say or respond
  • Focus here is vulnerability-based trust
  • When people are not pretending, and can be open and honest with each other, without any egos
  • Happens when people can say things like “I need help”, “I’m sorry” or “can you teach me”
  • Requires the whole team to be vulnerable; if just one member of the team cannot be vulnerability, it will spread like virus to the whole team
  • To encourage vulnerable behaviour within a team, the leader has to start first by being and demonstrate vulnerability

2. Fear of Conflict

  • Conflict is a good thing; not mean spirited, but productive ideological
  • Without vulnerability based trust, conflict becomes politics (Personal A is just looking to manipulate Person B to win)
  • With vulnerability based trust, conflict is just the pursuit of truth or the best possible solution
  • Conflict will look different from culture to culture
  • Great relationships are built on the ability to disagree, and know you can recover from that
  • When we fail to disagree with people around ideas and issues, it ferments into conflict around them as a person, it builds up, and comes out in a hurtful way later
  • When we skip over important conflicts, we end up putting our self in position to encounter the next dysfunction – lack of commitment

3. Lack of Commitment

  • When people don’t weigh in on a subject, they don’t buy in
  • We are not looking for consensus; it will take too long. Goal is to disagree and commit
  • Important to demand that people weigh in
  • When there’s no consensus, a leader’s job is to break the tie
  • 99% of time, people will support even if they disagree, after they know they have been heard and their inputs are considered in the decision
  • If we don’t get commitment, we get the next dysfunction – avoidance of accountability

4. Avoidance of Accountability

  • When people have not committed on a decision, they are not going to hold one another accountable
  • On great teams, accountability is peer to peer
  • Peer pressure is best kind of accountability
  • This is only possible if leaders are willing to confront difficult issues and hold people accountable
  • As much as it is important to hold people accountable to results (numbers), it is also important to hold people accountable for their behaviours
  • If we don’t hold people accountable, they will not understand the consequences of their actions

5. Inattention to Results

  • People will think it doesn’t matter otherwise
  • If we are not focused on the results, then why are we there

About the author

Darren Sim

Darren is passionate about strategy, product management, and software craftsmanship. Documenting his journey and learnings in his quest to nurture purpose driven product teams that contribute to the advancement of humanity through technology.

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