5 Dysfunctions Of A Team

The 5 Dysfunctions Of A Team By Patrick Lencioni
©Copyright2007 The Table Group, Inc.  3640 Mt. Diablo Blvd., Suite 202. Lafayette, CA 94549  http://www.tablegroup.com

Adapted Summary For A Church with Actions And Questions By Dave Brown

Like it or not, all teams are potentially dysfunctional. This is inevitable because they are made up of fallible, imperfect human beings. From the basketball court to the business executive suite, politics and confusion are more the rule than the exception. However, facing dysfunction and focusing on teamwork is particularly critical at the top of an organization because the executive team sets the tone for how all employees and team members work with one another.

Fortunately, there is hope. Counter to conventional wisdom, the causes of dysfunction are both identifiable and curable. However, they don’t die easily. Making a team functional and cohesive requires levels of courage and discipline that many groups cannot seem to muster.

Addressing the Dysfunctions
To begin improving your team and to better understand the level of dysfunction you are facing, ask yourself these simple questions:

  • Do team members openly and readily disclose their opinions?
  • Are team meetings compelling and productive?
  • Does the team come to decisions quickly and avoid getting bogged down by consensus?
  • Do team members confront one another about their shortcomings?
  • Do team members sacrifice their own interests for the good of the team?

Although no team is perfect and even the best teams sometimes struggle with one or more of these issues, the finest organizations constantly work to ensure that their answers are “yes.” If you answered “no” to many of these questions, your team may need some work.

The first step toward reducing politics and confusion within your team is to understand that there are five dysfunctions to contend with, and address each that applies, one by one.

The 5 Dysfunctions

Dysfunction #1: Absence of Trust
This occurs when team members are reluctant to be vulnerable with one another and are unwilling to admit their shortcomings. Without a certain comfort level among team members, a foundation of trust is impossible. Examples of church members and ministry teams lacking trust are:

  • Conceal their weaknesses or mistakes from one another.
  • Hesitate to ask for help or provide constructive feedback to others.
  • Disregarding offers to help outside select areas of responsibility.
  • Assume conclusions about the intentions and abilities of others without attempting to clarify.
  • Fail to recognize and tap into one another’s skills and experiences.
  • Hold grudges without accepting apologies.
  • Dread meetings and find reasons to avoid participating or spending time together.

–> Be available. As a church body, spending time together beyond the church schedule is helpful in building the relational credibility to become vulnerable to share and learn each other’s weaknesses. Further, availability requires team members to be consistently present in the ministry/mission of the church, as well as planning meetings.
“So being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.” 1Thessalonians 2:8

–> Be accepting. Allow the admissions of weaknesses or mistakes to be shared with grace and room for growing improvement. Realize one person is not solely responsible for all the problems. Yet, as each person takes ownership of their shortcomings, God has placed the body of believers to complement and construct healthy growth.
“If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” 1Corinthians 12:26

5 Essential Commitments of Trust (Andy Stanley)

  1. I will believe the best.
  2. When other people assume the worst about you, I will come to your defense.
  3. If what I experience begins to erode my trust, I will come directly to you to talk about it.
  4. When I am convinced I will not be able to deliver on a promise, I will come to you ahead of time.
  5. When you confront me about the gaps I’ve created, I will tell you the truth.


  • How does trust among members and ministry teams relate to effectiveness as a church?
  • What examples of trust deposits can you highlight in your ministry and our members?
  • Where do we lack trust as a church ministry? How can we confront the gaps and cultivate renewed trust?
  • Where do you lack trust: person(s), task, or goal?
  • Where do you think others lack trust in you?


Dysfunction #2: Fear of Conflict
Teams that are lacking on trust are incapable of engaging in unfiltered, passionate debate about key issues, causing situations where team conflict can easily turn into veiled discussions and back channel comments. In a work setting where team members do not openly air their opinions, inferior decisions are the result. Examples of ministry teams that fear conflict are:

  • Meetings that are boring with commonly known reports, and overall unproductive with action items.
  • Meetings or conversations with sarcastic responses to issues without serious suggestions for problem solving or constructive conflict that results in forward movement.
  • Meetings with gamesmanship to appease persons or groups, or outside parties undermine what leaders desire or design.
  • Environments where personal attacks are not addressed swiftly and allowed to linger over time.
  • Feedback is often given from anonymous sources, using “people say,” or “they,” without specific identification.
  • Overlooking debatable or divisive topics that are fundamental to team success.
  • Neglecting the input and perspectives of the variety, if not all, team members.
  • Artificial harmony where appearance supersedes authenticity.


–> Be a contributor not a consumer. Find ways to contribute within each ministry and generational grouping. Unity occurs through involvement.

