11 August 2008

5 Dysfunctions of a team. Who knew there were only 5?

I recently started a new job, and within a day on the job I got a copy of a management book the staff was reading, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni. I’m pretty upbeat about the new job, though, so I didn’t take it as a bad omen, just a confirmation of some of the research I’d done that the company is a learning organization and has a newly formed executive team.

T5DoaT is unusual compared to other business/management books I’ve read in the approach the author uses. Rather than take the usual smarter-than-thou approach and immodestly declaim in grandiose terms why the ideas presented are the best ever, Lencioni tells a story about a troubled executive team and their new CEO. A modern-day Aesop, he gets the moral of the story across by telling the tale of this team and their progress from infighting to working together. Generally, the approach is engaging – Lencioni relies on the gossip-loving tendency that most cube denizens have to engage them with a ‘fly-on-the-wall’ view into the executive suite. At times, it does get a bit preachy and obvious. Some of the plot points – such as hiring/firing decisions of the CEO – are oversimplified, but I mean that as a compliment to the author in that we don’t get bogged down with the normal tedium associated with staff changes.

The 5 dysfunctions and evidence of their occurrence are neatly triangularized in a hierarchy in the book diagrams, but I personally didn’t get the graphic. Is there a peak of dysfunctionality? Is a dysfunction higher up in the hierarchy less significant than those below? So here’s my own version. If I were graphically inclined, I’d try to draw it as a heat map.

The author describes each dysfunction as having a single defining symptom, yet the vignettes show that multiple symptoms appear to be associated with these dysfunctions. I ran through the matrix above and showed, additionally, what I thought were ‘secondary’ symptoms that appear consistently with the ‘primary’ symptom the author identified. I also noted symptoms that would occur ‘often’. (This was a personal exercise I did to process the book, not endorsed by the author.)

Overall, this seemed to be a 5 lb idea in a 10 lb bag; my eyes were relieved to see large type and copious white space after a day staring at analytical data. The core ideas are in the last part of the book, titled “The Model” – and a time constrained reader would do well to start with that section.