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Dysfunctional Business Intelligence Teams

Originally published July 6, 2010

Patrick Lencioni’s popular best-selling book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, contrasts the characteristics of dysfunctional and productive teams. It is an easy-to-understand model that reflects the experiences we’ve had with business intelligence (BI) teams over the last eighteen years.

We frequently hear that BI initiatives are unsuccessful or cancelled because they did not deliver results. Whereas many companies might attribute their lack of results to tools, technical skills, architecture, business changes, and/or inadequate personnel, Lencioni’s model illustrates that the lack of results is frequently the outcome of a different set of underlying problems: Lack of results is caused by lack of accountability, which is caused by lack of commitment, which is caused by fear of conflict, which is caused by lack of trust. Therefore, if your team is not achieving results, it is worth your time to examine the pyramid of a dysfunctional team. In this model, failure to deliver results is an outcome originating from an unstable foundation created by a lack of trust.


Figure 1: The Five Dysfunctions of a Team
Source: The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni

Lack of Trust

“Trust” is an often misunderstood and misused word. In this context, it’s the belief among team members that their peers’ intentions are positive. We don’t have to protect ourselves or be something we’re not. We can be honest about our weaknesses, deficiencies, shortcomings, and mistakes without spending all of our energy managing appearances and interactions. If teams trust each other, it makes it more conducive to disagree.

Lack of Conflict


This does not mean destructive fighting, attacks, or unproductive politics. However, if we want to produce the best BI solutions, there needs to be a healthy debate where people can disagree. We need to quickly come to resolution so we can move forward together without residual damage. When conflict is stifled, people turn to triangulation and revisit issues over and over again. If teams can have a constructive debate where all viewpoints are heard and then agree to move forward, even if some disagree with the decision, they can buy in.

Lack of Commitment


The two biggest obstacles to commitment are ambiguity and consensus. Although there are circumstances where consensus may be appropriate, always trying to achieve consensus can be time-consuming and produce mediocre solutions. Great BI teams commit to clear courses of action, sometimes with incomplete information, and support decisions once they are made. Clear deadlines and dates are key to promoting accountability.

Lack of Accountability


Top-down management is not the most effective means of maintaining high standards on a team. Peer pressure is more efficient than policies or systems. The anxiety of letting down respected team members is a key motivation for performance.

Lack of Results


Good BI teams specify what they plan to accomplish in a given period. They have an unrelenting focus on what they collectively want to achieve. Functional BI teams make the collective results of the group more important than each individual’s goals.

Your Team?

Is your BI team dysfunctional or functional? For the next five months, I’ve asked experts in each of these categories to share a more detailed perspective on each of these dysfunctions and recommend strategies to become more productive. If your BI initiative lacks the results you had hoped for, this might be one place to start.

References:

Lencioni, Patrick. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. Jossey-Bass, A Wiley Imprint, San Francisco, CA, 2002.
  • Maureen ClarryMaureen Clarry

    Maureen is the Founder and President/CEO of CONNECT: The Knowledge Network (CONNECT), an Xtivia company. CONNECT specializes in data, technical, and organizational solutions for business intelligence. Maureen has been on the faculty of TDWI since 1998, served on the Board for the Colorado Chapter of TDWI, and participates on the Data Warehousing Advisory Board for the University of Denver. CONNECT has been recognized as the South Metro Denver Small Business of the Year, the Top 25 Women Owned and Top 150 Privately Owned Businesses in Colorado. Maureen can be reached at mclarry@connectknowledge.com or 303-730-7171, ext. 102.

    Editor's Note: More articles and resources are available in Maureen's BeyeNETWORK Expert Channel. Be sure to visit today!

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Comments

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Posted July 10, 2010 by

Maureen,

This is a good book and provides a nice focus for a BI discussion.  I also used it as part of a series at LeadQuietly.  

I had two take aways from your terrific summary of the book  

First, how amazing it is that troubled BI projects are usually troubled because of people, process and team issues.  It's rarely the tools or technology.  This has been my limited experience and your post seems to reaffirm this.   I know that the people and process areas of BI have been your primary professional focus.  Thank you for helping we technologists understand this gap.

Secondly, I like a clear concise list such as your "lack of" list from the post.  "Lack of trust" clearly labels the absence of trust (Lencioni's label) dysfunction from the book.    

However, I was a little confused by the "Lack of Conflict" label to the point where I needed to go back to Lencioni's original descriptions to reacquaint myself with his thoughts.  In this one case, I actually prefer his original label "Fear of Conflict."  To me, "Lack of Conflict" conjures up the vision that you need to be in each other's faces to stir up conflict.  Rather, the notion is that you shouldn't be afraid of the discussion and debate that occurs when there is disagreement.  A day is not a failure because you had a lack of conflict.  A day would be a failure if you didn't air a conflict, avoiding it because of fear.  

So after I read your list, reacquainted myself with Lencioni's description, I reread your post.  Your description for "Lack of Conflict" says the same thing.  In the end, there is no disagreement other than the fact that I am a little troubled by the "Lack of Conflict" label for Lencioni's "Fear of Conflict" dysfunction.   It's a minor point.  I promise that I will get over it, move on and come back to read the entire series.   

Thanks for allowing me to air my confusion.  I feel a related blog post coming on.  The blogosphere is a wonderful place.  

don

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Posted July 6, 2010 by Jake Freivald

Good post.

Did you notice that all of these are also the same things that make application development projects fail? I don't think that's coincidence. When people treat BI as a collection of tools that will be brought together by specialists, they struggle to succeed; when people treat BI like an application -- defined by a combination of business and technical people, supported by executive leadership, designed by people who understand technology, deployed to people to make their jobs easier -- it tends to get wider adoption and achieve better success metrics.

Full disclosure: I work for Information Builders, a BI and Integration software company (products are WebFOCUS and iWay, respectively).

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Posted July 6, 2010 by Fernando Labastida

Maureen, very good point. So many BI sales people often tout the technology as the be-all and end-all solution to a company's data and decision-support needs, but companies have to realize there is a culture change that has to take place within the company, and the context has to be right.

A lot of what you discuss was also revealed in the book "Transforming Peformance Measurement" by Dean Spitzer who recently did a webinar with us. One of the main factors he mentioned as the cause of failure of BI or measurement projects was the resistance by employees to being measured. Their objection? Management would use data to criticize them and to shame them into performing.

I look forward to reading the rest of your series!

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