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Book Review: The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

A leadership fable

Patrick Lencioni 

reveals the five dysfunctions which go to the very heart of why teams even the best ones-often struggle. 

Contrary to popular beliefs software development is a team sport and software developers are not social misfits that are only good with machines. In fact, the majority of software available has often been developed by large teams of software developers all interacting and engaging with each other on a variety of different levels.

Great software relies and depends on highly skilled people communicating and collaborating effectively! In fact, one of the key secrets to building and developing a great product of any sort is to build and develop a great team first or rather more importantly a great team culture that will help to create a great team.

The problem is that a great team culture is a very fickle and really all that tangible element to grasp. It's hard to define and it something that means very different things to different people. it becomes even harder, when you work as I do as mostly a remote based software developer on distributed teams, that more often than not are spread across very widely dispersed geographic areas and usually include different cultures and languages. Sure most teams will gravitate predominantly use one central language i.e. English, there are always still going to be very different cultural aspects teams need to take into account.

This problem, isn't just unique to remote based teams, this is also a very real issue of co-located teams. In fact, can be even more brittle and problematic.

The core foundation of building any team, has nothing to do with skills, capabilities, qualifications or even money. It has all to do with trust. In order to build a team, there needs to be trust. Trust in the people who lead the team and trust in people who work in them team. Trust has a very brittle two way flow.

Why I read this book

Regular readers of this blog will know that I am the Technical Director for Denizon, a SaaS (Software As A Service) company providing products that span two sectors;

This year, we are looking at driving further growth and like so many things in business this requires effort and will depend on people working and innovating together. So that will mean we will have to increase our team sizes or more to the point increase our number of teams. As the Technical Director, it will be my job to ensure we build and develop the right technical teams to deliver on our vision.

The current Technical Team we have, is mainly comprised of truth be known, friends and colleagues that have all worked with each other for a long time. We've built companies and products with each other many times. We kind of intuitively know how each other think and we can have very honest, frank, direct and often quite explosive conversations. However, we never hold a grudge and we all know that fundamentally we all have our best interests at heart to strive to achieve shared goals and objectives.

In short, we've managed to create our own unique culture and clique, despite the fact we are all widely geographically separated and don't really meet up face to face that often, yet we talk and communicate with each other on a daily basis.

Over the years, we have developed a great environment, that we all love working in and totally appreciate. Although, this comes with a big disadvantage in that it's not going to be easy to expand or scale this environment but if we really want to build our company we are going to have to. It's my task to try and ensure that we do this without bringing everything crashing down.

What I learned from this book

The thing I learned from this book, is that in order for us to build great future teams we really had to understand what makes our current environment and culture work for us. Understanding what makes us tick, will help us determine what will make new people tick.

For us Technical expertise and skills are really not that important. These are skills and expertise that literally anybody could pick up, in fact over the past few years all of us in the business have had to learn and master several new skills and expertise. The qualities we look for in people are : Willingness, Desire, Need, Want and Ability to learn new things.

We also realize that, we will need to be able to strike the right balance because too much of one thing is just not good. So our conundrum was how could be build good teams without breaking our existing great team and culture!

I wanted to find out what were key things to look out for when teams just aren't working and what could be done to remedy the situation.

Reading this book I learned to appreciate that The 5 dysfunctions take the form of a pyramid that resembles Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and Lencioni believes that you cannot resolve the issues of a higher level without attending to the lower level needs first.

Each dysfunction has a direct impact on a team’s performance and hampers overall productivity.

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

What I liked about this book

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team reads like a  fiction story but just in a business sense, much like another favourite business based book, The Phoenix Project: A Novel about IT, DevOps, and Helping Your Business Win. While reading through this story I was able to pick out characters , situations, meetings and companies from almost every workplace I've worked in.

Reading through the stories we work through the five dysfunctions; Absence of trust, fear of conflict, lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability, and attention to results.

 The story revolves around Kathryn, a 57 year old executive who is a surprise new CEO appointee with responsibility of turning the fortunes around the fortunes of DecisionTech, a technology company. It focuses on the stakeholders in the management team and how the dynamics work between each of the players. .

The learning outcome is a useful pyramid model that can assist any manager in bringing a team together. All in all, an engaging book that provides insight and learning that makes it an essential read for progressive managers who believe they really can change things for the better in their organisations. 

Gary Woodfine
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