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Patrick Lencioni, in his book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, identifies five characteristics of dysfunctional teams.

Lack of trust is the first and most important dysfunction, which leads to the other four.

I have found when working with teams that it can be more constructive to look at the five characteristics positively rather than negatively.

Trust starts with every person wanting to achieve the same team goals above personal goals. There is no room for ego. If I believe you want the same thing as I want, and you believe the same of me, we will trust each other. If we don’t believe that, trust is damaged.

Trust then allows honest dialogue and constructive conflict. Perhaps counter-intuitively, high performing teams don’t find that all is peace and agreement. Rather, they can experience high levels of conflict. But the conflict comes not from personal ambition, ego or territory wars – it’s always about the best way to achieve the team goal. Constructive conflict allows everyone to have a say and be truly heard. So everyone is able to commit to the team decision, even if they didn’t get their way. From this mutual commitment everyone is prepared to hold each other to account because the team goal is too important to let people get away with poor performance or missing deadlines.

Accountability means reviewing performance openly, creating the right environment for high performance. This accountability both arises from, and leads to, a focus on results – the team’s common goal. Any team that is not focusing on its purpose is by definition dysfunctional to the extent that it is focusing on anything else.

Trust, constructive conflict, commitment, accountability and focussing on results. The characteristics of a high performing team. But what the characteristics of a high performing team member? Lencioni provides helpful answers here too.

First, the ideal team player will be humble. It’s not about them, their ego or their ambitions. It’s about the team goal. But they’re not self-deprecating – they know what they offer, and their commitment to the team goal means they will offer it.

They’re hungry for success. They focus on the goal. They have the discipline to do the right things for success and the drive to overcome obstacles.

And they are people smart. Lencioni describes this quality simply as ‘smart’, but I have changed the language to avoid confusion with intelligence. As they relate to their teammates, they see what impact their words and actions are having on others and can adjust accordingly. This is more about emotional intelligence, EQ rather than IQ.

Some people have only one of these qualities. Those who are only humble will be walked all over and are of less use to the team. People who are only hungry will bulldoze through other people to get what they want. People who lack both these qualities but are people smart are charmers.

Many people have two of these qualities. Those who are humble and hungry, but not people smart, Lencioni describes as ‘accidental mess makers’. They mean well and they want success, but they don’t see the effect they have on others, and can’t adjust. They create messes wherever they go.

Those who are hungry and people smart, but not humble, have all the right attributes … to achieve what they want, but not to achieve the team goal. It’s all about them. They are the ‘skilful politicians’. They know the effect they have on others, and it’s all calculated to get what they want, even it if looks like the team goal.

And then those who are humble and people smart are not in it for themselves. They know what effect they have on people and can adjust to get it right. But, lacking hunger, they use this to get along with people rather than get the job done. They are the ‘lovable slackers’. The rest of the team loves to have them around; so much so that many will fail to notice they’re not bringing anything to the party.

But those who excel in all three qualities will put their best forward for the team goal, will get the job done and will manage their relationships to greatest effect for the team. They are ‘ideal team players’.

Adapted from The Five Dysfunctions of a Team and The Ideal Team Player, both by Patrick Lencioni. See www.tablegroup.com for more tools.

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team and The Ideal Team Player are two of the 50 models to be found in my new book, LEAD: 50 models for success in work & life co-authored with my friends John Greenway and Andy Blacknell. It is published by Capstone, part of Wiley Publishing. At the time of publishing it is retailing at £7.91 on Amazon.

Illustration: Visual Thinkery