5 Dysfunctions of a team (1) absence of trust

You’ve inherited what you consider a dysfunctional team, but what makes you think they are dysfunctional?

We all agree if you can get all the people in an organization rowing in the same direction, you could dominate any market, against any competition. But the truth is that genuine teamwork remains elusive in most organizations and in most teams. And the reason comes from falling unknowingly to the 5 dysfunction pitfalls.

Patrick Lencioni created a very understandable model about how and why teams are dysfunctional and how you can assist them to function better.  Lets work at the base, the most fundamental dysfunctions, and work our way up.


1. Absence of Trust
The word trust is used so often and in so many ways that it has lost its impact. You often hear people say: “I trust my coworkers so I don’t question how they do their job”, “I trust my boss so I followed his order without question”, “I trust him implicitly and I’m ready to go to bat for him any time” …… but this isn’t the type of trust an effective team needs.

In most teams a lack of trust creates a lack of open debate and discussion during meetings and other interactions among a team. Great teams, trusting teams, do not hold back with one another. They admit their mistakes, their weakness, and their concerns without fear. Every effective team has a substantial level of debate.

The foundation of trust within a team is both affective (relationship based) and cognitive (objective performance) based. Affective trust means you trust the motives of the other person and you trust them to think in the bets interests of the team, occasionally against their own best interests. You trust everyones motivations to be team focused. You can clearly see caring, transparency and openness in team members actions. This significantly contributes to the feeling of mutual integrity. Team members teat each other with honesty, fairness and authenticity. In so doing real team relationships are built.

In addition to this we also need to have cognitive trust, a belief in the teams ability. Team members need to to aware of and trust the knowledge, skills and experience of others. And if these are absent trust that the individuals are working diligently to improve these. This then leads to  higher level trust in the predictability of team members, their growing reputation, credibility and performance.

Teams that lack trust waste inordinate amounts of time and energy managing their behaviours and interactions within the group to avoid damaging feelings. As a result, morale is usually quite low, and unwanted turnover is high.

Team assessment: Do team members call out one another’s deficiencies or unproductive behaviours? Do they challenge one another about their plans and approaches?

How can I build vulnerability-based trust

This cannot be achieved over night, it requires:

  • shared experience over time
  • multiple instances of following through and credibility
  • an in-depth understanding of the unique attributes of the team members

Suggested team exercises:

  • Share personal histories;
  • identify the single most important contribution each member makes to the team, as well as one area to improve or eliminate for the team;
  • personality profiling and sharing strengths and weaknesses amongst the group; 
  • try to use objective measures like a 360-Degree feedback .

To create real trust,  the key is to divorce any assessment  entirely from compensation and formal performance evaluation.

As a leader first you need to demonstrate genuine vulnerability, and create an environment that does not punish admissions of weakness or failure before others will share their trust with you.

Next we discuss the second dysfunction, fear of conflict