If you know PILMMA’s founder, Ken Hardison, very well, or if you’ve been a loyal PILMMA member for some time, then you know that Ken is a continual learner, and he is never satisfied with the status quo.  Consequently, this means the PILMMA “team” must be continual learners, too. Recently, in preparation for our company’s quarterly meeting, Ken asked every team member to read Patrick Lencioni’s classic Leadership fable, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.  Of course, being the rebel and free thinker in the group, I immediately imagined we were headed for a twisted version of a Dr. Phil show rather than a business meeting. But, in the spirit of team building and cooperation, I opened the book and started reading…

From the very first page, I realized this book was not what I’d expected. This was not a dry dissertation on the merits of cooperation and conflict avoidance. Lencioni is nothing short of a genius!  Instead of laying out his observations and beliefs about how strong teams are formed, and the dysfunctions that impede team productivity, he creates an exciting page-turner that takes you into the boardroom of a small startup company.  He introduces each of the specific characters ( ingeniously representative of the various personality types one might find in any typical company’s executive team)  and sets up a story line which includes bringing in a new CEO to help solve the company’s immediate crisis.  This small startup company has some of the top designers, sales force, and marketing gurus, and plenty of financial backing, but they are not able to produce exceptional results. They are completely overshadowed by their competitors. The big questions are, “Why?”

Lencioni takes us on a journey along with the newly hired CEO- to unravel the dysfunctions of the team as we observe the interplay between the various characters.  He weaves his 5 Dysfunctions of a Team methodology into the story, as the CEO uses this model to help rehabilitate and reshape the company’s executive team. Not everyone survives.

From initial meetings to off-site team-building exercises, the reader gets a bird’s eye view of the inner workings of this fictional team and begins to see how these characters may resemble the players in one’s own team.  I was hooked.

Honestly, I couldn’t put the book down until I’d reached the end. Like reading as exciting whodunit mystery, I wanted to know who was going to resign or be fired or have a change of heart and whether this dysfunctional team could or would become functional.  Of course, when it was all said and done, (no spoiler alert here!) the team is strengthened and renewed but with the growing pains of change.

Once the fable is told, Lencioni concludes with several chapters offering a succinct and straightforward analysis of the 5 primary dysfunctions that team members must overcome for success and heightened company productivity. He also gives the reader suggestions for how these dysfunctions can be overcome.


The initial premise is twofold:

  1. teamwork in most organizations “remains as elusive as it has ever been, “and
  2. organizations fail to achieve because “they unknowingly fall prey to five natural but dangerous pitfalls.”


  1. Absence of Trust: Essentially, this stems from each member’s unwillingness to be vulnerable within the group. If members aren’t genuinely honest and open about their own mistakes and weaknesses, it’s impossible to build a foundation of trust.
  2. Fear of Conflict: Without trust, members are “incapable of engaging in an unfiltered and passionate debate of ideas.” Consequently, meetings are filled with “veiled discussions and guarded comments.”
  3. Lack of Commitment: without a healthy conflict, there is an inevitable lack of commitment. Since members haven’t honestly shared their opinions in passionate and open debate, they lack the buy-in necessary to embrace team objectives.
  4. Avoidance of Accountability: Without real commitment and buy-in, even the most focused or driven members hesitate to call their peers out on actions or behaviors that are counterproductive to the good of the team.
  5. Inattention to Results: Without team members holding each other accountable for their ropes in furthering team objectives, members will put their own needs, such as ego, career development, or recognition or the needs of their department above the executive team’s collective goals.

As you can read through this list of dysfunctions, you realize that they are all interconnected. A dysfunction in one area left unchecked results in overall teamwork deterioration.


Exploring the five dysfunctions within most teams also sheds light on the five critical elements of health, cohesive, and productive team:  Healthy Teams:

  1. Trust One Another.
  2. Engage in Unfiltered Conflict Around Ideas.
  3. Commit to Decisions and Plans of Actions– even if they initially disagreed with the choice or plan.
  4. Hold one another accountable for delivering against those plans.
  5. Focus on the Achievement of Collective Results.

While the above-stated concepts are simple, the rub is in the application because self-assessment, honest dialogue, and change all “requires levels of discipline and persistence that few teams can muster.”  But those that can surely reap the benefits of heightened cohesiveness and productivity that propels an organization forward.

Fortunately, Lencioni doesn’t leave you hanging- He provides questionnaires to help your company’s team players assess their susceptibility to these five dysfunctions, as well as strategies for overcoming each identified dysfunction.

So, you may be wondering what happened to the PILMMA team when we undertook the dysfunction analysis. Let’s just say even strong teams have some areas of dysfunction, and the vulnerability to lay bare and dig deep isn’t natural- but the results are highly recommended.

We all want businesses that grow- and team players that are vested, committed, and operating at full potential. We want the sum of our team to be greater than the individual parts. Lencioni’s Leadership Fable and Five Dysfunctions Analysis is a book worth diving into if you are prepared for the vulnerability and honesty necessary to apply these principles effectively for your team and firm’s betterment.