The best book on building an effective team is by far Patrick Lencioni’s “5 Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable” (2002).  He also elaborates on his model in his more recent book “The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else” (2012).

If you want to know more about diagnosing and treating the dysfunction of your team there is no better method (IMHO).  There is a great summary of the book posted on LinkedIn by Omar Usman.

Introduction to the Model

Lencioni’s organization, The Table Group, also offers an online assessment for teams to determine their levels of dysfunction.

The most powerful feature of Lencioni’s work is the connection between lack of trust, lack of conflict, lack of commitment, lack of accountability, and lack of results.

For some, the orientation of the approach is overly negative. The model assumes that your team is experiencing some level of dysfunction and provides remedies to address those dysfunctions.

I recall when my previous employer, hired a consultant to present the 5 Dysfunctions of a Team model to the senior management team. It didn’t go well.

While I wasn’t in the room, and I realize that their negative reaction could entirely have been a result of the way in which the consultant presented the material, my sense is that the team didn’t respond well to the negative orientation.

Whenever I present Leoncini’s model I invert it.  I present its positive converse.  Unlike Lencioni who starts at the bottom with lack fo trust, this model you start at the top with Shared Purpose.  The advantage of this method is that not only does it offer a more positive orientation, but more importantly it starts with the single most important factor when you actually start the process of building a team.  You start with the challenge.

5 Factors of a Healthy Team

Shared Purpose/Goals.  Shared purpose

Finding a positive impact on the world matters.  If you are building a new team start here.   Give the team a hairy challenge that matters.

Select people that are motivated by the challenge.For example, in 2013, I and a colleague, Vivian,  were tasked to revamp a part of the recruitment process that occurs when a position becomes vacant and a manager needs to seek approval to fill the position.

We knew from multiple sources that the process was highly dysfunctional. By addressing this issue we would improve the lives of the people we serve, and improve our own lives by reducing bottlenecks and inefficiencies.

In other words, the work mattered. While Vivian and I did divide the work as needed, our goals were the same.  We knew we needed to define the problem, measure the inefficiency, analyze the root causes, implement a solution and control the process going forward.

All the goals, metrics and milestones for the project were shared.


Commitment means people take psychological ownership for the success of the work.  When the work matters team members care.  Commitment means energy or “buzz” on a team.  An extra amount of energy arrives to do the work.  In addition, a higher level of intolerance of obstacles to success appears.  One of the biggest obstacles are negative behaviors of teammates.

Commitment drives mutual accountability.

Mutual Accountability

When people feel mutually accountable they are not satisfied in simply doing their job and going home.  Instead, they feel a certain responsibility for all jobs.

For most people, “accountability” means there is an expectation that people do what is expected of them. While this is certainly a part of it, what’s missing are the behaviors associated with “how” the work gets done.

Members of a healthy team are willing to confront their peers for what the peer did or didn’t do, but also how they did it.Let me give you an example.

At one point in my project with Vivian, she got distracted by her day job.  I continued the work as usual and made much progress.  At our next team meeting, after reporting all the progress I made she confronted me.  “Justin, you  have made a lot of decisions without me, by doing so I feel shut out and not a part of the team.”

At first, I was shocked, being so happy with the progress.  But I quickly determined that she was right.  Simply doing the work is only part of the equation.

I apologized and promised to change.  The project was a great success and we eventually received a performance award.  But that day, Vivian taught me an invaluable lesson about holding your peers accountable because you are committed to the work.

In conclusion, when people are mutually accountable they are willing to speak their mind.In other words, mutual accountability drives open dialog.

Open Dialog

Healthy teams have vigorous discussions.  They are willing to discuss different sides of an issue.  There are no “sacred cows” that are beyond approach.  People on healthy teams are willing to speak their mind, especially when an important decision is being made, or when brainstorming the solution to a problem. Over time, when people realize that they are able to speak their mind without personal recrimination trust is created.  Open dialog creates trust.


Trust is the glue that holds a team together.  When trust is established everything flows more smoothly.  People experience the freedom to be themselves and to focus all their energy on the work, rather than on politics.   Beyond freedom, trust also has an emotional quality.  When you trust someone it feels good.  You feel a sense of connection to the person. Working on a team with members you trust is enjoyable.

While Lencioni’s model connects Lack of Trust, to Lack of Conflict, to Lack of Commitment, to Lack of Accountability, to Lack of Results it can be seen as overly negative. The 5 Factors of Healthy Teams presented here converts the orientation and reverses the order of its presentation.

This solution focuses not on dysfunction,  but on the goal of building a healthy, vibrant and trusting team.

The difference is similar to focusing on strengths to improve one’s performance rather than focusing on weakness.    Weakness fixing prevents failure while strength development maximizes success.  By presenting converse of Lencioni’s model people are more likely to avoid the negative reactions that can occur.