This month, I’m going over how I used the book The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni with my athletes. In this article, I’ll be covering the first two dysfunctions. The final three dysfunctions will be addressed in Part 2, which will be published next month.

We didn’t do a team read, as that wasn’t my place. But any time there was a major shift in the team, be it a multi-year leader left, a new coach, a big recruiting class, etc., teams followed the same path: forming, storming, norming, performing (McGuire).

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Forming is when the athletes get together and start forming relationships. This is usually the happy-go-lucky phase. New people come in and new friendships are made.

Storming is when adversity starts to strike, as some of the entrenched starters may be removed from the lineup for their younger counterparts or when trying to determine who will be the new team leader.

Norming is when everyone gets comfortable with their role, and performing is when they are able to hit all cylinders and perform at the highest level they’re capable of.

The athletes may just move through these phases on their own and everything shakes out well and all is hunky-dory. When those times happen, in most instances, it isn’t really happening on its own. It is usually is due to a team leader who has an excellent instinct for these phases and how to help facilitate through them.

I would typically spend a week on each dysfunction, giving it all of the time that it deserves. I’d refer back to other dysfunctions and illustrate how that you couldn’t get to the end if you had any of the previous dysfunctions. You’d also never get past the storming phase to norming and performing without addressing the issues of the storms. I felt like this was a great way to get the athletes to talk about how to deal with it.

For the majority of the years that I did this, a few of the athletes had read the book, most of them had at least heard of it, and some of them even went out and bought it and read it on their own (which I saw as an ultimate victory).

Basketball Player Sport Game Plan Tactics Concept

 rawpixel ©

Laying some groundwork for Week 1:

On the first day of the week, I bring up the talk about each dysfunction. For the rest of the week, we talk about stuff that re-enforces or reframes it to hopefully shine the light on it from every angle. On some of these, I add in the role of the leader.

There were a few teams that I had worked with that didn’t have a senior class or other circumstances that someone stepped up as an underclassman to be the team leader. In one of those circumstances, they said, “I don’t know how to do this,” after we went over the lesson as a team. We sat down and talked about it and came up with what their role was. They asked me to talk about the role of the leader with the entire team so that everyone can understand what the leader has to do and why.

It is never easy being in a role like this, and they felt that if they could help everyone else to understand what needed to be done, it could provide them with some context of why things were being done a certain way now, and it could give the younger teammates some advanced insight and foresight to when they were in a leadership position. Again — this may not be right, but learn from what I did and use it as a starting point.

While the content of the actual dysfunction is from the book and from a website about it, the implementation is what I think is more important and so is giving context to the team in a way they can understand it. I’m also not trying to say that this is the best way to do it. It’s a way that worked for my team and me, so if it works for you, fantastic. Hopefully, you can take something from it.

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The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team: Absence of Trust (Lencioni)

Trust is very important for a team to have among the teammates and coaching staff. Trust is the foundation for all things that go toward championships. Without trust, nothing can be achieved.

Trust is knowing that what you say in private will not be used against you, that no one will come back with your thoughts or feelings to throw them in your face at some later time or to ridicule you about them. Trust is having confidence in your team that everyone’s intentions are the best, and there is no reason to think otherwise.

No one wants to be vulnerable by letting their thoughts and emotions be heard; it makes it worse if there is no trust that those things will be held sacred. However, being vulnerable and open within the team is what brings the team closer together, and trust is required for this.

Teams that lack trust waste huge amounts of time managing their behaviors and interactions within the group. Everyone is guarded, watches what they say, dreads meetings and team functions, and is reluctant to take risks and reluctant to ask for or offer assistance. As a result, the morale of the team is low.

How to build trust as a team:

  • Get to know everyone on a very personal level. Get to know what their childhood was like, their family, their hometown. Spend time in one-on-one situations with them going through deep conversations.
  • Respect and try to understand each person’s viewpoint. If you don’t agree with someone’s viewpoint, that’s fine. It must be respected and never ridiculed, and beyond that, you should strive to understand what they mean. It is extremely important to understand why someone does what they do. It will provide context and meaning to your interactions.
  • Make sure that what is said is sacred. No ridiculing or talking about teammates behind their backs. This obviously would disrupt the building of trust.

I believe in modeling behaviors you want from your team, so to get things started, after their stories, I will bring up and tell them a story from my life that leaves me vulnerable with them. Something deep and that can help people see what makes you, well, you.

I will often bring up abuse I suffered and witnessed growing up and how it shaped me. This builds trust with the team and me, and it brings me closer to those who have had similar occurrences but don’t feel open about talking about it with others. I completely understand their desire to keep things quiet, as I felt that it would be a weapon people could use against me until I started speaking about it publicly.

