A Synopsis of Patrick Lencioni’s ‘the Five Dysfunctions of a Team’

By Tarun Chandhna

After training and facilitating intense top-level executive team building & achievement orientation programs for over fifteen years, I am convinced that a lot of team related dysfunctions begin with an absence or lack of trust. Numerous executives across various levels have opened up to share that very same thought with me and other facilitators from Exper. Patrick Lencioni’s book, ‘The Five Dysfunctions of a Team’ is full of excellent insights and he too builds on his model form the foundation of trust and how its absence leads to some predictable yet highly dysfunctional behavior among team members. All excerpts are from his book and I highly recommend that you take a close look at them.

Stage 1:

Absence of Trust.

Lencioni starts his conjecture by exploring how an absence of trust starts the entire dysfunctional spiral. He writes,The first dysfunction is an absence of trust among team members. Essentially, this stems from their unwillingness to be vulnerable within the group. Team members who are not genuinely open with one another about their mistakes and weaknesses make it impossible to build a foundation for trust.

Lencioni feels that members of teams with absence of trust …


  • Conceal their weaknesses and mistakes from one another

  • Hesitate to ask for help or provide constructive feedback

  • Hesitate to offer help outside their own areas of responsibility

  • Jump to conclusions about the intentions and aptitudes of others without attempting to clarify them

  • Fail to recognize and tap into one another's skills and experiences

  • Waste time and energy managing their behaviors for effect

  • Hold grudges

  • Dread meetings and find reasons to avoid spending time together

from the book The Five Dysfunctions of Teams by Patrick Lencioni


Stage 2.

Fear of Conflict.

This failure to build trust is damaging because it sets the tone for the second dysfunction: fear of conflict. Teams that lack trust are incapable of engaging in unfiltered and passionate debate of ideas. Instead, they resort to veiled discussions and guarded comments.

It is clear that Teams that fear conflict …

  • Have boring meetings

  • Create environments where back-channel politics and personal attacks thrive

  • Ignore controversial topics that are critical to team success

  • Fail to tap into all the opinions and perspectives of team members

  • Waste time and energy with posturing and interpersonal risk management

Stage 3.

Lack of Commitment.

A lack of healthy conflict is a problem because it ensures the third dysfunction of a team: lack of commitment. Without having aired their opinions in the course of passionate and open debate, team members rarely, if ever, buy in and commit to decisions, though they may feign agreement during meetings.

Lencioni believes that a team that fails to commit …

  • Creates ambiguity among the team about direction and priorities

  • Watches windows of opportunity close due to excessive analysis and unnecessary delay

  • Breeds lack of confidence and fear of failure

  • Revisits discussions and decisions again and again

  • Encourages second-guessing among team members

Stage 4.

Avoidance of Accountability.

Because of this lack of real commitment and buy-in, team members develop an avoidance of accountability, the fourth dysfunction. Without committing to a clear plan of action, even the most focused and driven people often hesitate to call their peers on actions and behaviors that seem counterproductive to the good of the team.

Lencioni builds the case to show how a team that avoids accountability …

  • Creates resentment among team members who have different standards of performance

  • Encourages mediocrity

  • Misses deadlines and key deliverables

  • Places an undue burden on the team leader as the sole source of discipline

Stage 5.

Inattention to Results.

Failure to hold one another accountable creates an environment where the fifth dysfunction can thrive. Inattention to results occurs when team members put their individual needs (such as ego, career development, or recognition) or even the needs of their divisions above the collective goals of the team.

According to Lencioni, a team that is not focused on results …

  • Stagnates/fails to grow

  • Rarely defeats competitors

  • Loses achievement-oriented employees

  • Encourages team members to focus on their own careers and individual goals

  • Is easily distracted


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