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The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

A Leadership Fable

Patrick Lencioni

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Also by Patrick Lencioni

The Five Temptations of a CEO
The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive
Death by Meeting
Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions of a Team
Silos, Politics, and Turf Wars
The Truth About Employee Engagement
The Three Big Questions for a Frantic Family
Getting Naked
The Advantage
The Ideal Team Player

To Dad, for teaching me the value of work.
And to Mom, for encouraging me to write.


Not finance. Not strategy. Not technology. It is teamwork that remains the ultimate competitive advantage, both because it is so powerful and so rare.

A friend of mine, the founder of a company that grew to a billion dollars in annual revenue, best expressed the power of teamwork when he once told me, “If you could get all the people in an organization rowing in the same direction, you could dominate any industry, in any market, against any competition, at any time.”

Whenever I repeat that adage to a group of leaders, they immediately nod their heads, but in a desperate sort of way. They seem to grasp the truth of it while simultaneously surrendering to the impossibility of actually making it happen.

And that is where the rarity of teamwork comes into play. For all the attention that it has received over the years from scholars, coaches, teachers, and the media, teamwork is as elusive as it has ever been within most organizations. The fact remains that teams, because they are made up of imperfect human beings, are inherently dysfunctional.

But that is not to say that teamwork is doomed. Far from it. In fact, building a strong team is both possible and remarkably simple. But it is painfully difficult.

That's right. Like so many other aspects of life, teamwork comes down to mastering a set of behaviors that are at once theoretically uncomplicated, but extremely difficult to put into practice day after day. Success comes only for those groups that overcome the all-too-human behavioral tendencies that corrupt teams and breed dysfunctional politics within them.

As it turns out, these principles apply to more than just teamwork. In fact, I stumbled upon them somewhat by accident in my pursuit of a theory about leadership.

A few years ago I wrote my first book, The Five Temptations of a CEO, about the behavioral pitfalls that plague leaders. In the course of working with my clients, I began to notice that some of them were “misusing” my theories in an effort to assess and improve the performance of their leadership teams—and with success!

And so it became apparent to me that the five temptations applied not only to individual leaders but, with a few modifications, to groups as well. And not just within corporations. Clergy, coaches, teachers, and others found that these principles applied in their worlds as much as they did in the executive suite of a multinational company. And that is how this book came to be.

Like my other books, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team begins with a story written in the context of a realistic but fictional organization. I have found that this allows readers to learn more effectively by losing themselves in a story and by being able to relate to the characters. It also helps them understand how these principles can be applied in a nontheoretical, real-world environment, where the pace of work and the volume of daily distractions make even the simplest of tasks seem arduous.

In order to help you apply the material in your own organization, a brief section following the story outlines the five dysfunctions in detail. That section also includes a team assessment and suggested tools for overcoming the issues that might be plaguing your team.

Finally, although this book is based on my work with CEOs and their executive teams, its theories are applicable for anyone interested in teamwork, whether you lead a small department within a company or are simply a member of a team that could use some improvement. Whatever the case may be, I sincerely hope it helps your team overcome its particular dysfunctions so that it can achieve more than individuals could ever imagine doing alone. That, after all, is the real power of teamwork.



Only one person thought Kathryn was the right choice to become CEO of DecisionTech, Inc. Luckily for her, that person was the Chairman of the board.

And so, less than a month after the previous chief executive had been removed, Kathryn Petersen took the reins of a company that just two years earlier had been one of the most talked-about, well-funded, and promising start-up companies in the recent history of the Silicon Valley. She could not have known just how far from grace the company had fallen in such a short period of time, and what the next few months had in store for her.



DecisionTech was located in Half Moon Bay, a foggy, coastal farming town just over the hills from the San Francisco Bay. It was not technically part of the Silicon Valley, but the Valley is not so much a geographical entity as a cultural one. And DecisionTech certainly fit within that world.

