Teamwork, Trust, and Whole Person Dynamics™

One of the most popular business books is The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni, having spent over 10 years on the New York Times Best Seller list, and still counting.  Everyone from Fortune 500 CEOs to professional sports team coaches, and countless managers in between, have had their people read this book in hopes of increasing teamwork and performance.  Unfortunately, most seem to struggle to put the concepts to work for their organization.  They simply think that doing the same thing differently will get them different results; it doesn’t.  What it takes is a different mindset about working together so that you stop trying to do the same things differently and begin doing different things. 

Don’t get me wrong; Lencioni has provided a great model.  Trust leads to the ability to engage in constructive conflict; conflict allows team members to air concerns, buy-in to plans and make a commitment to actions; that commitment then leads to everyone holding each other accountable, which insures completion of the actions; completion of the actions insures results, and the team achieves performance of its goals.  This model makes a lot of sense, and is supported by our own research.  The problem is, as simple as it is, it is a lot harder to deal with the human side of business, and most managers are not focused on this side of the business.  Instead, they are focused on the data and processes instead of doing the things that will actually make a difference.  

This means that we need more than just a model; we need to understand that model and what it means to our team or organization (being), and then find new ways of doing things to accomplish our goals.  Most managers do not take the time to deal with the being side of work, they would rather jump right in and start doing things, but without this understanding and meaning, too frequently we fall back on doing things that are familiar.  So let’s take a deeper look at the model and its underlying dynamics. 

In essence, the Lencioni Team Model is the Four Behaviors that Build Trust™ model that we discovered in our research.  Rather, it might be more accurate to say that each step in the model is a combination of two of the Trust Building Behaviors.  As I have shared countless times, along with many other researchers, Trust is the foundation for everything — personal success, team success, and organizational success.  Nothing else works in the organization, at least not for very long, without a foundation of Trust.  This is the reason why it is placed in the lower half of the graphic of the Seven Elements of High Performance™ model, demonstrating it supporting everything else in the model.  So it is fitting that if we want to increase team performance, as well as organizational performance, we would turn to a model that is founded on Building Trust. 

Lencioni also indicates that Trust is the foundation for his model, but he shares that he is not talking about predictability based trust, which is the same thing as Reliability.  Instead, he defines his foundational level as being Vulnerability-based Trust, or the ability to be able to be open, admit mistakes, problems and weaknesses, and ask for help.  In order to be able to share our vulnerabilities, it takes more than openness and a willingness to share; it takes a belief that the person or persons we are sharing with will not take our information and hurt us.  In other words, we have respect for the person or persons we are sharing our thoughts, ideas, concerns, or challenges, and that comes from accepting that person.  We also have to believe that the other person accepts us and that we have worth to them, or we won’t feel comfortable in sharing.  As I shared in Leadership Lessons from the Medicine Wheel, if Trust is the foundation of everything else, then Acceptance is the foundation or beginning of Trust.  When we accept each other then we can begin to have those kinds of conversations that resolve problems and drive performance.

When we take Acceptance and Openness and combine them, we can now be Vulnerable with each other and admit when things didn’t go right, when we are challenged by a lack of skills or resources, when we are overwhelmed or need help, and when we simply made a mistake.  We can also share our aspirations, ideas, and dreams about where we think the team or organization should go without fear of being laughed at or made fun of, and especially, without fear of what we share being used against us later on for someone else’s benefit. 

The second step in the Lencioni Team Model is Conflict.  But we are not talking about the unproductive, destructive conflict that comes from simple arguing and verbal fighting.  Lencioni talks about this kind of conflict as being the kind of constructive conflict that allows the free exchange of ideas.  He encourages conflict to be robust and challenging right up to the point before where it starts becoming divisive.  This is where some of the best ideas come from and where some of the largest problems are uncovered. 

This step can’t happen without people being willing to be Vulnerable and share their thoughts and ideas.  People have to know that what they say won’t be taken the wrong way, and others have to believe that what you might say is not offered to be nasty, but rather, simply passion about your thoughts and ideas.  When we Accept each other we can be Open and share without fear of hurting or being hurt, and when we do step over the line unintentionally, we can easily recover because of our Acceptance of each other.

But while Vulnerability and Acceptance provide that foundation, the act of engaging in conflict comes from being both Open with our ideas, thoughts and feelings, and being Straightforward about saying what needs to be said in an honest and frank way.  Jack Welch uses the word candid to describe this ability to say what needs to be said and address the issues head on.  Perhaps this is a better word than conflict, as so many people shy away from conflict in the first place.  But we must be candid; we must be Straightforward and Open about what is going on and listen to other ideas and challenge them if we are going to find the best solution to the problem. 

And this leads us to the next step, which is Commitment.   People will not commit to the decisions of the team if they have not had a chance to engage in that decision-making process.  People don’t need to have their ideas championed, but they do need to have them heard.  If they believe that all ideas have been heard fairly and that the final decision is based on the best information available, then people will more readily support the decision and commit to action and follow-through with it.  This commitment comes from a combination of being Straightforward and Reliable.  When making a commitment we are Straightforward about what we are committing to, with no quibbling or vagueness about what we are willing to do.  We don’t nod our heads and then later on share “that’s not what I meant.”  Commitment takes clarity, which is supplied by our Straightforwardness.  It also takes Reliability.  If we don’t follow-through with what we agreed to, then we haven’t committed. 

