Lesson 1, Topic 1
In Progress

Improving Team Performance by Overcoming Team Dysfunctions

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Leaders are not without follower! Hence project managers will always a project team for them to manage.

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 performance28. However, improving team productivity is a very difficult task to achieve. Project teams are made up of human beings—people often with diverse personal culture, different skills, strengths, weaknesses, and different personalities.

Majority of project teams in organisations today are dysfunctional facing five team dynamics issues, known as team dysfunctions29. Project managers must overcome these five team dysfunctions to improve teamwork, and ultimately improve team performance.

Figure 6-8 shows the five dysfunctions of a team, starting with the first dysfunction at the bottom of the pyramid. The five dysfunctions of a team can be described as follows.

  1. Absence of trust. The first dysfunction is an absence of trust among team members. When team members who are not honest or genuinely open with one another about making mistakes or about their weaknesses. This is often due the team’s unwillingness to be vulnerable within the group.
  2. Fear of conflict. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Avoidance of accountability. With lack of commitment and buy-in on team decisions, team members develop an avoidance of accountability, the fourth dysfunction.
  5. 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 team dysfunctions 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, Lencioni described an opposite approach—a positive one—that shows how members of truly cohesive teams behave.


The five dysfunctions with the positive approach are:

  1. Opposite of the first dysfunction: Team members trust one another.
  2. Opposite of the second dysfunction: Team members engage in unfiltered conflict around ideas and work towards resolution.
  3. Opposite of the third dysfunction: Team members commit to team decisions and plans of action.
  4. Opposite of the fourth dysfunction: Team members hold one another accountable for delivering against those plans.
  5. 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 to 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 apply ways to overcome the dysfunctions to improve team performance.

Project management is different from leadership. Successful project managers may not be effective leaders. But project managers can develop leadership skills to become effective leaders; and today, organisations need successful project managers to be effective leaders, as well. By understanding the difference between project management and leadership, and taking the path to become effective leaders, successful project managers can utilise their innovative and creative skills to help them develop leadership skills that will complement their project management abilities.

The common aspect of project management and leadership is the yardstick by which the performance of both the project manager and the leader is measured. The performance of a project manager and the effectiveness of a leader are both measured in terms of the performance of the followers—the performance of the team. Developing essential leadership skills for such as motivating and inspiring teams and individuals, and include negotiating and communicating skills, listening, and influencing skills, and team building with emphasis on utilising these skills to improve team performance must be given a priority.

28 Kumar, V. S. (2009). Essential leadership skills for project managers. Paper presented at PMI® Global Congress 2009—North America, Orlando, FL. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.

29 Lencioni, P. (2002). The five dysfunctions of a team—a leadership fable. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass