Skip to content

Five dysfunctions of a team

February 5, 2013
February 04, 2013

MELBOURNE, Feb 4 — I was running a workshop involving a leadership team from an organisation and we were working on how to build effective teams.

The focus was on eliminating the five main dysfunctions of a team (based on the work of Patrick Lencioni).

It occurred to me that these dysfunctions are just as relevant to the family unit. In fact, is there any team more important than the family?

In the time I have been writing this column in The Malaysian Insider from last December, I have been counting my blessings of the chance encounter that has enriched me beyond my Western-centric birth, upbringing, education and career development.

My writing has opened me up to a whole new world of learning and engagement, and a whole new vista on life.

I have been reading up a whole lot more about this new world of my forebear Columbus. And once again, I have to say, I am ashamed. How ignorant I am, 500 years after Columbus.

But here I thank my Italian forebears for my received ancora imparo value, which translated from Latin means “I still learn, I learn more, etc.”

One thing I have learned from my reading of “Malaysia, Truly Asia” tourist brochures is that Chinese New Year is coming up in six days. And that, as with Hari Raya Aidilfitri and Deepavali, everybody balik kampung. And I learn that it is no different with Christmas!

Now, that is hardly any different to our Australian Christmas — whether it is Italian, Greek, Anglo-Saxon or whatever; each with their religious variation. Everybody “comes home.”

Where we are, “home” may not be the ancestral home. More likely, siblings take turns to host the family gathering. Whatever, it remains the case that it would have been a year since the extended family last got together.

Much would have happened in the interim; between parents and children, between siblings, between in-laws at every level, between cousins — at times multiple times removed.

Festive family gatherings is a time meant to be full of joy, yet for many they are sadly a time of family dysfunction and in-fighting. It’s worth thinking about these dysfunctions, and how they fit in with family.

Dysfunction 1: Absence of trust

“Trust is the foundation of real teamwork.”

“Great teams do not hold back with one another.”

“They (team members) admit their mistakes, their weaknesses and their concerns without fear of reprisal.”

Without trust, we simply can’t operate effectively. This often comes about because of the need to feel invulnerable, that we know best and that we are always right.

It’s important that we can open up to each other and admit when we are wrong, admit that we are weak in some areas and need support from the team to be better.

I always encourage the team leader to start with their own weaknesses first. In the family unit, the team leaders are the parents, so they should start and then encourage the children to follow.

Perhaps try this during a family meeting. Start by saying “I think I am good at ‘X’ but I also think I could do better at ‘Y’ and need your help to improve”. Go round the table and see what comes out. But resist the temptation to criticise.

Dysfunction 2: Fear of conflict

“If we don’t trust one another, then we aren’t going to engage in open, constructive, ideological conflict.” Consequence:

● No collaborative solutions.

● Solutions that lack the input of all team members.

I’m not talking about aggressive/fighting conflict here. I’m talking about constructive debate.

Teams do not engage when decisions are forced upon them, but if they are provided with input and given the opportunity to put their argument forward, they are more likely to agree to the final decision.

We should encourage debate. When we make decisions in my household, I will often say, “This is what I think; what are the arguments for or against?” I want my family to challenge me. I want them to have input to the decisions that will affect us all.

We should encourage family to say, “I disagree; this is the reason I disagree and this is what I think we should do.” That way everyone can feel comfortable that they have had a say and can get on with the decision.

Remember, this is not about consensus. Too often consensus means no one is really happy, and then snipes about it behind your back (what I call artificial harmony). This is about real dialogue, real input, real debate and real agreement, despite anyone having argued against it.

Dysfunction 3: Lack of commitment

Essentially this is failure to buy into decisions.

Share opinions: “It’s as simple as this. When people don’t unload their opinions and feel like they’ve been listened to, they won’t really get on board.” People need to weigh in before they buy in.

If Dysfunction 2 is eliminated then this won’t happen. By ensuring that there is no ambiguity, that our goals are well defined and that we have all had input, it is easier to commit to it. Every family should have goals and it’s only fair that everyone has a say in them and therefore commit to them.

Dysfunction 4: Avoidance of accountability

The pyramid continues to build on itself. There must be commitment before there can be accountability.

“People aren’t going to hold each other accountable if they haven’t clearly bought in to the same plan.”

This is also about not settling for “good enough”, for low standards. We should be able to say to each other, “you’re letting the team/family down, we expect better behaviour and I am calling you out on it.”

This should not only come from parents but from siblings as well. If we know our brother/sister/parent will hold us accountable, then we can better strive for higher standards.

Dysfunction 5: Inattention to results

“Our job is to make the results that we need to achieve so clear to everyone in this room that no one would even consider doing something purely to enhance his or her individual status or ego. Because that would diminish our ability to achieve our collective goals. We would all lose.”

If there is going to be ego, it should be collective ego that is greater than the individual egos. With individual egos, people are going to look out for their own interests. The team’s interests (results) should be more important than individual interests.

It’s the same for family; the interests of the family unit must always be above that of the individual.

We have lost sight of family pride and reputation — and I don’t mean what others think, but what we as a family think about ourselves.

We should be proud to be a member of our own family and consider that any wrongdoing or ill-conceived action lets the entire family down. We should make decisions based not on what it would mean for me (usually short-term) but what it would mean or what impact it would have on the family.

This is not easy; family is not easy. But unless we all strive to be a functional family unit (team) then it will surely collapse around us.

Go back to the One Per Cent principle and think about what dysfunction you might be able to improve on by just a little.

If we all do that, soon enough we will have eliminated the dysfunctions and have a strong family team that can enjoy each other and the rewards that good teamwork brings.

With Chinese New Year six days away, isn’t it a great time to start?

I wish everybody Gongxi facai, and an enjoyable and meaningful “open house.” Wish I were there.

* Giorgio is a proud family man, devoted dad, golf hack, extroverted introvert and all-round nice chap. As director of Coaching Services Australia, Giorgio helps people create careers they love, facilitates team communication as well as help small businesses make money. Follow him at @CoachGiorgio or contact him at

One Comment leave one →
  1. February 5, 2013 4:54 AM

    Reblogged this on imamtirmizi's Blog.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: