The 5 Dysfunctions That Stifle Student Collaboration: Part 1


Imagine a classroom, a place that’s meant to spark creativity, innovation, and collaboration. But instead, you see groups of students paralyzed by silence, disagreement, and hesitation. This is a real-life manifestation of Patrick Lencioni’s ‘5 Dysfunctions of a Team.’ But the good news is, understanding these dysfunctions gives us the power to change the game and reduce the drama.

Dysfunction #1: Absence of Trust

Trust, the bedrock of any team, often erodes in classrooms due to factors such as competitiveness, fear of ridicule, lack of psychological safety, or past disappointments. This absence hampers effective communication and critical thinking, blocking students’ potential to engage with their peers fully.

Dysfunction #2: Fear of Conflict

The fear of conflict usually emerges from a desire to maintain harmony or from worry about the consequences of disagreements. However, productive conflict is a catalyst for fresh ideas and critical thinking. Students shying away from disagreements, unfortunately, fail to hone their problem-solving skills. This dysfunction also stifles the cultivation of critical thinking and creativity.

Dysfunction #3: Lack of Commitment

Lack of commitment often springs from unclear goals, undefined roles, or learning goals that lack personal relevancy. This situation leads to indecisiveness or low participation. Without personal commitment, agency falters, and all of the future-ready skills we want to nurture are blocked.

Dysfunction #4: Avoidance of Accountability

This hurdle arises when students are reluctant to take ownership of their mistakes or to hold their peers accountable. Often, this reluctance is due to fear of being seen as overly critical or damaging relationships. Such avoidance obstructs the cultivation of responsibility and self-reflection, critical skills for future-ready learners.

Dysfunction #5: Inattention to Results

When students are focused on only their own individual success, it can be difficult for them to focus on the team’s goals. This can lead to a lack of collaboration, a lack of communication, and a lack of motivation. Inattention to results can also lead to a decline in the quality of work, and it can make it difficult for the team to achieve its goals. The result is a lack of collaborative spirit. Inattention to collective results erodes collaboration and communication skills.

Wrapping Up

The ‘5Ds’ of team dysfunctions can have a significant impact on the ability of students to develop the 4Cs’ of 21st Century skills. Creativity, critical thinking, communication, and collaboration are all essential skills for success in the 21st century, and they can only be developed in a supportive and collaborative learning environment. By recognizing and addressing the ‘5Ds,’ we can create classrooms that enable students to develop the skills they need to succeed in the future. Part 2 of this series will guide you through practical ways to conquer these dysfunctions using Agile Classrooms’ tools and practices.

Five Dysfunctions Infographic


Lencioni, P. (2002). The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable. Jossey-Bass. Available at:

Trilling, B., & Fadel, C. (2009). 21st Century Skills: Learning for Life in Our Times. Jossey-Bass. Available at:

Dweck, C. (2006). Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Random House. Available at:

Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL). (2013). Effective Social and Emotional Learning Programs. Preschool and Elementary School Edition. CASEL. Available at:

Marzano, R. J., Marzano, J. S., & Pickering, D. (2001). Classroom management that works: Research-based strategies for every teacher. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD). Available at:

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