A Leadership Fable


Patrick Lencioni

Jossey-Bass, 2002, 229 pp. 


A new CEO inherits a talented but dysfunctional executive team in this easy-to-read fable.  The story is built around five dysfunctions that build upon one another to inhibit teamwork-oriented toward results.  All you need is the pyramid illustration with explanation.  But the story adds “body” to the concepts.


Teamwork is a major competitive advantage because it is both powerful and rare.  But teams are inherently dysfunctional because they consist of people.  (Intro)


Trust is the foundation of teamwork – trusting people to admit their mistakes, weaknesses and concerns and trusting there will no reprisal for doing so.  (44)


Trust can only be built by overcoming the need for invulnerability.  (63)


Team members must focus on group results rather than individual recognition.  They all pursue common goals with a common set of measurements and use these measurements to make collective decisions daily.  Everyone is responsible for all corporate goals.  (82-3) 


“Politics is when people choose their words and actions based on how they want others to react rather than based on what they really think.”  (88)


Open, constructive conflict doesn’t happen when people don’t trust each other.  Instead, an artificial harmony – which breeds deeper conflict – is preserved.  (91)


Conflict is important in getting everyone to buy into a plan or decision.  “When people don’t unload their opinions and feel like they’ve been listened to, they won’t really get on board.”   People don’t always have to get their way, but they need to know they were heard and have their input considered and responded to.  (94-5)


There must be productive conflict during meetings, not focused on individuals but conflict over work issues.  (101)


The leader pushes conflict, drives for clear commitments, and expects individuals to hold one another accountable.  (113)


It’s not easy to hold people accountable  – some are so helpful you don’t feel like criticizing them; some are defensive; some are intimidating.  We tend to avoid the discomfort of difficult conversations. (148, 212)


Conflict is always uncomfortable.  But you have to do it anyway.  (175)


Building a cohesive team is difficult but not complicated.  It’s important to keep it simple.  (185)


The model:  Absence of trust à fear of conflict à lack of commitment à avoidance of accountability à inattention to results.


When people are unwilling to be vulnerable, open with one another, they don’t trust one another.  This sets the stage for guarded comments instead of passionate debate.  Without having been truly heard, team members retain their skepticism and do not fully commit to decisions.  Because they don’t own the goal, they avoid accountability.  While individuals pursue their own needs and agendas, collective goals go without attention.  (188)


Alternatively, effective teams trust each other, struggle openly with ideas, commit to plans, hold each other accountable for delivery, and focus on collective results.  (189-90)


A team assessment profile is included in pp. 191-94.


Teamwork is all but impossible without trust, the confidence that peers’ intentions are good and they are open about weaknesses, errors, and needs.  (195-96)


Building trust requires “shared experiences over time.”  (197)


“The most important action that a leader must take to encourage the building of trust on a team is to demonstrate vulnerability first.” (201)


Great relationships require productive tensions to grow.  Teams that avoid ideological conflict often encourage dangerous tension.  (202-3)


Commitment is a function of clarity and buy-in.  (207)


One of the best tools for ensuring commitment is honoring clear deadlines with discipline.  Peer pressure is the most effective means of maintaining high standards.  (210, 213)


Assure attention to results by clarifying desired results and rewarding only behaviors that contribute to those results.  (218)