The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni tells the story of a fictional team leading a believable tech company. It illustrates how we bring our humanity and our flaws to work, even as good leaders who contribute exceptionally well, we can still fail if we can’t collaborate effectively on a shared goal.

The storytelling was particularly good at showing how it can be so hard to facilitate change. Everyone won’t be in the same place in the same moment. Someone gets it, while others are struggling. The best teams have a culture of helping each other, and we need to create that culture intentionally.

I tend to prefer non-fiction that conveys research when I read books about work, but decided to read it after it was recommended twice in one week (thx Luna Comerford and Adria Richards). I found this corporate fable to be compelling and thought-provoking. The audio book was particularly entertaining and was surprised to finish it in just a day mostly during dog walking, muni rides, and evening errands.

I enjoyed the book and agree with the five dysfunctions presented as a pyramid that illustrates how each weakness leads to the next. In thinking through my reflections on the book, I found it helpful to review Abi Noda’s book notes. I liked his re-creation of the pyramid of dysfunctions, along with annotations, which inspired me to create my own alternate annotated pyramid:

Absence of Trust "politics", Fear of Conflict with artificial harmony, Lack of Commitment, ambiguity, unresolved conflict, Avoidance of Accountability, avoidance of interpersonal discomfort and Inattention to Results (Status & Ego)

At the top of the pyramid, the book talks about “inattention to results,” though the discussion is really about focusing on the right results, which are based on shared priorities and shared decisions. Individuals on the executive team might inadvertently jeopardize the company’s success because of their own status and ego. No one wants the company to fail because of their own functional area, and thus, well-meaning people can become defensive and fail to deliver on shared goals because they are too focused on their specific deliverable. Certainly we all need to deliver great results within our area of expertise, but that must be in support of a primary shared goal.

At the base of the pyramid is absence of trust. The book had an interesting anecdote on how “politics” is common on teams when people don’t trust each other. People use that word to describe different behaviors, but the CEOs definition works well in this setting: “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.” When we work in an environment where we can just say what we think, trusting that people will believe we have good intentions and are working toward our shared goals, makes everything go faster and leads to better solutions.

Psychological Safety and Vulnerability, Healthy Conflict and Speaking Up, Shared Decisions with Buy In, Accountability supported by collaboration, Alignment of key results, shared goal and a shared understanding of reality

I felt like I wanted to remember the functioning team and the positive state we’re striving for when we work well together. As the story progressed, I imagined the opposite pyramid. At its base is psychological safety, which allows people to be vulnerable; this creates an environment where people can speak up, allowing for and supporting healthy conflict. If people can have productive discussions and have respectful arguments, the team can make decisions that the each individual buys into. People hold each other accountable, but also support each other and collaborate, consistently seeking alignment on delivering on shared priorities. Working as a team requires repeated course corrections. We need to make time to help each other and if we’re all focused on different things, we just won’t have time to do it all. If we’re all focused on the same goal, supporting parts of the same deliverable, then collaboration helps each team member deliver on their individual work and the shared goal.

One key element to making good teams work well is what I call a shared understanding of reality. In the book, the new CEO starts each day of their executive offsite by saying: “We have more money, better technology, more talented and experienced executives, and yet we’re behind our competitors.” She was creating a shared understanding of reality. She was making it clear to the team that she believed in them and in the business opportunity. A lot of what we do when we create alignment on a team is to build that shared reality. Shared goals are built on shared information and shared conclusions, which are based on shared values.

There are lots of ways to think about how to create a healthy team. I like how Abi Noda reflects on the pyramid of dysfunctions presented in this book: “Teamwork deteriorates if even a single dysfunction is allowed to flourish, like a chain with just one link broken.”

Antoine Geiger’s art and writing explore “the screen as an object of ‘mass subculture,’ alienating the relation to our own body, and more generally to the physical world… It appeases the consciousness, stimulates it, orders it, subjugates it.”

man looking into cell phone with face stretched appearing to be sucked into or glued onto the screen

Omniprésent: it’s everywhere. In your pocket, your car, your
appartment, your street.
Omnipotent : it is your best fellow, you give him all your friends, your good feelings and your holiday pictures.
Omniscient : actual swiss knife of the 21st century, without him we’re all lost.

So we escape.
Even better, we project ourselves.
It’s like in cinemas, and yet it’s talking about you.
We press a button, screen turns on, and it’s like the whole physical world is frozen.
The show can start.
In the end we only escape from ourselves.

—Antoine Geiger

The whole SUR-FAKE series is delightful, strange and thought-provoking, and accompanying essay quoted above is just a page and worth reading. This visual artist creates unexpected imagery with words, describing this experience as a “curious ping-pong match with the pixels, terrified like a thick cloud of midges.”

When I was a little girl, I lived for a year in El Salvador. I went to a private school and generally lived a life of privilege. Our house was smaller than the one outside of Boston, and we didn’t have air-conditioning or a fancy compound like other members of the British-American club where we went swimming. My brother and I could go down to the corner store and buy firecrackers, and we would go across the street to a soccer field and find spots in the nearby trees where we could blow up piles of sticks. From there we could see where some folks lived: shacks with no running water, tin roofs, and painfully thin children.

In fifth grade, I’m sure I had no real idea of what was happening, but I knew I had privilege. Things were scary, but I did not fear for myself (although perhaps I should have). The poor would routinely get shot by the police and it was accepted as the way things are. Corruption and bribes were status quo. My home government (the United States) supported the government in El Salvador with arms to defeat the influence of Russian communism, despite no real evidence of that — this was a civil war with casualties on both sides. I remember when the dad of a kid in my class was kidnapped, and the family paid the ransom and the guerillas returned the dad, except his head was in a garbage bag, separated from his body.

I don’t mean to be gruesome, I just think about these things, when I hear about the violence by police in America today. This feels spookily familiar… I’ve been watching things get worse for over three decades. It is a good sign that people can take videos and speak out on twitter and express outrage #AltonSterling #PhilandoCastille #EssenceBowman #BlackLivesMatter

“It’s not what you see that should cause outrage, it’s what you have not seen.” —@shaft calling in Black to work tomorrow

I know for every video and photo there are those who were driving alone or where there were no bystanders with cell-phones.