Of course, sometimes we stumble in our commitments.  Emergencies come up and “priorities change.”  This is a favorite statement from many managers when they promise to do something and then don’t follow-through.  This is where the next step comes in; that of holding each other accountable.  Accountability and Personal Responsibility are both similar, but come from different sources.  Personal Responsibility comes from within.  “I choose to” is the underlying belief of those who are personally responsible.  (You can find more in-depth information on the Element of Personal Responsibility in Leadership Lessons from the Medicine Wheel.)  This is also highly connected to the concept of Commitment, as we “choose to” make that decision to take action and commit to others to follow-through. 

On the other hand, Accountability comes from the outside.  It is someone else “choosing” to remind you that you did make that commitment.  Some times that Accountability is positive, as when we receive some sort of recognition for accomplishing our commitment.  This type of Accountability is easy for most to do, but often forgotten.  The other type of Accountability is much harder, and that is to remind someone of their commitment when they are not living up to it.  It is especially hard for someone to “hold someone accountable” when that someone is a peer, and it is especially harder the higher up in the organization you go to hold your peers accountable. 

This sort of Accountability also has to come from two of the Four Behaviors that Build Trust™; Reliability and Acceptance.  If our team or organization is going to perform well, then everyone must meet their commitments.  We each have a responsibility to insure that those commitments are being met, and if we fail to insure those commitments are being met then we are not being Reliable.  But Acceptance also comes into play here.  No one likes to be told that they have fallen short of their commitments and have failed to be Reliable, and most hate to do tell someone else.  But Acceptance allows us to temper the sting of failure to be Reliable with the knowledge that someone would not speak up if they didn’t care.  If we Accept our teammates and truly care about their success, which leads to our collective success, then we will not shirk our responsibility, and we will be Reliable in helping them to be Reliable. 

And this brings us full circle.  Team performance is all about Trust, and it begins and ends with Acceptance.  Of course, there is that final step in the Lencioni model, which is Attention to Results.  This is involved with another Element entirely; that of the Vision of the organization and the alignment of the organization’s goals with that of the team.  In essence, team performance, especially that of the senior team of the organization, is predicated on the team leveraging three of the Seven Elements of High Performance™: Trust; Personal Responsibility; and Vision.

So where does Whole Person Dynamics™ come in?  If we look back at the Trust Model and how each of the 4 behavioral styles relate to the 4 Behaviors that Build Trust™,  we can begin to have a better understanding of those styles that will be able to handle each part of the Lencioni Team Model.  Since someone who is primarily an S style will excel at Acceptance and listening to others, they will excel at being vulnerable.  Those with an I style will also excel, as being Open is their primary strength, with Acceptance being their secondary strength. 

On the other hand, D-styles and C-styles will be highly challenged, with Ds leading the way.  Their biggest fear is being taken advantage of, and this is a huge barrier to overcome.  C-styles also have a fear of criticism of their work, so they are also challenged to be vulnerable with others.  These two styles have the most challenge with the very foundation of team performance; yet, the majority of members on most organizations’ senior teams are Ds and Cs.  This is a huge factor in why most organizations struggle to achieve high levels of Trust in the organization, and it is also one of the primary reasons why most senior teams struggle to work together as a team.  Until the team can overcome their Acceptance deficit, they will forever struggle to be vulnerable with each other, and forever struggle to uncover issues and solve problems that will propel the organization forward.  They will forever struggle to gain true commitment to those solutions and actions, and members will continue to shirk Personal Responsibility and fail to be Reliable. 

Furthermore, there will be no one who will hold anyone else as Accountable.  While we see that an S-style person would excel at being vulnerable, even with Reliability being a secondary strength, and Accountability being a combination of Acceptance and Reliability, that S-style person will still struggle to hold someone else accountable.  Their approach towards Reliability is to insure their own reliability, as they have high expectations about their own behavior, but they struggle to be Straightforward with someone else about their failure to be reliable.


Yes, D-styles and C-styles can be very Straightforward and tell others when they failed to live up to their commitments, but this takes on more of the form of blame rather than simply holding someone accountable for their commitments.  Accountability is strongly based on Acceptance and the caring we have for one another to be successful individually, as a team, and as an organization.  Without this Acceptance, the D-style and C-style person simply is pointing a finger and not truly trying to help.  In most organizations the failure and “holding someone accountable” usually takes the form of some type of punishment, including being fired from their job. 

But more common on most senior teams is that no one engages in holding anyone Accountable, so there are all sorts of plans that most haven’t agreed to that aren’t being worked on because no one committed to them and no one is holding each other accountable for them.  After all, who has time to deal with these issues in the first place, as the day-to-day work seems to keep intruding on any changes that were talked about, or, more likely, imposed from the top. 

Using any model, such as Lencioni’s model or even our own Trust Building model, requires that deeper understanding of what is going on with People, as they are the Center of any organizational performance.  When we Put People at the Center and strive to understand how their whole person is connected to their personal performance and their interactions with others, we then begin to understand the dynamics involved as they work on teams and impact on organizational performance.  It is not enough to simply share a model or have others read a book about that model; we have to live that model every day.  Models describe the ideal state.  We simply cannot mimic someone else and expect to get what they are getting, as their situation is always different from ours, even if it is the simple makeup of the people. 

It is not until we understand what that ideal state means to us that we can then discover those different things that we need to start doing.  When we combine that knowledge of the ideal state with our understanding of Whole Person Dynamics™, we can then change our behaviors and unleash the power and potential of each member and our team.  It is not magical, and it is quite simple, but it does take time and work to make it happen, but the results are oh so worth it. 

Make a Great Day!