The importance of teamwork in any organization can’t be understated. In lean nonprofits, the stakes for not having strong and functional teamwork can be even more painful, particularly when team members are already working without the resources that may be more plentiful in other organizations. Teams are complex systems, but there are a few frameworks I love to help teams navigate the complexity.

Several years ago I read Patrick Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable. I read this when I was part of a team that wasn’t functioning as it could, and I was looking for answers.  This book was published in 2002, and I still remember the model that Lencioni used to describe great teamwork.  Now that I am in a consulting role, I was looking for resources and tools on facilitating great teamwork. I came across Overcoming The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Field Guide, also by Patrick Lencioni.  (I should note my former blog post about another of Lencioni’s works called “The Advantage” which echoes some the themes of his work on teams, but really focuses on culture.)

Below are a few quick observations about Lencioni’s teamwork model that I hope will inspire you to learn more. In describing what he means by a team Lencioni notes,

“You see, a team is a relatively small number of people (anywhere from three to twelve) that shares common goals as well as the rewards and responsibilities for achieving them. Team members readily set aside their individual and personal needs for the greater good of the group” (p. 9)

The second part of that sentence where team members “readily set aside their individual and personal needs for the great good of the group” is really hard to replicate in real life. We have all been on teams where self-interest and not the greater good of the group (or the organization) is the norm. So how can things be different?

What I like about Lencioni’s model is its simplicity.  It’s presented in the form of a triangle:Lencioni, 5 Dysfunctions of a Team

  • TRUST is foundational.
  • Without trust, there is no ability to enter into the kind of productive CONFLICT that teams need to surface the best solutions.
  • If there is no productive conflict, there can be no COMMITMENT where the team comes together to support and carry out the decisions that are in the best interest of the organization.
  • When there is no commitment, there can be no ACCOUNTABILITY.
  • Without accountability, the organization can’t achieve the RESULTS it desires.


To go deeper, Lencioni’s definition of trust is:

“When it comes to teams, trust is all about vulnerability. Team members who trust one another learn to be comfortable being open, even exposed, to one another around their failures, weaknesses, even fears. . . Vulnerability-based trust is predicated on the on the simple–and practical–idea that people who aren’t afraid to admit the truth about themselves are not going to engage in the kind of political behavior that wastes everyone’s time and energy, and more important, makes the accomplishments of results an unlikely scenario.”

The idea that trust is all about vulnerability is a game changer. Once you can be vulnerable with team members then the real work involving productive conflict on the way to achieving results can happen.

Another one of Lencioni’s points that stood out to me is that achieving commitment is about:

“a group of intelligent, driven individuals buying into a decision precisely when they don’t naturally agree. In other words, It’s the ability to defy a lack of consensus” (p 51)

To achieve commitment to a team decision even without full consensus is pretty remarkable, and that is what Lencioni’s model is designed to do. The field guide has lots of useful exercises that teams can use on their own or with a facilitator to work through these 5 Dysfunctions on the way to better results.  If you are interested in having me facilitate some teamwork sessions using this model in your organization, feel free to be in touch at  Also, if you found this post helpful, I invite you to share it with others using the share buttons below. I always appreciate your referrals and shares.

And, thank you to Patrick Lencioni for distilling what he has learned with hundreds of clients into a model that can be shared and replicated for the greater good of teams everywhere.



Is your organization ready for a change?

Stephanie Blackburn Freeth is the creator of The Strategy Tango.


The Strategy Tango is designed to move through seven tried and true planning steps while also accommodating the unique needs of your organization in each moment.


The Strategy Tango process is built upon a foundation of collaboration, candor, and focus.

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Are you looking for transformation?


Stephanie Blackburn Freeth provides 1:1 coaching for leaders looking to make their next transition.

Find out if you're ready for coaching with a free preparation checklist.

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Share This