After this session, I will refer everything back to the week and prompt them to bring up some examples of things that were done to build trust. Things don’t just happen; you have to do things to facilitate it. If someone doesn’t understand what they can do to build trust, hearing other ways that their teammates did it will give them ideas of things they can do. It’s always more powerful coming from their peers rather than themselves.

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The next week, we talk about fear of conflict. During the first session, I usually address the team with this.

Male High School Basketball Team Having Team Talk With Coach

Cathy Yeulet ©

The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team: Fear of Conflict

Teams that lack trust are incapable of engaging in unfiltered and passionate debate about ideas. Instead, they resort to veiled discussions, guarded comments, and cliques.

When the team trusts each other, conflict can be healthy, and in fact, is required for teams as well as relationships to grow. A teacher I once had said, “When someone tells me that a couple doesn’t fight, I know that one of the people isn’t listening.”

Conflict is going to occur because not everyone is going to agree on everything. This is good; it allows for more ideas to be brought in and a greater picture brought to the team.

Conflict must be healthy, though. Healthy conflict is limited to certain concepts and specific ideas, whereas unhealthy conflict is personality-focused with mean-spirited attacks.

Conflict ought to have passion, emotion, and frustration so that everyone is heard, knowing that the purpose is to produce the best solutions in the shortest period of time. Teams that engage each other in healthy conflict waste far less time than teams that avoid it. Teams that avoid conflict end up spending enormous energy “being off.” They never take the time to get on the same page, so they never achieve the intended results.

The role of the leader: Some may feel the need or desire to protect the team members from harm. When attacks come from outside the team, this is great; this is what needs to happen. You protect the team. However, when conflict comes from within the team, it needs to happen. Protection of conflict from within the team stunts the growth of the team. If there is no conflict, the team members can’t develop coping skills and will not be able to handle adversity as well without having a skillset developed.

You must take personal responsibility for appropriate conflict behavior. You must be sure that you take the guidelines seriously, and when teammates are having conflict, you keep it to the issues and not personal attacks. While everyone may believe in the concepts, it is human nature to revert back to personal attacks in the heat of the moment. It is your job to keep the team on track.

Your team is one of the few safe places you have. While sharing ideas may not always be comfortable, it is necessary for the growth of the team. Don’t hold out on your team, your idea may be the difference between conference champ and runner-up.

This talk usually stands alone; I don’t want to rehash former conflicts that went on with the team. I usually end this with, “After our next training session, we will talk about a good way to have confrontation and deliver criticism.”

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Then, I share an excerpt from Bushido: The Way of the Samurai. I tell them ahead of time that while technology and the actual lives of people have changed tremendously over the last 1,000 years, people themselves have not. By examining the way the samurai approached things such as criticism, we can learn how to have some healthy conflict with it.


The following is an excerpt from Bushido: The Way of the Samurai. It is the two methods of criticism, what they are, how they are received, and how to get the desired change:

It is of utmost importance to admonish others with the intention of helping them overcome their faults. It is an act of compassion and the first requirement of your service. The way of advising others must be carried out with the utmost care and caution. It is quite easy to see good and evil in others. It is equally as easy to criticize others. Most people think it is an act of kindness to say what others do not like or hesitate to hear. But they give up if their advice is not accepted; they stop here, but this is quite ineffective. The result is that they put others to shame, which is the same as abuse or insult. They speak only to relieve their own hearts.

In giving advice, you must recognize whether the other person is inclined to accept it or not. You must begin by getting on intimate terms with him; you must do this to the extent that he places confidence in you, and you in him. Then he can put his trust in your words. Attract his attention by way of common interests. Devise appropriate ways of speaking and know the right season (time) to speak. Make the most of personal correspondence. Insinuate your point into the words you deliver at the time of farewell. Refer to your own weakness and failures. You would do well to let him discover your point without directly mentioning his weakness. First praise his merits or strong points and cheer up his mood. Devise means to bring about the circumstances in which he will accept your implied or intended advice. In other words, if you make him feel thirsty, he will want to drink. This way of admonition is advice in the true sense of the word. It is exceptionally difficult to practice.

Through my own experience, I have also learned that many faults and weakness have been so ingrained that it is not possible to break out of these bad habits by ordinary efforts.

It is quite in keeping with compassion that colleagues should unite together in the common cause of service. Then they can admonish each other from their own point of view. This should be done on a confidential basis. When all colleagues put their “souls” together and correct each other’s digressions, this leads to an act of compassion for all sentient beings.

How can you reform others if you disgrace them?

For the third training session and beyond, we will talk about hypothetical conflicts and criticism and how are some different methods to approach it. All of these points will be covered in Part 2 of this series.

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