Book Report: The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: a Leadership Fable by Patrick Lencioni uses a fictional tale to impart some serious leadership and management lessons.

The five dysfunction are….drumroll….absence of trust, fear of conflict, lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability, and inattention to results.

My biggest complaint/annoyance with this book and with MANY other leadership/management books is that any research base that informs this book is completely obscured. Sure, we learn from doing and we learn from the experience of others, but without any proof that these five, dysfunctions are THE five dysfunctions, this book is too reductive for me.  Plus, the presentation of the dysfunctions in a fable further obscures any research or evidence. The last few pages describe, fable-free, each dysfunction and offers suggestions to remedy each dysfunction. I found those last few pages more useful than the rest of the book.

There are positive elements….

In the fable, the CEO of the company brings together her senior leadership team.  They do not see themselves as a team but as heads of separate departments and we are led to believe that their lack of cohesion is the reason for the company’s floundering.

Critical Questions

The CEO begins by asking these critical questions about her team:

  • Do your team members openly and readily disclose their opinions?
  • Are your team meetings compelling and productive?
  • Does your team come to decisions quickly and avoid getting bogged down by consensus?
  • Do your team members confront one another about their shortcomings?
  • Do your team members sacrifice their own interests for the good of the team?

Once she ascertained the answers to those questions she was able to build their sense of team work, as a senior management team. The positive changes trickled down into their respective departments.

Of course, books like this are only helpful if we put them into practice. Do you think you could have an open conversation with your direct reports and use the questions above as a way to garner more information about how they see their team? Have you identified any key dysfunctions in your team? Could they be tied to any one of the five dysfunctions that Lencioni highlights? If so, that can be a great place for a diagnosis and thoughtful action.

This is an easy read, it only took me a few hours to read it all.  Again, the suggestions for what to as a manager if your team is struggling are useful but aren’t particularly novel.

All in all, I’d suggest passing on this one in favor of some good online research…like this resource on building trust or this one on fostering healthy conflict. Better yet, I can give you and your organization an engaging presentation about the dysfunctions and offer you tools to help build your team!

Book Report: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck

Book cover for Mark Manson's book The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck

Yes. I read it. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson.  I read it as I was struggling with a tough work relationship and felt like I had exhausted all of my “normal” tools…so why not take a “counterintuitive approach” since nothing else seemed to be working? (including a course on non-violent communication!)

The premise of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck can be distilled to this–we learned the lesson about making lemonade out of lemons. We all have. We try to look on the bright side and to give people the benefit of the doubt. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in all of that and can find myself relentlessly trying to make lemonade.  Manson’s view is that we also need to learn how to better deal with the lemons.  Life is full of lemons, we can’t possibly drink all that lemonade!

“Self-improvement and success often occur together. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re the same thing. Our culture today is obsessively focused on unrealistically positive expectations: Be happier. Be healthier. Be the best, better than the rest. Be smarter, faster, richer, sexier, more popular, more productive, more envied, and more admired. Be perfect and amazing and crap out twelve-karat-gold nuggets before breakfast each morning while kissing your selfie-ready spouse and two and a half kids goodbye. Then fly your helicopter to your wonderfully fulfilling job, where you spend your days doing incredibly meaningful work that’s likely to save the planet one day. “

So, if you can, essentially accept yourself and your shortcomings and the shortcoming of those around you, you may be happier in the end. It is a perspective that I hadn’t really contemplated before yet aligns so nicely with finding contentment in life and satisfaction in the day-to-day.

Take aways

My big takeaways that were, believe it or not, really helpful and valuable for my situation, were:


We have a limited number of f*cks to give. Be sure to put them in the right place. In my case, I was letting something at work bother me so much that I was letting it affect my relationship at home. I can spend my f*ucks on creating and maintaining and enjoying a loving relationship at home rather than worrying about an ultimately inconsequential relationship at work (this is the entire premise of the book, so the lesson was well learned, thankyouverymuch).


