#22 Vulnerability on Teams


High performance teams where the group achieves surprising levels of productivity are rare. The consultant Patrick Lencioni writes about five important team capacities: trust, conflict engagement, commitment, accountability, and results focus. When referring to trust, which he places at the foundation of a well-functioning team, Lencioni stresses the vulnerability face of trust.

Vulnerability means being able to interact without a professional mask. Team members can be fully authentically themselves. The members talk about their struggles with work goals and where they lack capacities. The team pulls together to help each of its members to address concerns. The creativity and experience of the whole team is then brought to bear on problems, which they address together.

Naturally, there is a sense of gratitude for the assistance they receive from each other and that serves to reinforce the closeness and dynamism of the working relationships. Members will make personal sacrifices in order to meet commitments they have made to the team. And, they hold each other accountable to commitments.

Vulnerability facilitates full expression of individual views and opinions. No holding back means maximal expression of difference, which increases the likelihood of conflict. The expressed differences become the basis for some productive creativity and problem solving. The conflict can occur constructively because it is understood to be valuable and it rests on trusting relationships.

This picture begins to reveal why such dynamism is difficult to achieve. Firstly, it requires a significant level of personal development and maturity, along with the willingness to take risks. (Team members may need to be hired with those capacities in mind.) Secondly, the removal of incentives associated with wearing a professional mask needs to be part of the team culture.

Team members need to be able to say:

“My whole project isn’t running as well as I think it should. I’m having some doubts about my management style. What do you see about me that could be problematic?”

“I view service differently than you do. I may disagree with much of what you have to say on the topic. We are going to have to find our way through our differing philosophies.”

In many contexts vulnerability is viewed as weakness.  Yet, to be able to be who we authentically are is freedom. Any mask we wear consumes the energy required to maintain it. When a defensive shell is a survival requirement in an organization, family, or any situation, there is a very real loss to both the individual and the group potential. In short, teams benefit from the development of the vulnerability face of trust.

You may have heard of Brene Brown whose talks on vulnerability as a strength have gone viral. It may be an idea whose time has come. Click here to see her Ted Talk, “The Power of Vulnerability.”

Normally I would end a blog at this point by wrapping up the idea, but today I am adding an image that you may find enriching. My life partner and sweetheart Gail Sibley won the Grand Prize in this year’s Canadian Federation of Artists ‘Painting on the Edge’ show. This is an open entry internationally juried show – one of the most prestigious exhibition they hold – so I am super proud of her.

Being vulnerable may require taking a risk. How comfortable are you being vulnerable? Here is the excerpt from the artist statement that the Federation printed in its September/October edition of Art Avenue:

Perchance to Fly is about having the courage to take the leap into the unknown when you arrive at the edge. We may come to that edge, the place of change, but decide we cannot leave our place of habit and comfort for the unknown. Others will recognize the opportunity for growth and take the risk, and the leap, to becoming more the person they were meant to be.”


Gail Sibley, "Perchance To Fly, 2014, mixed media on wood panel, 16 x 16 in. Being vulnerable may mean taking a risk.

Gail Sibley, “Perchance To Fly,” 2014, mixed media on wood panel, 16 x 16 in. Being vulnerable may mean taking a risk. To see the progress of the painting, click here.



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Until the next edition of The Conflict Journey,




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6 Responses to #22 Vulnerability on Teams

  1. Gail says:

    Thanks for featuring my work sweetie :-)))

  2. Shannan says:

    Gordon, one of my most profound experiences of my MBA studies was the placement on what quickly became a high functioning team. When compared to Lencioni’s work, it was clear how we came together to move through the stages. The vulnerability quickly and continuously work on. It was a magic time not to be repeated on any other team during my studies. A great concept to continue to work on. Shannan

    • Gordon White says:

      Hi Shannan,
      Thank you for your enthusiastic endorsement. I am interested in other factors that you attribute to the dynamism of your team.
      All best,

  3. Alexander Gordon says:

    Gordon, I think this is an outstanding blog. My thoughts are unclear but somehow the climate of competition which is dominant in our society stands in the way of truer progress whereas vulnerability may be looked down on but does provide positive results. How do we achieve any change? It is great to see Gail’s success. I didn’t realize how important this win was. Hope you had a great time celebrating. Regards S.

    • Gordon White says:

      Hi Sandy,
      Thank you for responding enthusiastically, which is meaningful to me. I think when more people notice that results are better in a climate of vulnerability, then things will begin to change. I know you like a good book. For changes to the whole system I am keen these days on ‘Social Labs Revolution’ by Zaid Hassan.
      Best wishes,

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