This book tells a story about a fictional organization where the CEO was recently replaced. The new CEO observes many behaviors associated with unhealthy team dynamics. The CEO then leads several offsites to tackle these problems head-on. Members of the executive team are pushed, some beyond their breaking point. The story ends with some members having left and others taking on new roles. All remaining members have a much stronger commitment to the team on which they are playing.

At the offsite, the CEO breaks down her observations of the team into five dysfunctions which are impacting the ability of the company to compete in their market.

The five dysfunctions

The dysfunctions are presented as a pyramid where the first level of dysfunction must be addressed before the next level can be addressed.

Five dysfunctions pyramid
Source: Five dysfunctions of a team

Level 1: Absence of trust

How do staff meetings usually play out? Is there a debate? Are members comfortable challenging each other? When these meetings are boring, and members are not engaged, this indicates a general lack of trust between members. We want to get to a place where every member knows that when their ideas are challenged by another teammate, it is because they care about the team.

In these meetings, respectfully push others and assume that when you are pushed, it is coming from a place of caring.

Level 2: Fear of conflict

When issues are not resolved in a staff meeting, you are moving that conflict between your teams, but your teams are not capable of solving this conflict.

If you notice people retreating from conflict, remind them that addressing the conflict is necessary, it is for the good of the team. Model appropriate conflict behavior. If you model this dysfunction, others will copy it.

Level 3: Lack of commitment

The desire for consensus and a need for certainty are the main blockers to commitment. Both these desires breed paralysis. In many cases, any decision is better than no decision. When the executive team does not commit to clear decisions, then there will be discord at the lower levels of the organization; small gaps between executives grow into larger and larger gaps the lower down it goes.

Make sure everyone’s ideas are genuinely considered. If the team cannot make a decision, then the team leader needs to decide. Once a decision is made, all team members need to buy-in to the decision.

Level 4: Avoidance of accountability

Team members need to be willing to call out their peers for performance and behavior that hurts the team. Peer pressure can be very effective; the fear of letting down one’s respected teammates is more motivating than any policy or management system.

You must be willing to accept interpersonal discomfort. Don’t let a peer’s helpfulness blind you to seeing their faults that are affecting the team.

Level 5: Inattention to results

Do team members care about the collective goals of the team, or do they care about something else? Profit is the ultimate measure of a corporation; goals and objectives measure results at the team-level.

Commit to specific plans for what you and your team will accomplish in a given period. Make results clear and reward only the behaviors and actions that contribute to the achievement of the team’s goals. It can help to commit publicly to specific results.