A Toxic Team

There are many different ways that a team can be dysfunctional and toxic. According to Patrick Lencioni, a writer of business management books, there are five main ways that a group can be toxic and they form a pyramid, building off of each other. He goes through these dysfunctions in his book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.


The first dysfunction is the absence of trust. Lencioni defines this as “The fear of being vulnerable with team members prevents the building of trust within the team.” In a team, trust is always a key factor that everyone needs. If the people on your team do not trust each other, then nothing will ever get done. Find a way to open the members of your group up to one another so that you will be able to trust each other and get your work done properly. This is shown in the clip below from The Croods. Grug does not trust this new person, Guy, even though Guy knows a lot more about surviving in this colorful world than Grug does. This mistrust leads to Grug getting hurt over and over, as shown below.

The second dysfunction is the fear of conflict. In the book this is defined as “The desire to preserve artificial harmony stifles the occurrence of productive ideological conflict.” Although conflict is not desired in most group situations, sometimes it is important in a group setting. If no one is willing to bring up a conflicting view against a person’s idea, then the idea will never be improved, especially if there are big problems in it. Let your team know that conflict is sometimes good and make sure they are open to constructive criticism about their ideas.

The third dysfunction is the lack of commitment. This is defined as “The lack of clarity or buy-in prevents team members from making decisions they will stick to.” If anyone on your team is not fully committed to the project, then obviously they are not taking it seriously. Make sure that everyone knows the importance of each project and the consequences if they do not keep up with their part of the work.

The fourth dysfunctions is avoidance of accountability. Lencioni defines this as “The need to avoid interpersonal discomfort prevents team members from holding one another accountable.” This goes along with the second dysfunction. If no one wants to hold another person accountable for their area of work, then nothing will get done on time. As the manager of the group, it is your job to make sure everyone does their work correctly and on time. Don’t be afraid to confront people about their work.

The fifth dysfunction is inattention to results. The book describes this as “The pursuit of individual goals and personal status erodes the focus on collective success.” If everyone is afraid of conflict and confronting others, then nothing will get done properly. Instead of making the best product that you could have, you are too focused on making your team happy and your work suffers for it. Not everyone will be happy all the time in a group setting. That’s life. So focus on the things that you can control: your results.

I have been in a group that has had to deal with one or more of the previously mentioned dysfunctions. It is quite hard to deal with if you don’t know what to, but it is easy to learn quickly. First you need to knowhow to identify the people who fall within the 5 team dysfunctions. Then you need to figure out how to deal with them. The best thing to do is not to get angry with them. That will only make it worse. Be as patient as you can with them because getting angry will only want them to do the work even less and will give you more work in the end. Just remember that if one person does not do the work, then it will just make everything harder for the rest of the team.


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