(in collaboration with John Frost, Director, Values Based Leadership Ltd., United Kingdom)
Patrick Lencioni’s popular leadership model, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, is brilliant in its simplicity and comprehensiveness, allowing team-members to get onto the same page easily and begin using common language around team development. As a result, team-members can quickly begin developing the functional elements of Lencioni’s model, namely Trust, Conflict, Commitment, Accountability and Results, respectively. Lencioni suggests that each element serves as a pre-requisite for the next, and the absence or avoidance of any element invites dysfunction into the team.
Unfortunately, like any other model or remedy, it is not entirely prescriptive; much depends on the patient.
One of the key learnings from working with individuals and teams over the years is that leadership initiatives fail when the leader does not walk-the-talk around their team’s core-values. During the offsite, many teams do good work, going beyond comfort-zones, building alignment and committing to forward progress.
Then something happens. Or more accurately, it doesn’t.
There is considerable variance in post-offsite results and effectiveness among teams. Why is this? There may be a host of variables at-play, however, none more important than the leader’s ability to follow-through and walk-the-talk.
Quite frankly, if the leader’s commitment to team-values is weak or non-existent, the benefits of Lencioni’s model (or any other model for that matter) will evaporate rapidly. Lencioni, himself, says: “Teamwork is extremely hard to achieve. It can’t be bought, and it can’t be attained by hiring an intellectual giant from the world’s best business school. It requires levels of courage and discipline—and emotional energy—that even the most driven executives don’t always possess.”
Values-based leadership can go a long way in strengthening a leader’s commitment and accelerating the benefits of Lencioni’s model around The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. Here, we’ll have a quick look at these five dysfunctions (given below, according to Lencioni) and add a few words on why values matter to the removal of each dysfunction.
Dysfunction #1: Absence of Trust: Members of great teams trust one another on a fundamental, emotional level, and they are comfortable being vulnerable with each other about their weaknesses, mistakes, fears, and behaviors. They get to a point where they can be completely open with one another, without filters.
Why values matter: Leaders who have high-levels of adherence to their core values have very little difficulty being vulnerable, a pre-requisite for trust, according to Lencioni. For a team to feel safe enough for vulnerability, it must be modeled by the team leader; otherwise, the perceived risk is too high and defensiveness (or filters) will also be high, while trust remains low.
Dysfunction #2: Fear of Conflict: Teams that trust one another are not afraid to engage in passionate dialogue around issues and decision that are key to the organization’s success. They do not hesitate to disagree with, challenge, and question one another, all in the spirit of finding the best answers, discovering the truth, and making great decisions.
Why values matter: When team values are clear, and the team is confident that the leader stands behind them, there is a greater willingness to enter into conflict, because team-members know they will eventually return to their core-values in moving forward. The exploration that emerges through conflict is anchored in meaningful, relevant principles that support the team’s mission and transcend the turbulence of emotional discussions. Without core-values in place, conflict is feared or misused, for the outcome is often determined by the loudest or most persuasive voice, rather than by alignment to core values.
Dysfunction #3: Lack of Commitment: Teams that engage in unfiltered conflict are able to achieve genuine buy-in around important decisions, even when various members of the team initially disagree. That’s because they ensure that all opinions and ideas are put on the table and considered, giving confidence to team members that no stone has been left unturned.
Why values matter: Again, values anchor heated discussions and varying opinions, allowing the dust to settle around previously agreed-upon values. The team’s core-values provide a litmus test for new commitments, generating alignment, consistency and leverage. Moreover, team members are more likely to test-drive initiatives they may have initially disagreed with if they know the core-values will not be compromised.
Dysfunction #4: Avoidance of Accountability: Teams that commit to decisions and standards of performance do not hesitate to hold one another accountable for adhering to those decisions and standards. What is more, they don’t rely on the team leader as the primary source of accountability, they go directly to their peers.
Why values matter: When a team has a clear, solid set of values in-place, backed by the actions and behaviours of the team-leader, it instills a sense of objective standards and guidelines for individual accountability. In particular, when certain values have standards of performance built into them, accountability becomes part of the team’s DNA, reinforced over time, project after project, challenge after challenge.
Dysfunction #5: Inattention to Results: Teams that trust one another, engage in conflict, commit to decisions, and hold one another accountable are very likely to set aside their individual needs and agendas and focus almost exclusively on what is best for the team. They do not give-in to temptation to place their departments, career aspirations, or ego-driven status ahead of the collective results that define team success.
Why values matter: Values clearly and consistently define “what is best for the team,” leaving little or no room for ego. If the team and its leader build a proven track-record for making values more important than any one project, complaint, career or department, then values-based results are likely to be the dominant force at-work. When core-values are clear and consistent, the group can refer to the same playbook, keeping selfish individual motives in-check, allowing collective results to emerge.
Patrick Lencioni’s model on The Five Dysfunctions of a Team has become extremely popular worldwide, because it is intuitive and easy to comprehend. However, comprehension, alone, will not suffice. Without a solid grounding in core-values, and consistent, courageous leadership that ensures their relevance at all times, dysfunctional teams will continue to scratch their heads, going from one leadership model to the next, offsite after offsite, wondering what it will take to finally create a highly functioning team.
Values do not merely exist on their own, offering some magical manifestation of team functionality. Values integration is challenging, and it is mostly in the hands of the team leader. It takes awareness, discipline and courage to be the responsible caretaker of team values:
Awareness: When a leader remains ignorant about their team’s values and how they relate to themself, their team and the situation, much is left to chance. The result is often an endless series of one-off conversations and confrontations, relying more on opinion and persuasion than consistent values being integrated over time.
Discipline: When a leader is not consciously and consistently aligning resources, including people’s time and attention, with core-values, decisions tend to be made on a case-by-case basis, depleting energy, motivation and efficiencies that come from reliably integrating core-values over time.
Courage: When a leader does not bring courage to defend team values during opposition from team members, other constituents or challenging circumstances, the integrity of those values weakens, diluting their power and credibility with each passing incident. Before long, the core-values erode to mere words on a paper, unable to guide the team forward, or counter the impact of Lencioni’s five dysfunctions.
The magic of values integration is not hocus-pocus; it’s hocus-focus. There are no shortcuts or lottery tickets—either the team and, most importantly, its leader, walk-the-talk around values, or the talk takes a walk—and dysfunction takes its place.