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Five Dysfunctions of a Team helps Mature Security Engineering


As a security engineering leader with over twenty years of experience in the IT and security space, I’ve encountered numerous challenges in managing teams. From building corporate security and detection programs to leading Security Operations Centers, I’ve seen a fair share of dysfunction in teams. It’s important to acknowledge that team dysfunctions aren’t exclusive to a particular industry. Regardless of the sector, the problems of trust, fear of conflict, lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability, and inattention to results exist. These are the five dysfunctions Patrick Lencioni identified in his book, “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team”. These are helpful things to understand especially for new managers seeking build high-functioning, mature teams.

Cover art of Five Dysfunctions of a Team 20th anniversary edition

“Five Dysfunctions of a Team” is a captivating leadership fable. The story follows a Silicon Valley tech company’s executive team. Faced with internal strife and underperformance, they turn to their new CEO, Kathryn, for a turnaround. Through her seasoned leadership, we witness the unraveling of the team’s dysfunctions and how they conquer each one.

I can’t overstate the value this book has offered me as a leader. It has equipped me with a clear framework to address team conflicts and create a culture of trust and accountability. The dysfunctions Lencioni identifies are prevalent in many teams, regardless of the industry. As a security engineering leader, I’ve observed these dysfunctions in action. The book has given me a roadmap to help my teams navigate these challenges, creating a more harmonious and productive environment. The lessons are practical, actionable, and deeply impactful in fostering high-performance teams.

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team on Security Engineering

  1. Absence of Trust: This could be characterized by team members not sharing information about potential threats or vulnerabilities they’ve discovered, or introduced. They might be fearful of being blamed for failures, which could lead to a culture of secrecy instead of collaboration.
  2. Fear of Conflict: Team members might avoid disagreements on important issues such as prioritization of threat responses, leading to passive-aggressive behavior, back-channel conversations, or a generally hostile environment. This may also result in ineffective code reviews, if team members are unwilling to give one another feedback, those teams will introduce risk.
  3. Lack of Commitment: Security engineering demands fast-paced decision-making. If team members are not committed, decisions about how to respond to security threats might be delayed or disregarded, causing potential harm to the organization.
  4. Avoidance of Accountability: If a security breach, an outage, or even a near-miss happen, a team member who avoids responsibility could blame others or external factors, leading to a lack of learning from mistakes and continuous improvement.
  5. Inattention to Results: If the focus shifts from team results to individual accomplishments, then security operations could suffer. For instance, if an engineer is more interested in showcasing their expertise than in helping the team meet its goals, the overall security posture of the organization could be compromised.

Overcoming Five Dysfunctions of a Team

  1. Building Trust: Create a safe environment for team members to admit mistakes and share their vulnerabilities. Regularly share feedback and encourage transparency.
  2. Mastering Conflict: Facilitate healthy debates, and Crucial Conversations during team meetings. Establish norms for disagreements, ensuring everyone’s voice is heard, and all ideas are considered.
  3. Achieving Commitment: Build consensus by including team members in decision-making processes. Ensure that all voices are heard and drive for clarity in roles, responsibilities, and the strategic goals of the team.
  4. Embracing Accountability: Regularly discuss team performance and progress. Encourage team members to hold each other accountable for delivering on commitments.
  5. Focusing on Results: Set clear team goals and consistently measure progress. Celebrate collective wins and create a sense of shared success.


To be clear, overcoming these dysfunctions is not a one-and-done exercise. Rather, it’s an ongoing process that requires vigilance, dedication, and patience from every team member. As leaders, we must stay committed to fostering an environment of trust and open communication. We need to create space for healthy conflict, ensure everyone is committed, hold each other accountable, and keep an eye on collective results. This is a continuous journey.

Furthermore, while Lencioni’s book primarily focuses on leadership teams, its principles apply to any team structure, including those in the cybersecurity world. Remember, security isn’t just about technology; it’s about people, too. When a team functions well, it’s more likely to create robust security solutions that truly safeguard an organization.

Lastly, as I reflect on my own journey as a leader, this book has served as an indispensable guide. It has provided me with invaluable insights into fostering team cohesion and productivity. Whether you’re a seasoned leader, a new manager, or an individual contributor with a desire to lead, “Five Dysfunctions of a Team” delivers a profound understanding of team dynamics. It’s a must-read for anyone aspiring to build and lead high-performing teams.

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