It had the most experienced—and expensive—executive team imaginable, a seemingly indestructible business plan, and more top-tier investors than any young company could hope for. Even the most cautious venture firms were lining up to invest, and talented engineers were submitting their resumés before the company had leased an office.

But that was almost two years earlier, which is a lifetime for a technology start-up. After its first few euphoric months of existence, the company began experiencing a series of ongoing disappointments. Critical deadlines started to slip. A few key employees below the executive level unexpectedly left the company. Morale deteriorated gradually. All of this in spite of the considerable advantages that DecisionTech had amassed for itself.

On the two-year anniversary of the firm's founding, the board unanimously agreed to “ask” Jeff Shanley, the company's thirty-seven-year-old CEO and cofounder, to step down. He was offered the job of heading business development, and to the surprise of his colleagues, he accepted the demotion, not wanting to walk away from a potentially huge payout should the company eventually go public. And even in the difficult economic climate of the Valley, the company had every reason to go public.

None of DecisionTech's 150 employees were shocked by Jeff's removal. While most of them seemed to like him well enough personally, they couldn't deny that under his leadership the atmosphere within the company had become increasingly troubling. Backstabbing among the executives had become an art. There was no sense of unity or camaraderie on the team, which translated into a muted level of commitment. Everything seemed to take too long to get done, and even then it never felt right.

Some boards might have been more patient with a stumbling executive team. DecisionTech's was not. There was just too much at stake—and too high a profile—to watch the company waste away because of politics. DecisionTech had already developed a reputation within the Valley for being one of the most political and unpleasant places to work, and the board couldn't tolerate that kind of press, especially when the future had looked so promising just a couple of years earlier.

Someone had to be accountable for the mess, and Jeff was the man at the top. Everyone seemed relieved when the board announced the decision to remove him.

Until three weeks later, when Kathryn was hired.


The executives couldn't agree on which of Kathryn's features presented the biggest problem. There were so many.

First, she was old. Ancient, at least by Silicon Valley standards. Kathryn was fifty-seven.

More important, she had no real high-tech experience other than serving as a board member of Trinity Systems, a large technology company in San Francisco. Most of her career had been spent in operational roles with decidedly low-tech companies, the most notable of which was an automobile manufacturer.

But more than her age or experience, Kathryn just didn't seem to fit the DecisionTech culture.

She had started her career in the military, then married a teacher and basketball coach at a local high school. After raising three boys, she taught seventh grade for a few years until she discovered her affinity for business.

At the age of thirty-seven, Kathryn enrolled in a three-year business school night program, which she completed a semester early at Cal State Hayward, which was not exactly Harvard or Stanford. She then spent the next fifteen years in and around manufacturing, until her retirement at the age of fifty-four.

The fact that Kathryn was a woman was never an issue for the executive team; two of them were women themselves. With much of their collective experience coming from the somewhat progressive world of high tech, most had worked for women at some time during their careers. But even if her gender had been a problem for anyone on the team, it would have been dwarfed by her glaring cultural mismatch.

There was just no mistaking the fact that, on paper, Kathryn was an old school, blue-collarish executive. That presented a stark contrast to the DecisionTech executives and middle managers, most of whom had little experience working outside of the Valley. Some of them even liked to brag that they hadn't worn a suit—outside of a wedding—since graduating from college.

It was no surprise that after first reading her resumé, board members questioned the Chairman's sanity when he suggested they hire Kathryn. But he eventually wore them down.

For one, the board believed their Chairman when he flat out assured them that Kathryn would succeed. Second, he had been known to have extremely good instincts about people, notwithstanding the problem with Jeff. He certainly wouldn't make two mistakes in a row, they reasoned.

But perhaps most important of all (though no one would admit it), DecisionTech was in a desperate situation. The Chairman insisted that there weren't too many capable executives willing to take on such a messy job given the current state of affairs at the scarred company. “We should consider ourselves lucky to have such a capable leader as Kathryn available,” he successfully argued.

