How living with an elephant in the room gets in your way

I have come across Patrick Lencioni’s model of ‘the Five Dysfunctions of a Team’ this week. He describes the five main reasons teams do not work well together:

  1. Absence of trust
  2. Fear of conflict
  3. Lack of commitment
  4. Avoidance of accountability
  5. Inattention to results

If a single dysfunction is allowed to flourish, like the weakest link in a chain, teamwork deteriorates.

I can see the relevance of the model in business teams, but also think it is worth looking at from the perspective of all relationships.

Focussing on the first two stages of the model in particular, the fundamental need in a team or partnership is trust. Building trust takes a willingness to be open and vulnerable with each other, including showing weaknesses and mistakes. It takes courage to act on this.

Failure to build trust is damaging because it leads to a fear of conflict, or unfiltered and passionate debate about ideas and approaches. To me conflict also requires honesty, and a willingness to acknowledge and challenge the unspeakable – the elephant in the room.

The phrase ‘elephant in the room’ comes from the idea that an elephant in a room would be impossible to overlook; thus, people in the room who pretend the elephant is not there have chosen to avoid dealing with the looming big issue. In reality, it is a problem or risk no one wants to discuss; a controversial issue that is obvious, but which is ignored.

Failure to acknowledge, discuss and address this type of issue because of a fear of conflict leads to denial and a lack of honesty and openness, which slows or stops progress. If the elephant is dealt with, veiled discussions cease, people relax and become less guarded, and according to Lencioni, the team could then move onto the next phases of creating functionality.

I won’t go into the other three phases of the model at this point, but I think it is worth considering how the first two stages impact in your own teams and relationships.

Who are you not being open and honest with in your life? What are you afraid of saying? What are you ignoring, tolerating or hoping will go away, because you are frightened of dealing with it?

As a coach, I often come across ‘elephants’, and experience has shown that when dealt with effectively communication opens up, people are honest and authentic with each other, and progress flows again.

Have the courage to recognize and deal with your own elephants. It is always worth it in the end, and the results may surprise you.

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About theclaritycoach

Paul Stonehouse is an experienced coach, educator and speaker, and is completely committed to helping people perform at their best. His particular passion is helping people move forward when they are stuck, enabling them to live and work a in a way which is a confident expression of their true selves.
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