Effective leaders are those who apply the appropriate skills at the appropriate time for the appropriate situation. With the leader’s and project manager’s performance measured in terms of the project team’s performance, effective leaders always focus on applying appropriate leadership and project management skills to improve team performance. 

However, improving team productivity is a very difficult task to achieve. Project teams are made up of human beings—people often with diverse personal cultures, different skills, strengths, weaknesses, and different personalities. 

In his book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni (2002) explained that most project teams in organizations today are dysfunctional. He described five team dynamics issues, which he called team dysfunctions, and how to overcome these five team dysfunctions to improve teamwork, and ultimately improve team performance. 

According to Lencioni (2002), the five dysfunctions of a team are: 

Absence of trust. The first dysfunction is an absence of trust among team members. When team members are not honest or genuinely open with one another about making mistakes or about their weaknesses. This is often due to the team’s unwillingness to be vulnerable within the group. 

Fear of conflict. The absence of trust sets the tone for the second dysfunction: fear of conflict when the team members are incapable of engaging in unfiltered, passionate, and constructive debate of ideas. 

Lack of commitment. Fear of conflict ensures the third dysfunction of a team: lack of commitment, when team members rarely, if ever, buy-in and commit to team decisions. 

Avoidance of accountability. With a lack of commitment and buy-in on team decisions, team members develop an avoidance of accountability, the fourth dysfunction. 

Inattention to results. Lack of accountability leads to an environment where the fifth dysfunction can thrive: inattention to results when team members put their individual objectives above the collective project team objectives. 

The five dysfunctions of a team are interlinked like a chain so that when one link is broken, teamwork deteriorates even if only a single dysfunction is allowed to flourish. 

To understand the five dysfunctions, Patrick Lencioni (2002) described an opposite approach—a positive one—that shows how members of truly cohesive teams behave. He also covered several suggestions on ways to overcome dysfunctions. 

According to Lencion (2002), the five dysfunctions with the positive approach are depicted in Exhibit 3 and are as follows: 

  • Opposite of the first dysfunction: Team members trust one another. 
  • Opposite of the second dysfunction: Team members engage in unfiltered conflict around ideas. 
  • Opposite of the third dysfunction: Team members commit to team decisions and plans of action. 
  • Opposite of the fourth dysfunction: Team members hold one another accountable for delivering against those plans. 
  • Opposite of the fifth dysfunction: Team members focus on the achievement of project team goals. 

Understanding each of the team dysfunctions and exploring ways to overcome them (i.e., focusing on achieving the opposite of each dysfunction) is a great test of one’s leadership skills. An effective leader assesses the team’s weaknesses, what team dysfunctions exist within the team, the causes of the dysfunctions, and applies ways to overcome the dysfunctions to improve team performance.