Whether or not that was true, the Chairman was determined to hire someone he knew and could trust. When he called Kathryn to tell her about the job, he certainly could not have known that he would be regretting the decision just a few weeks later.


No one was more surprised about the offer than Kathryn. Although she had known the Chairman for many years on a personal level (Kathryn had actually first met him when her husband coached his oldest son in high school), she could not have imagined that he thought so highly of her as an executive.

Most of their relationship had been social, centering around family, school, and local athletics. Kathryn assumed that the Chairman had little idea about her life outside her role as a mother and coach's wife.

In fact, the Chairman had followed Kathryn's career with interest over the years, amazed at how successful she had become with such relatively modest training. In less than five years, she had become chief operating officer of the Bay Area's only automobile manufacturing plant, a U.S. Japanese joint venture. She held that job for the better part of a decade and made the plant one of the most successful cooperative enterprises in the country. And while the Chairman knew little about the car industry, he knew one thing about Kathryn that convinced him she was perfect to fix the problems at DecisionTech.

She had an amazing gift for building teams.


If the executives at DecisionTech had any doubts about Kathryn when her hiring was first announced—and they did—they were even more concerned after their new leader's first two weeks on the job.

It wasn't that Kathryn did anything controversial or misplaced. It was that she did almost nothing at all.

Aside from a brief reception on her first day and subsequent interviews with each of her direct reports, Kathryn spent almost all of her time walking the halls, chatting with staff members, and silently observing as many meetings as she could find time to attend. And perhaps most controversial of all, she actually asked Jeff Shanley to continue leading the weekly executive staff meetings, where she just listened and took notes.

The only real action that Kathryn took during those first weeks was to announce a series of two-day executive retreats in the Napa Valley to be held over the course of the next few months. As though she needed to give them any more ammunition, none of her reports could believe she had the gall to take them out of the office for so many days when there was so much real work to be done.

And to make matters worse, when someone suggested a specific topic for discussion during the first retreat, Kathryn refused. She had her own agenda already set.

Even the Chairman was surprised, and a bit unnerved, about the reports of Kathryn's early performance. He came to the conclusion that if she didn't work out, he should probably leave along with her. That was beginning to feel like the most probable outcome.


After her first two weeks observing the problems at DecisionTech, Kathryn had more than a few moments when she wondered if she should have taken the job. But she knew that there was little chance that she would have turned it down. Retirement had made her antsy, and nothing excited her more than a challenge.

While there was no doubt that DecisionTech would be a challenge, something seemed different about this one. Though she had never really feared failure, Kathryn could not deny that the prospect of letting the Chairman down spooked her a little. To tarnish her reputation so late in her career, and among friends and family, was enough to worry even the most secure of people. And Kathryn was certainly secure with herself.

After surviving a stint in the military, raising her boys, watching countless buzzer-beating basketball games, and standing up to union bosses, Kathryn decided she was not about to be intimidated by a bunch of harmless yuppies whose greatest hardships in life so far had been fighting off the first signs of a receding hairline or an expanding waistline. She believed that as long as the board would give her enough time and leeway, she would be able to turn DecisionTech around.

And Kathryn's lack of in-depth software experience did not concern her. In fact, she felt certain that it provided her with an advantage. Most of her staff seemed almost paralyzed by their own knowledge of technology, as though they themselves would have to do the programming and product design to make the company Fly.

Kathryn knew that Jack Welch didn't have to be an expert on toaster manufacturing to make General Electric a success and that Herb Kelleher didn't have to spend a lifetime flying airplanes to build Southwest Airlines. Despite what her limited technical background might have indicated, Kathryn felt that her understanding of enterprise software and technology was more than sufficient for her to lead DecisionTech out of the mess it was in.

What she could not have known when she accepted the job, however, was just how dysfunctional her executive team was, and how they would challenge her in ways that no one before had ever done.