At the core of the Greater Sum software apprenticeship program is exposure to ideas and techniques that accelerate learning, and therefore accelerate careers.  We read and discuss a book each week, often a book that isn’t technical, but instead focuses on learning, teamwork or some other aspect of being a software developer that is as important as understand the latest Javascript library.

thefivedysfunctionsmodelRecently we read Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni. While certainly there are teams that suffer from lack of expertise or skill, more commonly teams are unable to perform to their potential because of a lack of team health.  The five dysfunctions is Lencioni’s model for identifying and addressing team health issues.  Here are the reflections of our apprentices on the book.


The idea from 5 Dysfunctions of a team that really stuck with me is how important disagreement/conflict is to creating or maintaining a successful team.  It might seem easier to not bring up issues or a point of view that is against what the rest of team already believes, but it is critical to the success and growth of the team to keep challenging each other’s assumptions.  To create a team environment that fosters these types of conflict there needs to be trust that a question or its originator will not be labeled stupid and the understanding that once a decision is made it is everyone’s decision, “Disagree and commit”.

From that point on everyone on the team needs to be 100% bought in. They will succeed or fail as a team. No one at the end will be able to point back to their original argument and say “I told you this was going to happen”.  This sounds very simple, but can prove to be difficult.  The temptation to say “I told you so” or “let the record show I think this is a bad idea” can most times prove too great.  In order to create a team that continually challenges and improves itself, create a trusting environment, encourage conflicting opinions and ideas at meetings, and have everyone buy into the decision that comes out of that meeting.

-Matthew Knowles   


Five Dysfunctions of a Team focuses on the importance of building a well functioning team and the things that get in the way of doing such. Five main dysfunctions are given that deter teams from becoming united and reaching their potential. The five dysfunctions build upon each other with the foundation being an Absence of Trust. The key to this trust is the willingness to be vulnerable with your teammates. Without the openness to share concerns, weaknesses, and ask for help without it being used against them, the other dysfunctions are inevitable.

The next dysfunction is the one that stood out most for me, Fear of Conflict. Productive conflict is necessary for teams to grow. Many teams avoid it to avoid tension and hurt feelings. These teams have points of conflict but they are pushed down and masked by artificial harmony.  The unresolved conflicts later surface in the form of destructive fighting, politics, and personal attacks. Without the trust to engage openly in conflict, things get buried, left to grow and do greater damage down the road.

The dysfunctions continue building upon each other. Unresolved issues and an unclear direction lead to a Lack of Commitment. Without everyone buying into the same course of action, an Avoidance of Accountability sets in and standards are lowered. Common goals are diminished and the team suffers from an Inattention to Results. Individuals are focused on their own status and less attention is paid to the success of the team.

Trust is the foundation for a highly functioning team. Team members must be open, unguarded, and have confidence their peers are working towards the greater good of the team. Without this, these dysfunctions will set in and erode the efficiency and success of a team.

-Wes Duncan  


The difference between simple and easy can be huge.  The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team gives a perfect example of this.  Identifying the 5 dysfunctions that teams deal with on a continual basis is not difficult.  In fact, it is very simple, and in many cases it is even easy.  The implementation of dealing with those dysfunctions is simple, but usually not easy.

A quote about dysfunction #1: “Trust lies at the heart of a functioning, cohesive team. Without it, teamwork is all but impossible.”  And: “…it is only when team members are truly comfortable being exposed to one another that they begin to act without concern for protecting themselves. As a result, they can focus their energy and attention completely on the job at hand, rather than on being strategically disingenuous or political with one another.”

The model of the 5 dysfunctions is a triangle with a wide base at the bottom representing the first dysfunction, an absence of trust.  The progression is:  Absence of Trust -> Fear of Conflict -> Lack of Commitment -> Avoidance of Accountability -> Inattention to Results.  Each dysfunction is built on those before it and none of them can truly be dealt with until they are all dealt with from the bottom up.  Each dysfunction is not a silo of dysfunction, but a part of an interrelated model of dysfunction.  The model is broken down into the 5 parts, but each is part of the whole.

A very powerful point for me was the need for peer to peer accountability instead of simply relying on accountability from a manager.  This provides a constant source of accountability from multiple people, who presumably are all working toward the same goal.  This helps distribute the responsibility of keeping the team on track from the single point of the manager to the entire team.  I see this type of accountability as similar to an alarm clock.  An alarm is set to keep you on track and on schedule.  Sleep is not a bad thing, but sometimes needs to be interrupted to keep goals on track.  Team members may be working on “good” things, but those things might not move the team toward their goals, and therefore need to be interrupted.  

I look forward to seeing how my team will benefit from being built with these principles as a guide to a healthy and strong team.

-Peter Flanagan   

Share This