“There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call – one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gifts… speaking truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into Christ” (Ephesians 4:4-7, 15)

–> Be candid. Honesty is helpful, pretense is hampering. Speak a clear “yes” or “no” with commitment toward unity (cf. Deuteronomy 23:21; Matthew 5:37; 2Corinthians 1:17; Ephesians 4:25; Hebrews 6:16; James 5:12). Mine the issues to resolve conflict and cultivate a healthy team culture.
“A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver. Like a gold ring or an ornament of gold is a wise reprover to a listening ear.” Proverbs 25:11-12
“Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.” Proverbs 27:6

  • What excites you about your ministry? Our church? Consider the adage, “What gets recognized gets repeated.” What can we recognize and praise more frequently to promote our mission?
  • What are the “elephant(s) in the room” at our church?


Dysfunction #3: Lack of Commitment
Without conflict, it is difficult for team members to commit to decisions, creating an environment where ambiguity prevails. Lack of direction and commitment can make employees, particularly star employees, disgruntled, though they may feign agreement. Examples of ministry teams that lack commitment are:

  • Ambiguity among members about priorities and purpose.
  • Members have no or little “buy in” for the vision and mission strategy.
  • Fear of failure from incessant second-guessing.
  • Job descriptions are unclear or roles are assumed by preferences and comfort zones.
  • Unwillingness to share personal views or constructive feedback.
  • Indifference to people’s or ministries needs or requests for help,
  • Significant conflict or disagreement may not exist, but apathy abounds.


–> Be credible. Credibility does not imply perfection in attendance or service, but helps others understand your value and support to the team.

  • How does your role and ministry impact the overall mission of the church?

Dysfunction #4: Avoidance of Accountability
When teams don’t commit to a clear plan of action, even the most focused and driven individuals hesitate to call their peers on actions and behaviors that may seem counterproductive to the overall good of the team. Examples of ministry teams that avoid accountability are:

  • Avoid discussing the shortfalls or mistakes of persons or groups. This may include admissions from the “offender,” as well as accountability discussions from the subject.
  • Communication exists on the surface without depth of understanding an issue or specific application for how it impacts individuals and the group. Interpersonal discomfort supersedes responsibility.
  • Fear accountability or conflict will divide and destroy relationships and team unity rather than develop them.
  • Resentment exists based on different standards and expectations for people or ministries.
  • Lowering the bar for excellence and effectiveness.
  • Windows of opportunity close due to excessive analysis and unnecessary delay with frequent revisiting of discussions and decisions.
  • Excessive burden exists with team leader as the sole source of accountability and discipline.

–> Be conscientious. The Christian life and ministry leadership is a privilege and stewardship. We must not take serving God for granted. Further, we must fulfill our roles for the sake of others who rely upon our actions, and for the sake of God’s glory, as our labor in God’s kingdom

  • How does peer to peer accountability compare to leader (supervisor or staff) to worker accountability?

Dysfunction #5: Inattention to Results
Team members naturally tend to put their own needs (ego, career development, recognition, etc.) ahead of the collective goals of the team when individuals aren’t held accountable. If a team has lost sight of the need for achievement, the business ultimately suffers. Examples of inattention to results include:

  • No significant evaluation of actions to be duplicated, developed, or discontinued.
  • Frequently distracted by emergencies rather than the essential.
  • Individual growth and team benchmarks of success are stagnant.
  • An overemphasis on the team or the individual.
    • Team: The cause eclipses the conquest. The feeling of personally being part of the group crowds out the action of bringing others into the group. Christians can confuse faith with solely reaching heaven instead of the mission of reaching others to know Jesus. Christians must have mission as the DNA of the gospel message.
    • Individual: Personal status or success is sought to the detriment of team goals. An attitude of self-preservation avoids working on healthy relationships with team priorities and purpose.

–> Be focused. The measure of evaluation God uses for His church is faithfulness and fruitfulness. Faithfulness to convictions and character are related to a church’s effectiveness.

“And they devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers… And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” Acts 2:42, 47

“Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” 1Corinthians 15:58

  • What are the benchmarks for success in our ministry and mission?
  • What are “emergencies” and what is “essential” for our ministry, and how will we handle them both appropriately?
  • Who is promoting individual status over team success? Who on the team is over-comfortable and eclipsing the mission?


The Rewards
Striving to create a functional, cohesive team is one of the few remaining competitive advantages available to any organization looking for a powerful point of differentiation. Functional teams avoid wasting time talking about the wrong issues and revisiting the same topics over and over again because of lack of buy-in. Functional teams also make higher quality decisions and accomplish more in less time and with less distraction and frustration. Additionally, “A” players rarely leave organizations where they are part of a cohesive team.

Successful teamwork is not about mastering subtle, sophisticated theories, but rather about embracing common sense with uncommon levels of discipline and persistence. Ironically, teams succeed because they are exceedingly human. By acknowledging the imperfections of their humanity, members of functional teams overcome the natural tendencies that make teamwork so elusive.

Team Assessment:
See pp. 191-194 in the book for an assessment for your team to identify potential team dysfunctions.

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