Conflict Resolution in a Dysfunctional Team Environment

By Fazzi, Cindy | Dispute Resolution Journal, August-October 2005 | Go to article overview

Conflict Resolution in a Dysfunctional Team Environment


Fazzi, Cindy, Dispute Resolution Journal


Conflict Resolution in a Dysfunctional Team Environment Management Skills: A Jossey-Bass Reader. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, a Wiley imprint (www.josseybass.com), 2004. Softcover. 622 pages. $25.

So, you've heard about dysfunctional marriages and families. They're the subjects of popular television series (think "Desperate Housewives" and "The Sopranos"). But dysfunctional business organizations? Yes, they exist, although they are not as dramatic.

This book, a part of the Jossey-Bass business and management series, is not about alternative dispute resolution (ADR) per se, but two chapters offer useful insights into organizational conflict resolution.

Five Dysfunctions

A chapter written by Patrick Lencioni, president of Table Group, a management consulting firm, says that "[o]rganizations fail to achieve teamwork because they unknowingly fall prey to five natural but dangerous pitfalls," he writes. These pitfalls are absence of trust, fear of conflict, lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability, and inattention to results.

Absence of trust, Lencioni says, stems from people's unwillingness to be vulnerable within the group. Members of the team who are not generally open with one another about their mistakes and weaknesses make it impossible to build a foundation for trust.

A lack of trust leads to fear of conflict, says Lencioni, which is considered taboo in many workplaces. It is no wonder that many managers spend a lot of time and effort trying to avoid heated debates that are essential to growth and teamwork.

"Contrary to the notion that teams waste time and energy arguing, those that avoid conflict actually doom themselves to revisiting issues again and again without resolution," Lencioni explains. However, he does distinguish productive ideological conflict from destructive fighting and interpersonal politics. The former is limited to concepts and ideas, while the latter refers to mean-spirited personal attacks.

In Lencioni's view, an absence of healthy conflict creates the atmosphere for the third dysfunction: lack of commitment. He points out that team members who do not voice their opinions rarely buy in and commit to decisions. When they lack commitment, they tend to avoid accountability, the fourth dysfunction. And when they are not held accountable for their actions, he explains, they are more likely to turn their attention to their own needs instead of the team's goals.

Lencioni shows how all five dysfunctions relate to each other, creating a vortex that sucks productivity and creativity right out of organizational teams. Throughout the discussion he offers practical tips, including group exercises.

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