When I need to diagnose why a team is underperforming or help it get back on track, I find myself going back to the same book time and time again. Maybe that’s why I’m constantly recommending it to Founder/CEOs.

Dysfunction can have many faces in the workplace and any one of them can lead to a breakdown in performance. Thankfully, Patrick Lencioni has boiled the list down to five in his book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. I like this book so much, that I use it to track the performance of leadership teams I meet with annually and recommend it regularly to Founder/CEOs.

Lencioni has consulted all types of businesses, from Fortune 500 companies to non-profits and start-ups, and made CNN Money’s list of “10 Gurus You Should Know.” The concepts Lencioni presents in The Five Dysfunctions of a Team have been applied by the U.S. military, professional sports teams, as well as schools, church organizations, and nonprofits. Its broad use has earned him guru status among management geeks like me.

The thing about dysfunction is that it’s in the eyes of the beholder and if the beholder is a Founder/CEO who has never worked outside his own company, he could mistake dysfunction for normality. To help entrepreneurs and other leaders and managers, Lencioni came up with the five tell-tale signs of team dysfunction described below.

Absence of trust

Symptoms of this include meeting that appear to be dominated by one or two individuals. In such situations, team members rarely engage unless asked to, and then appear to be tip-toeing around land mines or walking on eggshells. Lack of trust kills honest and open debate, which greatly slows the pace of innovation.

I’ve found two communication styles work particularly well when it comes to building trust and I’ve used both effectively in my own businesses, as well as during leadership retreats and EO Forums. The first involves connecting with employees by sharing one’s vulnerability. The second involves purposeful communication, or leading off every conversation with employees, customers, vendors, investors, and other stakeholders by sharing your purpose, or why you are suggesting or taking a particular course of action. You can read about why these approaches work, and see examples of how I’ve used them, by clicking on the links above.

Fear of conflict

Sometimes it’s what you don’t hear that should cause concern. Meetings that are always conducted in hushed tones or are devoid of laughter and an occasional hoot may signal a lack of spirited discussion. While this could just reflect the communication style of participants, it could also reflect a reluctance on the part of employees to broach topics or points of view for fear of alienating management. Or it could be that the person managing the meeting is trying to avoid triggering dead-end debates that produce more drama and resentment than insight and innovation.

Regardless, chances are high that employees are not quite so reticent when asked by co-workers or others about the company’s culture. Would you rather have them sharing their ideas in the conference room or complaining to co-workers over lunch or to prospective employees on Glassdoor.com?

The challenge for business owners is to create a culture that encourages robust, but respectful debate. I’ve helped many leadership teams use the Karpman Drama Triangle to turn conflict into traction.

Lack of commitment

Sometimes there can be lots of debate, but no action. Team leaders may be good at fostering a healthy exchange of ideas, but drop the ball when it comes to turning them into a concrete plan of action or implementing such a plan or reporting back on its results. I encounter this type of dysfunction regularly in my work as an EOS Implementer. It often fosters an environment in which every plan starts feeling optional, which can be especially insidious when the plans are sponsored and/or launched by the CEO/founder.

This happens with leaders who dominate the debate and then expect people to buy in without having a chance to discuss its pros and cons first.

As leaders, we must learn to listen and understand where all team members are coming from. We should seek to understand before seeking to be understood. Team members must be able to vulnerably speak their minds and work through issues until everyone can get on board – or at least commit to making an honest effort to try the idea to see if it works. In the end, the healthy conflict will lead to healthy commitment, which is to say one team speaking in one voice striving toward the same goals.

Avoidance of accountability

Lack of clarity as to who erred when plans go wrong is another sign of dysfunction. No one on the team has a clear understanding of what mistakes were made or what, if any, part they or others played in those mistakes. It’s difficult for employees to take ownership when they have no idea where their responsibilities begin and end and how they’re performance is being measured. And it’s impossible to get traction if employees don’t take ownership.

Accountability is not only about holding others accountable but holding ourselves accountable. As leaders, we must do as we say. We must set the example Only in this way can we create a culture of accountability.

For these reasons, leaders should:

  • select key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure progress against annual and quarterly goals, known as “rocks,”
  • create an accountability chart to clearly state what employees are responsible for driving what KPIs to ensure the right people are in the right seats;
  • implement Level 10 meeting practices to ensure teams meet regularly to track progress against their goals;

You can read specifics on how this played out with two of my clients by reading our case studies on Trembly Law Firm and Moonglow Jewelry.

Star worship

Team leaders who tend to emphasize the role of star performers can also contribute to a dysfunctional culture by undermining the importance of teamwork. While there’s nothing wrong with shining the spotlight on top performers, it’s important to let other teams and employees who contributed share credit for big wins. This may require some management by walking around. Before going public with your praise, for instance, you might privately ask a few key players who contributed to the success and how, so you can call out the role others played. Keeping the focus on the team not only boost morale but helps keep everyone aligned around shared goals.

To learn more about how The Profit Recipe can help you get more out of your next EO Forum or company retreat, visit our Solidify Your Forum or Team page. Better yet, schedule an appointment with Cesar Quintero today.