How Trust and Healthy Conflict Lead to Functional Teams

Business tug of war sharp2In his book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, author Patrick Lencioni captivates readers in a fictional tale while delivering real-world insight into business team dynamics. This book was the topic of discussion in my book club, which I call Rick’s Read and Lead. The group meets monthly to discuss business books with an aim towards finding ways to better serve our clients in our advisory roles.

The fable’s plot centers on a young tech company, initially positioned for success but struggling to survive instead because its personnel fail to function as a unit. Through her insightful leadership, a new and unlikely CEO restores the essential elements of teamwork. Lencioni introduces a powerful model and actionable steps that can be applied to build a cohesive, effective team by confronting the five dysfunctional behavioral tendencies that corrupt teams, which are revealed as the story unfolds:

  • Absence of Trust
  • Fear of Conflict
  • Lack of Commitment
  • Avoidance of Accountability
  • Inattention to Results

I kicked off the discussion by asking our five participants to identify – based on their own consulting experiences – which of the five aspects of the model are most difficult for companies to address. Interestingly, the participants’ expertise is in various fields including accounting, marketing, sales, operations, and coaching. Yet the two dysfunctions that they agreed were most daunting were Absence of Trust and Fear of Conflict. We concurred that getting past these dysfunctions includes some specific challenges. Those include a lack of understanding of fellow team members’ strengths and weaknesses, and a reluctance to acknowledge that conflict is a necessary component of productive meetings and healthy work relationships.

The group observed that a “functional” organization is not necessarily a “high-performing” one – it is rare to find companies firing on all cylinders. Two of our trusted advisors have been working with Lencioni’s model for years, teaching it to their clients and building upon its principles. They agree that Lencioni’s model provides a great tool with which to begin fine-tuning performance.

The point was made that while an individual department might function well using the model, implementing it cross-functionally may prove more challenging. It may therefore be beneficial to dive deeper into finding solutions for creating functional teams that are otherwise siloed within a company. The members of this group often delve deeply into the work of clients at all levels of their organizations, providing us an opportunity to garner more data and insight around this concept.

Patrick Lencioni is the author of eleven best-selling business books and his work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review, Fortune, Bloomberg Businessweek, and USA Today. He is founder and president of The Table Group, a firm dedicated to helping businesses improve their organizations’ health and develop exceptional team leaders.

Another of Lencioni’s fable-based books, Getting Naked, addresses fears that sabotage client loyalty and discusses why vulnerability is important in business and how to gain competitive advantage in tough times. That may be a book we take on in the future! Stay tuned!

Rick Arthur

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Rick Arthur is a CFO whose expertise is built on Financial Intelligence and 35 years in senior financial roles. Coupled with a CEO’s perspective and the experience of building his own $20 million company, he brings a unique depth of insight into business from the top down. Wired to get to know people, Rick works hand-in-hand with business owners of intentional, growth-oriented companies, solidifying relationships as a trusted advisor and confidant to his clients. He leverages his experience to help business owners gain traction and stay laser-focused on the company’s vision, cash flow, and profitability – all while creating big picture solutions for strategic planning, growth and sustainable success.