The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni is a business fable which uses the story format to explore what makes teams work (and fail).  Set in the fictional business setting of DecisionTech, a Silicon Valley software startup, the book tells the story of a newly hired CEO who creates change at the stagnant company.  The book is an easy read and has relevance to schools by examining what supports and builds positive cultures.

I recommend reading pp. 187-190 to get a sense of Lencioni’s model of the five dysfunctions.  He turns the model around to make each dysfunction a positive building block.

  1. The Absence of trust is the first dysfunction and happens because team members are unwilling to be vulnerable with one another. Team members won’t share their weaknesses and failures and blaming becomes the common practice.  Without trust, a team cannot move forward.
  2. Fear of conflict is the second dysfunction. Often schools will talk about this dysfunction without realizing it’s undergirded by an absence of trust.  Teams cannot engage in discussions about the best path forward without conflict—and without trust you cannot have healthy conflict.  There is artificial harmony and superficial relationships.
  3. Lack of commitment is the third dysfunction. There is a lack of buy in and sense of mission to these teams.  There isn’t a common mission and common goals to frame debates and questions.  Ambiguity is rampant.
  4. Avoidance of accountability then emerges because of the lack of commitment. Team members are less likely to call out colleagues for bad behavior.  Have you ever seen that teacher who flaunts the rules and isn’t called to task by his/her colleagues?  That’s a dysfunctional school which is satisfied with low standards.
  5. Inattention to results happens when the team members are selfish and seek out individual success only. How many teachers just want to shut their doors and be left alone?  How many principals want to avoid contact with the central office?  And how likely is it that you’ll find both types of behavior in the same school?  Individual status and ego come first.

The bulk of the book serves to illustrate these points by telling the fictional DecisionTech story.  The book serves as a great reminder of what makes a team work (starting with trust) and has great suggestions on how to confront dysfunctional school cultures.

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