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The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: 3Q18 PM Book Club Review

Five Dysfunctions of a Team CoverDon’t have time to read the book? Check out the video link below and then join the discussion!

Title: The Five Dysfunctions of a Team
Author: Patrick Lencioni
Year: 2002
PMEvolution.com Book Club Review: 3Q18
PM Evolution Amazon Store Ordering Link: The Five Dysfunctions of a Team
Video: Patrick Lencioni 30 min Talk

Successful project managers have the ability to positively influence team dynamics. As is our norm, we’ll take a look at how some of the concepts from Patrick Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team can be applied to the real world of project management.

Fostering Trust & Vulnerability

Individual vulnerability is a prerequisite to trust and is the foundation upon which team dysfunctions are dissolved.  It is the project manager’s responsibility to establish an environment rich with trust so that teams can interact in ways that will enable constructive conflict and commitment to team results.

In most organizations, this requires project managers to influence those outside of the traditional project team, especially those in senior leadership positions with the ability to establish cultural norms. Project managers must work closely with senior leadership to understand what aspects of the organization’s culture encourage trust and which aspects discourage individual vulnerability. The level to which a project team is insulated from the organization impacts the degree to which the project manager must ensure the team’s level of vulnerability aligns with the organization’s cultural norms. Highly insulated teams can set more of their own culture, but teams highly integrated with a broader organization must work to balance their culture with the broader organization, including working to drive organizational culture changes to encourage vulnerability and trust.

Leading By Example

Teams follow the behaviors of their leaders so project managers must lead by example. If project managers display vulnerability, trust their team members, fully commit to team decisions and focus on results, the project team will do the same. Consistency is the key. The same must hold true for any project leader including those directly involved in the project such as the project sponsor and those indirectly involved such as functional managers of team members.

The longer leaders set consistent examples, the more comfortable team members become with that culture. Conversely, inconsistencies in leadership behaviors send clear messages that stated values are not true expectations for the team behavior.

Again, when teams are highly integrated with a broader organization, project managers have the added burden of working with additional leaders to establish consistent behaviors. Of course, project managers are not always in a position to influence those organizational leaders and must, at times, work through their project sponsor.

Accountability & Agile

Members of Agile teams are often perceived to be highly functional. The reason is that Agile values result in practices that naturally lead team members to be vulnerable, accountable to the team and focus on results. For example:

  • Direct input into how much effort a task will take creates a sense of having skin in the game and often requires admitting personal limitations
  • Daily stand-ups create an environment for daily accountability rather than being able to hide out for a week or longer until the next status meeting
  • Collaborative problem solving places the focus on the team to solve challenges
  • Focusing on one task at a time removes the excuse of having too much on one’s plate
  • Structure to make changes quickly enables team decisions to be implemented quickly
  • “Working code” emphases results

That isn’t to say that Agile teams are always more functional than non-Agile teams, but dysfunctional aspects of teams working in an Agile environment are likely to be identified more quickly than in traditional project management environments.

Discussion Questions

  1. How much responsibility should the project manager have for organizational culture?
  2. Why might one team within an organization be highly functional while another team within the same organization is highly dysfunctional?
  3. What are other Agile practices that lead teams to be vulnerable, trust each other, commit to team decisions, be accountable to the team and focus on team results?





About Patrick Quirk

Founding Member of PMEvolution.com President & CEO of FOQUS Partners, LLC PMP since 2005

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