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Numbers, Statistics and Lies: The Five Dysfunctions of a Team Edition

Where everything’s made up and the points don’t matter. Anymore.

Nebraska v Purdue Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

We have officially reached the part of the Husker football season where it all seems to be imploding. There is a lot of blame to pass around and no shortage of reasons why this season has turned out below expectations (even the relatively lower expectations Husker fans had compared to national media).

So, today’s NSL is not about numbers at all. I included them, but you and I both know the color-coded pile doesn’t tell us anything about the Huskers right now. Nothing really worth knowing. By now, you’ve probably noticed the tone of the press and articles written about Husker football. It has taken a sharp turn in recent weeks, and understandably so.

Instead of adding to the cacophony, I am going to draw on what I know from my regular job. Without going into much detail, our project is working to build collaboration skills in young scientists. One very important part of that is team building, team management and leadership. One piece of that which seems relevant to Husker football is in the five dysfunctions of a team. This concept comes from a book written by Patrick Lencioni in 2002.

Those five dysfunctions identified by Lencioni are (in order of increasing importance):

  • Inattention to results
  • Avoidance of accountability
  • Lack of commitment
  • Fear of conflict
  • Absence of trust

They are often represented by a pyramid

As sports fans we often see this pyramid in exactly the opposite way. We observe results first. When our team fails to win, when we see players line up wrong or miss assignments, we start there. The reality is that results are the tip of the pyramid. If any of the layers below are crumbled or weak, the results will show it.

As fans we get a glimpse into the accountability layer from time to time. In press conferences, we hear sometimes hear about suspensions, benching, and about the captains and ‘players-only’ meetings. In some cases we see people fired. As fans, it appears that accountability is one of the key components of a team and the platform upon which performance is built.

But it is not the end-all either. It is built from below. Built from layers that we get very few glimpses into.

Fans recognize the importance of commitment (until we want someone fired). We want recruits to be “all-in”. We want out coaches to want to be here and not eyeing the next job that comes along. We buy the merchandise, buy tickets and we rabidly watch and cheer. We love to hear about how much harder strength and conditioning workouts are and which players are in the film room at 5 a.m. Everyone knows the importance of commitment.

But we still have two, even more foundational, layers to go until we can see what builds a team, or in this case, tear it down.

Fear of conflict is a dysfunction that I admittedly fall into. I don’t like confrontation. I don’t like arguments (my husband is staring at his computer in disbelief at that one). If the cracks in a team are wide enough that fans can see into the conflict layer (ala Bo Pelini’s final year at Nebraska) we know there cannot possibly be a healthy foundation underneath. That one is easy.

But we are talking about fear of conflict, which is very different. If we flip this around to a positive (what could we name this layer if we are describing a high-performing team) it would be ‘Shared Vision and Empowerment’. On a team, people feel unable to talk to team members about performance if 1) the vision is unclear and/or 2) they feel unsure that anything will change.

This layer can be a swirling mass of mess in a dysfunctional team. It is the one I suspect Scott Frost is spending a great deal of time on right now.

That brings us to the foundation of dysfunction. It starts and ends with an absence of trust. Nothing transformative happens without trust. Trust can be given in the short term, but over the long term, it has to be earned. And sometimes re-earned.

Color-Coded Pile of Numbers

(For what it’s worth)

Not finance. Not strategy. Not technology. It is teamwork that remains the ultimate competitive advantage, both because it is so powerful and so rare.

Patrick Lencioni, 2002