We ought to be careful about our metrics of success. The author tells the story of a guitar player whose band fired him. The guitarist vowed to become a rock legend. He filled stadiums, sold millions of records, and won numerous awards. Yet, later in his life, he tearfully stated that his life was a failure. He thought he was a failure because his new band, Megadeath, wasn’t as successful as his original band, Metallica.  Now, I have no idea how how “big” either of those bands are. But I do know that Megadeath is a pretty big deal.  You can read more of that story here.

I worried about how one person treated (and thinking about how she might treat me) that I had to grapple with feelings of failure when things didn’t work out. Now, if my metrics for success were aligned with my values and if I even defined my metrics in the first place, I might have cared less or maybe it wouldn’t have gotten as bad as it did. In any case. This perception helped.

Ultimately, we are in a competitive world that is, for some, made more so with social media and the ever present FOMO.  So, if we can all just calm down, we may find greater happiness. And if not happiness, contentment. And that would be pretty great, too.

Book Report: The Betrayal of Trust

Book cover of the book Betrayal of Trust by Laurie Garrett.
Betrayal of Trust

The Betrayal of Trust, by Laurie Garrett, is another must-read for those of you who have a deep interest in global public health and a deeper interest in wanting to see improvements in the practice of public health.

Praise for the Author

First, praise for Laurie Garrett as an author. Her writing is compelling. She weaves beautiful stories out of tragedy and paints a picture with her carefully chosen words. I have read other books by Garrett, including The Coming Plague, and will keep coming back for more. I did not mind the length of the book, coming in at a hefty 768 pages, but then again, I am an avid reader and this is my field of interest.

Building the Case

Garrett outlines how public health interventions, such as the public supply of clean water, have brought us this far. We are living longer than our ancestors and, arguably, we are living “better”. However, she posits that the world’s public health organizations are in a woeful state with disastrous preparation for “the BIG one”. Collectively and globally, she warns of a lack of preparedness of public health agencies. However, the public health agencies, as underfunded and resourced as they are, are our best defense against microbial threats (through efforts to vaccinate large swaths of the pubic, maintenance of sanitation systems, and responses to actual or perceived threats).

She builds the case that public health systems keep us safe and healthy now. It also ensure readiness for a superbug, a biological threat, and a safe water supply. Public health so often functions in the shadows. We count disease, test the water, make sure your food is safe, and who remind you to get vaccinated. It is the work that helps to build optimism around the elimination of polio or smallpox. And, importantly to me, that work, builds equality and cuts through some of the injustices we see in our world. So, when you hear about CDC or local health department funding cuts, call your representative to protest. We need public health!

Book Report: Getting to Yes

Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement without Giving In by Robert Fisher is a classic. It was first published in 1981 and reissued ten years later.

If you are about to ask for a raise, promotion, or buy a used car, this book is for you!

Getting to Yes offers a framework for “principled negotiation” for two or more parties to work together to best address their mutual interests with creative, objectively fair solutions.

In many ways, the method of “getting to yes” is similar to the practice of nonviolent communication.  The goal is to remain neutral and objective while negotiating; Fisher uses the expression “separating the people from the problem” to describe it.  Another element of the models encourages a focusing the negotiation on interests at hand.  Unlike typical visions of hard-headed negotiations, this element encourages thoughtful questioning of the rationale behind positions instead of a quick response which may be presumptuous or charged.

The parties in conflict brainstorm possible options for mutual gain. This brainstorming stands out to me as particularly collaborative. The book offers suggestions for how to encourage looking a problems from varied perspectives and even suggesting outlandish options to encourage generation of more logical ones.

Fishers partner, William Ury, has a (well done) 30-video that covers the basics of the model.  Check it out!

Book Report-Eat the Frog

If you are anything like me, you constantly fight scrolling through social media and emails first thing in the morning.  I like starting my workday with a sense of feeling up-to-date. The downside is that my email dictates my accomplishments as opposed to my prioritized to-do list.

There is a hack for that!

I recently did a training for a group of senior leaders who wanted to set some norms around productivity.  They wanted to all followed  the same guidelines to make it easier for everyone. For example, they considered “quiet periods” where emailing each other and setting meetings were off limits so that they could all chip away at their to-do lists and accomplish some of their bigger projects.

