I loved “Five Dysfunctions of a Team” – What else would you recommend?


Image via TableGroup.com

I’ve recently written about my first years as a manager, the satisfactions and difficulties, the doubts and achievements that come with it. I’m pretty open about it for 2 reasons. First: I’ve always liked sharing and writing, so why shun this subject? Second, I believe I can learn from those who read – and will react to – it both online and offline.

So let me write about this book I just finished, that I found absolutely brilliant. Those who have MBAs and/or are versed to management literature probably know it already; those who don’t (like me) should. And here’s why.

Reading “Five Dysfunctions Of A Team” is somewhere between a management book about organizational behavior, an MBA-course case study and a well-known 1957 movie about the impact of group dynamics in decision-making (in which  12 members of a jury, sequestered in a room, must deliberate about the guilt – meaning death – of  an accused teenage girl).

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Why? Because is is written as a story (“a leadership fable“) and not a classical academic book. That makes it very easy to read and accessible, especially when your days are already filled with work, decision-making and (sometimes) conflict, to the extent that you don’t want to get instructed about them in your downtime, reading a book that simply theorizes human behavior.

Instead of distilling theoretical content to explain how to manage a team, which you can find out here (even if it won’t make much sense if you haven’t read it), let me illustrate with an excerpt that I will comment below.

Kathryn, newly hired CEO of the fictional DecisionTech company, gathered her executive team for an off-site meeting, and talks about team-spirit within the endangered firm:

“When I’m talking about focusing on results instead of individual recognition, I talk about everyone adopting a set of common goals and measurements, and then actually using them to make collective decisions on a daily basis.”

Seeing that they weren’t going to cede the obvious point easily, Kathryn decided to shift back towards a more questioning approach. “How often did you talk about moving resources from one department to another in the middle of the quarter in order to make sure that you could achieve a goal that was in jeopardy?”

The looks on their faces said Never.


Kathryn went back to the sports analogy, hoping to get through to them. “Okay, imagine a basketball coach in the locker room at half-time. He calls the team’s center into his office to talk with him one-to-one about the first half, and then he does the same with the point guard, the shooting guard, the small forward, and the power forward, without any of them knowing what everyone else was talking about. That’s not a team. It’s a collection of individuals.”

And it was clear to everyone in the room that this was exactly what the DecisionTech executive staff was.

Kathryn was smiling in disbelief, as if to say, I can’t believe that I have to tell you this. In a more patient tone, she said, “All of you, everyone of you, are responsible for sales. Not just JR. All of you are responsible for marketing. Not just Mikey. All of you are responsible for product development, customer service, and finance. Does that make sense?”

Confronted by the simplicity and truth of Kathryn’s plea, and their obvious inadequacies as a group, any illusions of unity that had survived the first day and a half now appeared to be gone.

(pages 82 & 83)

The rest of the story – or fable – then goes on with many other situations in which the DecisionTech executive team learns to become a better leadership team.

What’s great in the book is not only to learn from the improvement that the team goes through, allowing any reader to identify familiar situations, or the personality of the leader, Kathryn.

What I found to be most valuable are the interjections, the small phrases that highlight tensions between characters, the doubts in peoples’ mind’s. The “…seeing that they weren’t going to cede …” or “…it was clear to everyone in the room that…” in the passage above for instance.

They enrich the content invaluably. Another example:

Kathryn  felt as though the team had completely forgotten about their [previous off-site]. There was little interaction, and almost no sign of willingness to engage with one another. […]

But Kathryn had been through this many times before. And as disappointed as she was that the group had not completely internalized the concepts from the off-site, she knew that this was a typical first response. She also knew that the only way to defuse it would be to dive right back in and get the group’s blood flowing again. She had no idea that she was about to hit an artery.

(pages 117 & 118)

The strengths of the book is to convey lots of useful information in a very readable format!

The first paragraph above could also have been “…most times, group dynamics are lively and improve during group sessions, but daily habits tend to wear off progress in the aftermath, making team bonding efforts difficult…” blah blah blah.

And instead of lengthily writing about the value of experience to be a good CEO, the simple “Kathryn had been through this many times before [and] knew that this was a typical first response” has the same effect to make the reader understand that nothing is easy, and that experienced people know this more than first-time leaders.

Long story short: I loved reading this book! It will benefit you if you are a leader of an organization – like Roxanne – or a manager of a small team – like me. I’d be glad to receive more ideas of books along the same lines… So, akin to what Chad Dickerson did on Twitter, let me ask you:

What else would you recommend to read?

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