How to Avoid the Five Dysfunctions of a Team in Agricultural Education

By: Helene Dondero, Student Teacher, Coast Union High School 

In some organizations, teams can function and reach common goals, while others can have highly skilled teams that fail to reach their potential and goals. While this idea of dysfunctional teams was originally presented as a corporate problem, I can see how these five dysfunctions can apply to education and agricultural education. Within agricultural education, I see two main groups, or teams, that agricultural educators work closely with. The first is the other agriculture teachers in their department, and the second includes other teachers at the school site and the administration. For these teams to function efficiently to reach common goals, there are a few roadblocks that may occur that everyone needs to be aware of. Throughout this article, we will explore the 5 Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni and how it relates to agricultural education. These five dysfunctions all build on one another, and if you cannot master the previous dysfunction, you will not be able to master the future dysfunctions. 

The first dysfunction of a team, according to Patrick Lencioni, is the absence of trust. When it comes to the absence of trust, teams that experience this often have an unwillingness to be vulnerable within the group. When teams or groups are not vulnerable to one other, they cannot genuinely open up about their mistakes and weaknesses. In agricultural education, if we cannot be vulnerable with our co-teachers about our strengths and weaknesses, it will be hard to build a foundation of trust within our department. When trust is not present, it can affect communication and the team’s ability to get the task done. Trust within a department allows confidence among the team members that their co-teachers are good and that there is no reason for the group to be protective. To overcome this dysfunction requires members of the department to understand one another and understand what each member brings to the team. 

The second dysfunction is the fear of conflict. When agricultural departments lack trust, it can hinder their ability to participate and engage in an unfiltered and passionate debate of ideas. If agricultural departments do not have trust and are not open and willing to debate what is best for the future of their programs, it can lead to a vague discussion that ultimately leads nowhere. If the team can have “conflict,” meaning debate passionately on what they view as the next steps for the program, it can lead to program growth and strengthening because the team is willing to talk and discuss what is best for the future. Overcoming dysfunction to a department must acknowledge that conflict can be productive, it must remain respectful, and, if this is accomplished, the department will reach a resolution naturally. 

The third dysfunction in the lack of commitment. You may think, wait, I’m committed to my students and providing them with the best education, but the type of commitment that I am referring to is the commitment to the department’s common goals. When departments are unable to discuss the next steps for a program freely and openly with the other department members, it can lead to the team members rarely buying in and committing to a decision even though they may “agree” during the meeting. For departments to overcome this, they must have clarity and buy-in from all team members. Teams must not always be in pursuit of consensus and certainty because they can often hinder department members’ buy-in. Focusing too much on having a consensus and having everyone agree can halt decision-making. Certainty can also prevent departments from creating goals and outcomes. To overcome this, departments must be willing to take risks. 

The fourth dysfunction is avoidance of accountability. When departments have a lack of buy-in or there is not a clear plan of action, it can cause progress to be halted, and team members may be scared to call each other out on their actions and behavior. Accountability is a word that can have multiple meanings in terms of working as a team or in a department. Accountability means that members are willing to call out their department members on their performance or behaviors that may hurt the team or prevent them from reaching their common goal. To overcome department members’ fears of holding others accountable there must be publication of goals and standards of the team, simple and regular team reviews and when a goal or checkpoint is reached the team members must be allowed some sort of reward. When these three steps are taken it can help build the success of the department. 

The fifth dysfunction is inattention to results. Within a department, this occurs when members put their individual needs or the needs of their special area over the needs of the department/program to help reach the collective goals of a team. This final dysfunction is considered to be the ultimate dysfunction and can derail teams from reaching their goals. To overcome this, departments must minimize individual behaviors, avoid distractions, and enjoy the successes and failures as a team.

After learning about the Five Dysfunctions of a Team, I encourage you to look inside yourself and evaluate how much trust you feel in your department or other members of the team in your life and see if more trust can be built to help better the other areas of dysfunction as well. 

For more information about the California Agricultural Teachers’ Association, visit http://calagteachers.org/

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