“The five dysfunctions of a team and how to solve them”


Didier Marlier

January 17, 2010

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I recently commented here, on the ways to bring teams from a “languishing” to a “flourishing” state. We have seen (http://blog.enablersnetwork.com/2009/11/01/marcial-losada-explains-his-research-for-our-blog-readers/) that, during his research, Marcial Losada could predict the success of their strategy, by observing an executive team’s style of dialoguing: an equal level of external vs. internal focus, similar times spent exploring and advocating and a minimum three to one ratio of positive to negative behaviours were a solid predictor of promising output.

Beat Blaesi, Executive Director for Leadership Development at the Julius Baer Academy, showed me this week an interesting model[1], offering reasons to why teams may dysfunction:

1.- The main symptom is the lack of trust between team members, due to their incapacity to “lower their guard” and hiding their vulnerability. This lack of authenticity is rapidly “sniffed” by human beings and immediately interpreted as “playing games” and having (indeed) something to hide. This is particularly damning in the “Open Network Economy” we are heading towards (I intend to explore quite a bit around this theme in the near future).

2.- The consequence of this lack of trust is the fear of conflict or the “artificial harmony” that takes the team over. On the contrary, when the team functions following Losada’s prescription, its participants engage into “unfiltered conflict”.

3.- The conflict avoidance provokes the lack of commitment, of which the main symptom is neutrality. People just pretend. On the opposite, an engaged team will commit to a decision and action plan.

4.- The consequence of non commitment is the avoidance of accountability, which translates into average standards for performance, “settling for mediocrity”, silo based measurement (“at least I save myself and my team!”) whereas a flourishing team will actively mind each other’s business and hold each other accountable for delivering.

5.- The terrible impact on business ends up being an inattention to results instead of a focus on achievement of collective results.

Chris Parker with whom I co-authored our latest book[2] studied the behaviours capable of breaking such a vicious cycle and claims they are eight “Value Building Behaviours” (to be compared to Losada’s Positive Behaviours):

  • Listening actively, which provides a sense of respect, recognition and importance to my team members
  • Asking open questions, which enables them to express and explore more while this shows my interest for their opinion
  • Summarizing, which ensures that the discussion doesn’t loose focus
  • Supporting, whereby I recognize the merits in at least some aspects of my partners’ views
  • Challenging, where I share my doubts, concerns, questions and disagreements
  • Clarifying, instead of jumping to judgement and conclusion
  • Asking for a time-out when I think we are getting off track
  • Reviewing the process of our discussion and asking for/giving feedback about how I behaved towards others and how they made me feel, in order to avoid planting seeds of resentment which will make our next meeting more difficult and tense.

It is not the wrong strategy which destroys business value but inadequate behaviours, which block people, prevent them from opening up, limit their capacity to explore and create, make them defensive and refusing to admit “temporary incompetence” to hide themselves behind their ego and stick to the wrong, value destroying strategy.

Brussels, Courchevel (yes you can work there too) and research work on the impact of the new “Open Network Economy” on strategy, organization and leadership will keep me busy next week. Thank you for your increasing support and for sharing this blog as widely as possible…


[1] P. Lencioni (2002) The Five Dysfunctions of a Team (Jossey-Bass)

[2] D. Marlier & C. Parker (2009) Engaging Leadership: three agendas for sustaining achievement (Palgrave-Macmillan)


  1. Ivo Knottnerus

    Hi Didier,

    Thanks for sharing another inspiring and recognizable blog this week ;-). I thought this time to share a real life story, in which I was fully involved.

    It immediately reminded me of the time that I worked on the integration of the firm I was working for at that time (we had been taken over), during 14 months. We had separate teams for the ‘split’ of our firm into several parts. There was a huge lack of trust between these teams… They had a huge problem with their vulnerability, of lowering their guard and of what would happen once that their work would end… The guy managing the team could not cope with it and was playing games all the time, and trying to increase and prolong his power.

    To the outside world there was a ‘great’ artificial harmony as you so beautifully called it. Neutrality full stop. There was no commitment to the separation team, and vice versa, although as the integration team we should have better worked together with them because they owned a lot of useful information, and vice versa here as well. Only through huge fights on a regular basis forced us to work together, because we could not work without one another. We could not make it toward our internal clients to settle for mediocrity. There were the business lines and support functions and relied on separation and integration. Nevertheless it cost us double the energy and a lot of time was lost with these internal wars…

    We did not apply any of your Value Building Behaviours… I have to admit, anger and stupidity blinded us too much, and indeed they were inadequate behaviours, resulting in all the symptoms you described.

    Hope you will enjoy my little story, have a great week et bonne soirée de Paris.


  2. Michel AUDOiN

    Hello Didier,

    you are fully right: trust and respect are essential.

    Our capacity to predict the future is moderate. We make budgets, complex calculations of profitability. They are necessary references to avoid the wrong choices but we have to admit that the figures are seldom confirmed.
    What is needed is a vision in a common project. The company must be dedicated to common goals, make it possible for all to understand where they go, to make decisions and to act with a broad autonomy and delegation.

    This requests trust and respect. A decision might not be the best. Not only success but also failure and doubts have to be shared among all.

    Last but not least.: avoid absolutely to engage into “unfiltered conflicts” if there is no trust. It is a deadly game.

    Yours friendly



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