Five Dysfunctions of a Team – Absence of Trust

Five Dysfunctions of a Team is a book I started reading recently and I think is one book that everyone who is working together with a team needs to read. This book describes the many pitfalls that almost all teams in the world face.

It starts out with a story about a fictional tech company in Silicon Valley and a new CEO comes in and finds how the executive team is highly dysfunctional. She takes them to a retreat and explains them about the 5 dysfunctions and works with them over the next few months to get the team to function together.

When you read the stories you would feel like you could relate to each character in the book with someone you would’ve worked with or currently working with. But the author clarifies that he sees the similar pattern in any company or team that he has worked with. He explains how to fix the five dysfunctions and make the team work together towards the common goal.

Five Dysfunctions

  1. Absence of trust
  2. Fear of conflict
  3. Lack of commitment
  4. Avoidance of accountability
  5. Inattention to results

Each of the dysfunction will build up to the next level and cause a totally dysfunctional team which is full of ego, politics and selfish people.

A team which doesn’t have any trust in themselves, would not have any conflicts. Team members would be afraid to air their conflicting views during meetings and would not have 100% commitment towards any decisions taken. And since there is no commitment, there is a lack of accountability.

The Team members will just say, “I knew it was going to fail.” and pass the blame on others. And this causes each team member to work only for himself and his group and wouldn’t care much about the whole team or organization’s growth.

This is how each dysfunction causes a major rift in the teams and end up causing irreparable damage to the organization. In this post and the next 4 posts, I will be talking in detail about the 5 dysfunctions and how you (as a team leader) should help your team overcome it.

Absence of trust

This is the first dysfunction – absence of trust among team members. Which is caused by their unwillingness to be vulnerable within the group. Only if the team members are genuinely open with each other about their weaknesses and mistakes can build the trust.

This is called vulnerability-based trust, which is completely different from the other “I trust him to finish his work by this week” kind of trust. Only when the team has this kind of trust, they will feel comfortable around one another. Else they will have their shields up always on the defence.

If all your time and energy is spent trying to protect yourself from your team members, you can never focus on your job. Only when you stop worrying about your weaknesses and trust that your team won’t use them against you, you will be able to start concentrating on your strengths and use them for your team.

Also, they will hesitate to ask/provide help and feedback to others. They even doubt the intention of others who try to help them and fail to recognize other’s skills and experiences.

When there is trust

When the team has trust, they will openly admit their weaknesses and mistakes and help each other in solving their problems. Always gives the benefit of doubt before reaching a negative conclusion. Apologize for any screwups without any hesitation and don’t have any ego.

But most importantly they focus all their time and energy on solving important issues instead of petty office politics.

Building vulnerability based trust

This kind of trust is very hard to build, as we have been trained from an early age to be competitive to be a successful person. Also, it is our natural instincts to not open up to everyone and protect ourselves in such a competitive space.

The team leader needs to conduct various exercises to help each team member to open up to each other. Each team member needs to start by sharing something personal about themselves. This shows everyone that there is just another human behind one another and builds empathy with each other.

The second exercise is for the team to identify one important contribution of each team member and one area they need to improve upon. Yes, this exercise is a bit dangerous as it might cause some tension, but the feedback needs to be taken constructively.

The third exercise is to use a personality profiling tool like Myers-Briggs Type Indicator to identify each team member’s personality types. And the most riskier exercise is to start giving 360-degree feedback about one another. But there is a slight difference between usual 360-degree feedbacks. You should not tie this to any kind of compensation or performance evaluation. You should try to use this as a developmental tool to identify the strengths and weaknesses.

With all these exercises the leader can build a team which trusts each other.

In tomorrow’s post, I will explain about the second dysfunction – Fear of conflict and how a team which doesn’t trust each other fears to have open conflicts.


Also published on Medium.

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