Breath of Clarity

Challenging Your Team

Original Post:

In his book, from the beginning, Patrick Lencioni (2002, 17) mentioned that newly hired DecisionTech CEO Kathryn took on the role of the observer. It was particularly interesting that she did not take the approach of telling everyone what to do at a company that was desperately begging for answers. She embodied advice from Manning (2014) to identify coaching needs as early as possible as an important way to strengthen the leadership bench and promote dramatic improvement.

From there, she strategically challenged team members to determine each person’s strengths and where they can be developed further by holding a training program that precisely coached employees on how to effectively guide each other. Lencioni (2002) highlighted Kathryn’s commitment, despite a series of pushbacks, to the group’s off-site training on teamwork. As Manning (2014) noted that revenues and overall profitability are positively correlated with training expenditures, Kathryn echoed him by consistently reminding her team that a training focused on teamwork is a necessary investment of time and energy (Lencioni 2002). Manning (2014) would identify Kathryn as an effective leader as she recognized the importance of developing people and viewed developing others as an essential key to success. However, her training program did not consist of lecturing the staff. Rather, she successfully facilitated conversations between the team members. Kathryn embodied Manning’s (2014) theory that insofar as a leader creates the opportunity for employees to ask questions and express opinions, she will be rewarded with their commitment and creativity. She cultivated bravery amongst the team members by initially focusing on establishing a sense of trust so that everyone would feel safe to be vulnerable while participating in difficult conversations (Lencioni 2002, 43). By encouraging conflict as a useful part of the progression towards the achievement of a goal, Kathryn made it so that thoughts were put out onto the table and the team members could then collaborate to determine each person’s strengths and where they can be developed further (Lencioni 2002).

A practical strategy that Kathryn used to cultivate honesty in the discussion about strengths and room for development is having each team member brainstorm their own characteristics and share them with the group (Lencioni 2002, 64). It created a launching point for the group to comment on each person’s strengths and ways to develop further. For example, simply creating that space for conflict resulted in Jan honoring Carlos for his good attitude and reminding him that he can develop by not holding back so much (Lencioni 2002, 68). Additionally, when Martin shared his area that could be developed further, it brought the opportunity for Jeff to comment on why it was so crucial for Martin to address his shortcoming due how it was impacting the group (Lencioni 2002, 69).

There was also a moment where Kathryn modeled how to develop team members who may be struggling without simply giving them the answers to the problems they’re encountering. J.R. became impatient and directly asked Kathryn to tell the group the remaining 4 dysfunctions. Instead of scolding J.R. for his lack of faith in the process, Kathryn decided to adapt her plan of gradually unveiling them. She moved the conversation along by asking questions that supported the team members in drawing their own link between all of the dysfunctions (Lencioni 2002, 89-91). By doing so, she could still generate group participation and make it so that, although she was naming the dysfunctions, the team was hashing out the details by responding to her questions about ways that they could apply the dysfunctions to the group goal (Lencioni 2002, 91-93). Kathryn focused on having them buy-in to the same plan of winning as a group (Lencioni 2002, 98-99). After creating that buy-in, Kathryn challenged her teammates to determine each person’s strengths and where they can be developed further, and the members eventually responded well because they were so committed to achieving the group goal.

To address the team members who were struggling with prioritizing group results above individual status, Kathryn used a basketball analogy, rather than directly giving them answers to the problems they were encountering. In doing so, she emphasized how it is possible to change one’s attitude and consequentially flourish (Lencioni 2002, 73-74). There was a specific situation where Nick was frustrated with his lack of work to do, and Kathryn simply reminded him of the group goal, suggested that he do some self-reflection about his role in team dysfunction, and communicate his concerns to the group (Lencioni 2002, 121-124). Although Kathryn gave him the opportunity to quit if he did not want to be team-oriented, he decided to instead adjust his mentality and asked for his teammates to challenge him by recommending how he could best contribute to the group. It instigated Jeff to recognize Nick’s strength in sales (Lencioni 2002, 129-130). In another instance, Carlos was struggling with his competitor analysis because he was never able to get Nick’s reports together for a meeting (Lencioni 2002, 146-147). Instead, Kathryn emphasized a struggling team member needs to be held accountable to approach his colleagues as soon as he hits a road block (Lencioni 2002, 147-148). She also highlighted the importance of the other team members holding Carlos accountable by challenging him about what he’s doing, how he’s spending his time and whether he is making progress (Lencioni 2002, 148). She recommended pushing with respect (Lencioni 2002, 149), a principle that she exemplified by the way that she carried her team.


Lencioni, Patrick. 2002. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Manning, George. 2014. The Art of Leadership. New York: McGraw-Hill

Comment by Liz Dowling:


An interesting part of the book that you brought up was the conflict around the staff retreat. When Kathryn held her ground and told a colleague and then his supervisor that she would like him at the staff retreat rather than a meeting to make a sale. This conflict was so interesting to see play out from my point of view. It must have been hard to not be the ‘favorite’ and be loved entering in a role where your goal is fix the problem. She had to stand firm with her ideals if she wanted to see the change the company needed.

Can you see yourself taking this leadership style at this time?

My Reply:


Good question. It takes courage to show commitment to a goal at the early stages of being in a new role. When a team is looking for stability in the midst of chaotic conditions, it is interesting that the team eventually jumps aboard if the person shows confidence and sticks to her values even though there is adversity. I aim to stay true to my values to show I am strong and set a great tone from the beginning.

Comment by Professor Robert Gnuse:

Mary, in the book by Lincioni, Kathryn demonstrated that listening can be just as if not more effective than talking. How do you ascertain details about new people if you are unable to listen? Her ability to tailor the group participation proved to be beneficial but many leaders do not utilize an inclusive approach which can be a deterrent regarding one’s honesty. Good correlations to help illustrate how various techniques/approaches can be utilized within the group dynamic. Good acknowledgement regarding negative emotions as it is easy to detract instead of engaging the group. Many people do not necessarily admit their strengths but rather gravitate towards that which is easiest… how do you ascertain what an employee is not only proficient at but what needs enhancement?