Lencioni’s 5 Dysfunctions of a Team: What They are and How to Overcome


Multi year observation of team development and experience of coaching thousands of people and teams towards better performance inspired Patrick Lencioni to single out 5 dysfunctions of a team. The 5 dysfunctions take the form of a pyramid that resembles Maslow’s hierarchy of needs; just like Maslow, Lencioni believes that you cannot resolve the issues of a higher level without attending to the lower level needs first.

Five dysfunctions of a team - HIGH5

Each dysfunction has a direct impact on a team’s performance and hampers overall productivity. The good news is that you, as a manager, with leadership and management skills can overcome all these dysfunctions.

The 5 dysfunctions of a team are:

  1. Lack of Trust
  2. Fear of Conflict
  3. Lack of Commitment
  4. Avoidance of Accountability
  5. Inattention to Results

Let us show you how you can resolve them.

#1 Dysfunction of a Team: Lack of Trust

For Lencioni, the lack of trust is about the fear to be vulnerable. Still, protecting one’s sense of invulnerability, individuals don’t let the team develop, engage in meaningful work conflict, and reach better outcomes.

Teams that lack trust…

  • Conceal weaknesses and mistakes from each other
  • Don’t ask for help or a piece of advice
  • Hesitate to offer assistance when it’s outside their own area of responsibility
  • Hesitate to offer feedback or compliment one’s skills
  • Hate meetings and avoid spending time together.


Solution for Lack of Trust

You can overcome this dysfunction helping the team members focus on strengths rather than weaknesses in other members and in themselves too. You can know these strengths from a HIGH5 Strengths Test or a team report detailing on the strengths of everyone on the team.

Knowledge of one’s strengths helps to build confidence and will thus free individuals from the fear to show their weaknesses. Discussion of individual strengths will also inspire team members to recognise and appreciate the skills of their teammates and offer assistance related to what they are good at.

Overcoming this dysfunction, you will get the team that…

  • Feels comfortable working together towards a common goal
  • Can quickly react to issues that are no longer silenced 
  • Can prevent mistakes by giving timely feedback and assistance to each other 
  • Motivate each other appreciating others skills and strengths

#2 Dysfunction of a Team: Fear of Conflict

Workplace diversity contributes to better results, but it also presupposes that people will have different or even opposing ideas about their work. You won’t be able to benefit from diversity if the opposing ideas are held back for fear of conflict.

Teams that fear conflict…

  • Hesitate to voice opinions and concerns
  • Ignore controversial topics even if they have potential to determine team’s success
  • Have more interpersonal conflicts and personal attacks
  • Have backchannel communication and politics


Solution for Fear of Conflict

A good test that will help you determine if you have this type of dysfunction in your team is suggesting an obviously bad idea on a team meeting. If your team accepts the idea without any attempt to discuss or oppose it, you have a problem to resolve.

A good way to resolve it is by assigning “a devil’s advocate” on the meeting. Let one person find faults with any suggestion that is voiced encouraging other members to defend their point of view. Write down all pros and cons to see the full picture.

This will show your team that voicing opposing ideas is good for the project. It will also train your team to find faults with the ideas not people that voice them.

You can also use HIGH5 Strengths Test to determine how each member approaches conflict and coach the team on how to debate with one another based on unique strengths of the members.

Overcoming the fear of conflict in your team, you will get a team that…

  • Leverages diversity and exploits the ideas of everyone on the team
  • Quickly solves the problems
  • Openly discusses critical topics and concerns
  • Minimizes politics

#3 Dysfunction of a Team: Lack of Commitment

If the team members avoid open discussion of controversial topics and don’t clearly understand why this or that decision has been taken, they fail to commit to the adopted course of action or team goals overall.

Teams that lack commitment…

  • Lack confidence and are in fear of failure
  • Discuss the same topics or decisions over and over again
  • Make ambiguity and second-guessing thrive
  • Fail to seize opportunity spending too much time on making a decision


Solution for Lack of Commitment

There are several strategies that might help you overcome this dysfunction of a team. First, make it a rule to summarise all key decisions made during the meeting and the rationale for taking them. If the meeting is with the managing staff, clarify what should and should not be communicated to a larger team.

You can also facilitate the commitment by encouraging the team to discuss possible pitfalls and worst-case scenarios; again, clarity is the basis for commitment. Define clear deadlines not only for the actions, but for decisions themselves.

This way, team members will assume responsibility to arrive at the best possible decision and commit to it, rather than just postpone the solution.

When you overcome this dysfunction, your team will…

  • Clearly understand work directions and priorities
  • Share common goals and objectives
  • Be ready to change
  • Not let the fear of mistake prevent it from moving forward

#4 Dysfunction of a Team: Avoidance of Accountability

People are used to emphasizing personal responsibility for one’s actions. This is why individuals do not like to interfere with what other team members do or don’t do. Still, this is counterproductive for the team, where the common result depends on members’ ability to hold each other accountable for personal decisions and actions.

Teams that avoid accountability…

  • Make high performers discouraged
  • Miss deadlines
  • Make team leaders overwhelmed as the sole source of discipline
  • Remain mediocre


Solution for Avoidance of Accountability

You may resolve this dysfunction by holding regular progress reviews and rewarding team achievements rather than individuals. Make it clear for individuals that hold high standards of performance as their HIGH5 strength that holding others accountable will be appreciated and rewarded. If the team has successfully overcome the fear of conflict, they will be ready to tackle this dysfunction too.

When your team learns to hold each other accountable, they will…

  • Quickly identify potential problems questioning each other’s actions and approaches
  • Respect their team and the organisation for applying the same standards to everyone
  • Avoid excessive management of performance, fines and corrective actions
  • Pressure poor performers to improve

#5 Dysfunction of a Team: Inattention to Results

This dysfunction of the team stems from the individuals’ focus on their own achievements or status at the expense of collective results. Such focus can make team members do something that is not promoting collective goals just to get individual recognition or enhance their ego.

Teams that are not focused on collective results…

  • Lose achievement-oriented team members
  • Get distracted from collective goals easily
  • Fail to develop
  • Lose market competition


Solution for Inattention to Results in a Team

For your team to keep focus on common results, it is vital to have clear metrics to assess results. If the team already knows how to keep each other accountable, they will push each other toward pursuing common not individual goals. As in the case with the avoidance of accountability, rewards should be based on team rather than individual results and achievements.

If the urge to get individual recognition or please one’s ego is a part of a team member’s personality, it is not necessary to fight or punish it. Instead, use strengths based approach and make sure individuals’ zeal align well with the common goals.

Once you make your team keep results in their focus, it will…

  • Minimize individualistic behavior
  • Avoid arising distractions
  • Enjoy development and success

Great teams are not born, they are made. It’s up to you to recognize what dysfunction prevents your team from pursuing and achieving common results and tackle it with definite managerial decisions. Here, getting a HIGH5 Team Strengths Report might be the first step to take. It will help you understand the potential of your team and your own strengths as a leader.

the team strengths report

Take the first step to avoid dysfunctions and to maximize the results your team can achieve