The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: Part IV

Posted by Adam Richardson - 01/07/2020

Today, we continue our discussion around our latest Lockdown read, ‘The Five Dysfunctions of a Team’ by Patrick Lencioni.

If you didn’t catch our first three blogs, around Absence of Trust, Fear of Conflict and Lack of Commitment, they can be found here.

This week, we will explore the next dysfunction:

 Dysfunction Four: Avoidance of Accountability

Lencioni believes that in the context of a team, accountability refers to the:

 “Willingness of team members to call their peers on performance or behaviours that might hurt the team.”

Whilst he appreciates it might not be politically correct, Lencioni discussed that the most effective and efficient way of maintaining high standards in a team is peer pressure – believing there is nothing more effective that the fear of letting down respected teammates to motivate people to improve their performance.

Lencioni discusses that there can be a tendency to avoid difficult conversations within a team, for fear of upsetting personal relationships – which is exactly where an avoidance of accountability can come from.

 So, is ‘Avoidance of Accountability’ a dysfunction of your team?

Here are some of the traits of teams with an avoidance of accountability:

  • Deadlines and key deliverables are missed
  • Mediocrity in the team is encouraged
  • There are different standards for performance across the team – leading to resentment amongst team members

 So, if we know this is a dysfunction of our team, how can we address it?

Lencioni suggests some of the below tools:

Publication of Goals and Standards: Lencioni suggests that a good way to increase accountability in a team is to clarify publicly what the team needs to achieve, who needs to deliver what and how everyone must behave in order to succeed. By removing any ambiguity about goals, agreements are visible and not easily ignored.  

Regular Progress Reviews: Lencioni believes that team members should regularly communicate with each other, giving feedback on each other’s behaviours and performance. To ensure that this happens, he suggests having a structure in place to help the team do this – otherwise it is likely to be avoided.

Team Rewards: By moving rewards away from an individual to a team-based performance, the team will create a culture of accountability. With the reward being team-based, individuals will be less likely to allow a peer to under-perform or not pull their weight.  

 And what if you are the leader of a team where there is an avoidance of accountability?

Lencioni believes that managing this dysfunction can be difficult for a leader as they must balance being able to instil accountability into the team, whilst ensuring it is the team members who are the ones holding each other accountable, not deferring to the leader to do this task. By creating this culture of accountability, the leader should only need to intervene when the team itself has failed in the task.

 Over the last few months, more of us have started working remotely.

Has this impacted how your team are interacting and their levels of accountability to each other?

Has working remotely given some ‘room to hide’ in relation to their actions?

Have key deadlines been missed with limited challenge as to why?

Has a level of mediocrity settled across the team?

Or perhaps your team hasn’t experienced an avoidance of accountability at all – in which case Lencioni would expect you have seen some of the below advantages:

  • Poor performers have felt pressure to improve
  • There is a high level of respect amongst team members
  • Potential problems have been resolved quickly by questioning each other’s approach without hesitation
  • Excessive bureaucracy has been avoided.

Next week, we will explore the fifth dysfunction that Lencioni identified: Inattention to Results.

If you want to learn more about this subject, the book can be purchased here.

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