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How to deal with the five dysfunctions of a team? (part one)

In our team's daily delivery, we’ve noticed that no matter the team size or who we're working with, we always face a similar set of issues. Everyone wants to work in an efficient team that provides self growth in a relaxed atmosphere, but while building a cohesive team is difficult, it isn’t complicated.

Team challenges


Each team faces their own internal issues. Here are some of the main issues we faced:


  1. Complicated tech stack

  2. Complicated critical tasks

  3. Strict delivery deadlines

  4. Frequent customer staff turnover

  5. Large team and frequent turnover


There is no miracle cure. Team management is a process of knowledge accumulation over a long time. But sometimes, we find that most of these problems can be solved if we just focus on their smaller components. So here are five common team dysfunctions and some practices we put in place to help us improve our team’s performance and deal with these challenges.



The five dysfunctions of a team


Here's a model from Patrick Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, which categorizes the problems encountered in our daily work.


The five dysfunctions are not independent of each other, but combine to form a pattern that can destroy teamwork.


  1. Absence of trust. Team members might be reluctant to open up to each other and reveal their weaknesses for fear of being targeted, leading to a failure to build trust.


  2. Fear of conflict. Due to the absence of trust, team members avoid potentially difficult conversations and only stick to inconsequential topics.


  3. Lack of commitment. Due to their fear of conflict, team members cannot fully and openly express their views when discussing problems. Therefore, what looks like consensus might not actually be one.


  4. Avoidance of accountability. Because there is no real agreement on the plan, it’s possible to spread the blame when problems arise afterwards.


  5. Inattention to results. If there is an absence of trust and accountability and honesty among members, there may be a tendency to put individual needs above the common interests of the whole team.

Absence of trust


  1. Newcomers’ Welcome / Staff Farewell
    In order to make everyone feel welcome, we will have a corresponding Welcome Meeting or Farewell Meeting, usually with cake, where everyone gets together, to introduce themselves or give farewell gifts. This small sense of ceremony helps ease the tension that newcomers may feel at the start of the project, and makes departing staff feel appreciated. [30min]


  2. Life Journey
    One or two months after a newcomer’s arrival, we hold a “Life Journey” event where people introduce themselves in more detail so that others can know more about their background.There’s not a single format. You can make a powerpoint to explain the important events that have shaped you since you were a child. You can describe your childhood with a hand-drawn timeline, or simply talk about your interests and hobbies. Other people can ask questions. In this way, we can quickly deepen our understanding of each other and find more commonalities. [30min]


  3. Team Building
    Team building activities are important. Ensure a variety of activities so that everyone can participate, such as barbecues, mountain climbing, house parties etc. Having these "outside work" experiences with team members can enhance understanding and even lead to tacit understanding. [N/A]


  4. With Remote Customers: Teatime
    Our team meets for tea once every two weeks. It will be canceled if under pressure to deliver. It usually occurs on Friday before coming off work, for half an hour. Content is flexible. [30min]


  5. With Remote Customers: Virtual Background
    Usually once a week, our group will change the corresponding Virtual Background according to the theme selected the previous day, and then we will introduce the meaning of our background to each other at the beginning of the station meeting. The theme can be anything, like your childhood photos, your least favorite foods, what superpower you would most like to have, etc. The goal is to promote understanding among team members and reduce the distance caused by telecommuting. [10min]


  6. With Remote Customers, as Leader: Regular Catchup
    As a Leader, it is better to have a weekly regular catchup with the main person in charge of the client, so we can exchange feedback and chat about the project’s progress, work arrangements and the team situation. If there’s nothing specific to bring up, we can finish the catchup quickly and chat with the client about team life and so on. It's also a good practice for building trust. [30min]


  7. With Team Members, as Leader: Regular Catchup
    The leader should also be responsible for the growth of team members. Therefore, leaders need to clearly know where each point of interest is, what development direction they want, what kind of help they hope to get, etc. All these can be solved through regular catchup with each person. The frequency and method can be determined according to the situation of your team. [N/A]



These "rituals" don’t all need to happen regularly, they can be reserved for specific circumstances. They may seem like a waste of time, but they are very important for building trust. When trust is established among team members, the atmosphere can be lively while remaining serious and things can get done with half the effort.


In the next part, we’ll address the remaining dysfunctions.

Disclaimer: The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Thoughtworks.

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