Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

Article by Francis Miller

Well, the answer lies in the simple fact that if your team works well together, everything – both work stuff AND life stuff (having time to enjoy with your family?)- becomes easier. When it is easier to reach your professional goals, your personal goals should become easier to reach too. There are some key differences between teams in different cultures, and we will save intercultural communication for a future article. Here, we are going to talk about the problems that ALL teams have (to some degree), including YOUR team.

This is the “five dysfunctions” that the author, Patrick Lencioni, outlines in his book. Before you get upset and take what I wrote personally, just know that this comes from Patrick Lencioni (so go take it out on him haha). However, these are not just five separate dysfunctions – they stack on top of each other like a pyramid. Unless you overcome the lower-level dysfunctions, you simply cannot start to tackle the dysfunction’s higher levels. And they go like this:

The rationale of the “dysfunctions” is this:

First, if your team doesn’t have trust (1), then team members won’t be able to openly discuss problems without fear of criticism or conflict (2). Next, if a team can’t openly deal with problems through constructive conflict (2), then it won’t be possible to create a solution that every team member can buy into and commit to (3). If not every team member commits (3) to a solution, then team members can’t hold each other accountable (4) for completing tasks. Finally, without accountability (4), it is impossible to get results (5) you want because people’s egos will prevail over the team as a whole. If this logic here doesn’t make sense, then I suggest you stop reading this article and try reading the book instead.

So how does Lencioni present the five dysfunctions in his book? This is the real genius part here. He doesn’t lecture to you, the reader. He doesn’t drown you in pretentious indecipherable academic business jargon or with technical mumbo-jumbo dripping with ivory-tower condescension. Instead, he tells a simple story, or as he calls it, a “fable.” It’s a story that follows various C-suite characters at a tech company in Silicon Valley as they struggle to work together to make their company competitive and profitable. It is a very fast, very simple read – just a couple hours if you don’t get too distracted.

But you might be thinking: what does a Silicon Valley tech company have to do with me and my company/school/factory/etc.? Well, my response would be: what do all teams have in common? All teams not only have to work together – they must also constantly redefine their goals and the best ways of achieving those goals, together. And so while the words you use and the work you do may not be at all similar to those of a Silicon Valley tech company, you are still part of a team that is working to change the lives of other people through a product or service (namely your clients/students/etc.).

Consider another perspective: do you ever wonder why some businesspeople seemingly incessantly offer superfluous analogies to team sports like basketball, football, or baseball? Because they are not all that superfluous. The only material differences between your team and a sports team is that 1) each sports team shares the same physical field and scoreboard with their competitors and 2) the way they score points is more skewed towards physical performance rather than exercise of mental faculties. One of the cool things this book can do is to help you create your team’s scoreboard. Now that we are on this topic, how do you help your team overcome the five dysfunctions and create your team’s scoreboard?

The book does include some worksheets, discussion questions, an overview of the model, and recommendations for further reading. Most of all, for each dysfunction, it provides tough questions that can help you and your team to address each individually and thoroughly.

Before I finish this article, I need to give a serious shout out to Stephen Siu, easily one of the most wildly overqualified mentors I have ever been lucky enough to have. Stephen forever changed my understanding of high-functioning teams through this book and its associated activities. So, thank you Stephen! Get it in English or in Chinese on JD or Taobao. For reference, the Chinese title is 团队协作的五大障碍.