Before the training, I did some more reading to help them along with their brainstorming. I landed on the book Eat That Frog!: Twenty-one Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time by Brian Tracey.  

The title comes from the brilliant Mark Twain who (may or may not have) said “If your job is to eat a frog, eat it first thing in the morning, and if your job is to eat two frogs, eat the big one first.”

Tracey encourages readers to stop multi-tasking and stop spending time on fruitless tasks (even if they are ticks off of a to-do list). What he encourages is a mindfulness, although he doesn’t call it that, about how we spend our time, what we wish to accomplish, and why.

The main premise is built on the Eisenhower method, which is also similar to a favorite from The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.

Consider all that you have to get done and then put each item into one of the following categories:

  • Things you don’t want to do, but actually need to do.
  • Things you want to do and actually need to do.
  • Things you want to do, but actually don’t need to do.
  • Things you don’t want to do, and actually don’t need to do.

Your “frog” is in the first category.  The frog is in the challenging task. It is the task that needs motivation. It is the task that you desperately want to put off.

Once you know what your “frog” is…the next step is to take action. Like many other productivity experts, Tracey suggests breaking down the “frog” task into multiple small “chunks” of work. He suggests that the endorphin rush from ticking off your to-do list is a motivator in and of itself.  I agree that once the big, ugly task is over, the rest of the day can feel like a cakewalk!

As a fun reminder to tackle their frogs, I got everyone in the training these little froggies to keep at their desk.

What are some of YOUR favorite productivity hacks?

Book Report: Feminist Fight Club

Not only did I read Feminist Fight Club, I was a founding member of a club! So, to say that I am a fan is an understatement.

Feminist Fight Club is deemed the “Lean In for the Buzzfeed Generation”.  The aspects of Lean In that didn’t resonate for me (the assumed wealth, position, and even ability to organized one’s own schedule) are all absent from this book. It is part guidebook for establishing ourselves professionally, helping to raise up women around us, and a troubleshooting resource for pay negotiation, office politics, and the like.

It is cheeky. It is irreverent. This book focuses on advice for those early in their careers. In that way, and many others, is so unlike so many other career management books.  It will likely not be the best advice for those of you who are even in your 30s.  I found the advice to be not-quite-fitting for me, but wished I read it when I was 22. For those of you who are well into your career, consider giving this as a gift to a younger woman. For those of you who are early in your career–get this book, talk about it with your friends, gift it to someone else, and in a few more years, read Lean In.

Book Report: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

7 habits of highly effective people.
I’ll read it so you don’t have to.

Stephen Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People  is a management mainstay. I can imagine how groundbreaking it must have been in the ’80s.  When I read it 30+ years later, it did seem to me to be obvious and reductive. Color me skeptical that there can be just 7 habits of highly effective people.

To start, here are the seven habits that are detailed in the book:

Be Proactive

Begin with the End in Mind

Put First Things First

Think Win-Win:

Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood


Sharpen the Saw

There are lots and lots of great summaries of each of the seven habits, so I won’t detail them here.

Key takeaway: Habit Put First Things First

So, here is the most useful tool that I’ve found…To put First Things First as suggested by habit 3, this grid is quite useful:

One suggestion for practicing this habit is to try to map out how you spend your time by putting your tasks into the grid and estimating how much of your time is spent on each task. Where do you find that you are spending your time? If you are spending a disproportionate time in quadrant four during your work day, you may want to reevaluate how you spend your time. Ideally, by practicing proactivity, we can keep a lot out of quadrant one. Please read more about time blocking for productivity, a natural follow-on activity to this.

In so many ways, this book was so antidotal and void of research or evidence that I had a hard time appreciating the intended lessons. It was written, pretty obviously, for white, male, corporate, business men  who can actually control their schedule fully and delegate unpleasant tasks and who think in terms of people being in their sphere of control. I think you could get just as much out of the book by reading one of the summaries rather than slogging through the whole thing.