Five functions of a purpose-driven team

To have a high-functioning team, build a foundation of trust that everything else can rest on

Using the concepts outlined in the award-winning book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, your team can tap into foundational richness. You and your team have experienced and overcome a lot in the past two years. Be sure to acknowledge and celebrate your accomplishments!

The next step is to move forward to the fundamental basics with intent. Set your sights on cultivating an innovative, purpose-driven veterinary team.

Using the concepts outlined in the award-winning book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team,1 your team can tap into foundational richness.

You and your team may easily identify with the five dysfunctions: absence of trust, fear of conflict, lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability, and inattention to results.

We will expand upon the solutions in building trust (the foundation of a healthy workplace), improving communications, committing to guiding principles, enhancing accountability, and measuring improvements. When these five functions collide, there is a purpose-driven team.

Foundation of trust

At the foundation of every successful veterinary team is an environment built on trust. A trusting, well-trained team can manage the day-to-day events in a way that leads to positive outcomes for the veterinary practice, the individual team members, the clients, and, ultimately, the patients.

When was the last time you and your team discussed trust?

Trust; you want it. Your team feeds on it. Your clients return because they have it. But when have you ever talked about it?

Trust defines healthy workplaces. It elevates, empowers, engages, offers profitability, and prosperity. Yes, all that! How can you measure what feels to be intangible and improve upon it?

Within the pages of The Speed of Trust,2 a book written by Stephen M.R. Covey, I learned my intuition was right! I had always felt in my gut a team who trusted each other was healthier, more efficient, and increased profitability. While reading The Speed of Trust, I discovered the formula confirming it.

We can quantify and measure trust, like other key indicators. The economics of trust simply state trust always affects two measurable outcomes: “speed and cost.”

  • When trust goes down, speed will also go down while cost will go up. This is a tax.
  • When trust goes up, speed will also go up, while cost will come down. This is a dividend.

The book states, “Every interaction, every work project, every initiative, every communication, every strategic or tactical imperative we are trying to accomplish is affected positively or negatively by trust.”

The benefits of a trusting team are plentiful. Trusting team members:

  • Admit weaknesses and mistakes
  • Ask for help
  • Look forward to meetings and other opportunities to work as a group

Courageous conversations

Team members are hungry for tools to help them bring tough questions and concerns to their managers and veterinarians. Avoiding difficult conversations (because of conflict aversion) does not work. Team members learning productive ways to initiate potentially difficult conversations with co-workers and management may experience higher job satisfaction.

Have you and your team created a safe work environment to freely exchange ideas, bring forth grievances, and propel the team and clients into healthy, productive conversations?

“If we don’t trust one another, then we aren’t going to engage in open, constructive, ideological conflict. And we’ll just continue to preserve a sense of artificial harmony.”1 What artificial harmony are you and your team harboring?

Teams engaging in courageous conversations (conflict):

  • Put critical topics on the table
  • Have lively, interesting meetings
  • Extract and exploit the ideas of all team members
  • Solve real problems quickly

You may believe “tiptoeing around” to avoid conflict (artificial harmony) will make it go away. Think again. Not addressing issues makes the conflict worse. Disputes are an inevitable part of life.

Workplaces that accept differences, understand attitudes, and encourage open dialogue offer safe environments to bring conflict to light.3

Intent in commitment

Team members may feel like hamsters on a wheel, constantly spinning, with no vision beyond the daily routine and grind. I imagine you are satisfied with providing daily care to patients, because this is what we do as veterinary professionals. But would it not feel better to work toward a common purpose or goal? How would it feel to have clarity in direction and priorities?

Commitment is dependent upon two things: clarity and buy-in. Consider evaluating (or creating) your organization’s mission, vision, and value statements. How well are they defined and brought to life in each day or even during each appointment? How can a team commit to its purpose?

Due to the pandemic and influx of new veterinary professionals within our organizations, now is a great time to give breath to guiding principles statements (values, vision, and mission statements) helping to establish the clarity and buy-in! How can a team commit when there is little leadership or alignment in a shared purpose?

A team that commits:

  • Creates clarity around direction and priorities
  • Aligns the entire team around common objectives
  • Develops an ability to learn from mistakes
  • Moves forward without hesitation or guilt

Regardless of your position on a veterinary team, you can help to evaluate and update guiding principles. I strongly encourage this valuable process to be a team exercise. Team members collaborating in defining common values, shared professional vision, and daily missions create a powerful synergy.

Build accountability

The irony of accountability is team members feel they hold themselves to a high level of accountability, and yet they want others on their team to be more accountable. It seems there is a strong case for the other person to be more accountable. Sound familiar? Clear expectations are needed, as well as everyone being held to the same high standards.

There is irony when your team points out the inconsistency in accountability to a plethora of misguided intentions.

Amanda Proud, BS, CVPM, SPHR, wrote in her Veterinary Practice News article, “The ABCs of Transforming Workplace Culture:”5

A = Accountability: A willingness to accept responsibility for one’s actions may not be something you’re born with. If we aren’t born with it, how do we acquire it? First, know what it looks like, what it sounds like, and, best of all, what it feels like.

She describes an accountable culture as:

  • Results are communicated and understood
  • Clear standards and expectations
  • Ownership mentality starts at the top and leaders model it
  • Leaders own their mistakes (and often the mistakes of others) and take responsibility to fix them
  • Goals are clearly defined
  • Over communication to avoid missing anything—feedback in real time
  • People trust one another

Proud affirms the importance of trust in the workplace and contribution in building accountability on the team.

An accountable team:

  • Ensures poor performers feel pressure to improve
  • Identifies potential problems quickly by questioning one another’s approaches without hesitation
  • Establishes respect among team members who are held to the same high standards
  • Avoids excessive bureaucracy around performance management and corrective action

Measuring for improvements

Looking at veterinary key performance indicators (KPI) we can define a baseline and create categories to measure. The usual KPIs include client retention, average transactions, and profit.

If the dysfunction is inattention to results—focusing on personal success, status and ego before team success—then the opposite is establishing the team, defining what is success as a team and blowing those parameters out of the water!

What will your team choose to measure?

When a team has shared goals, shared knowledge, and mutual respect, there will be more satisfaction and efficiency.6 Examples of shared, measurable team goals include:

  • Receive favorable ratings on client surveys
  • Decrease team turnover to reflect other industry averages (15 percent)
  • Engage in three community events annually, as a team
  • Debrief traumatic team incidents within 24 hours4

Understanding the tax and dividend of trust we can certainly measure and improve the success point. Perhaps surveying your team’s current level of accountability (possibly through an anonymous electronic survey) may be apropos. What about aligning measurable content from within your current values, vision, or mission statement?

Regardless of the measurable item, write it out, define the current level of engagement, declare how the measurement will be calculated, and the information shared with a celebration defined upon completion.

A team focusing on collective results:

  • Retains achievement-oriented team members
  • Enjoys success and suffers failure acutely
  • Avoids distractions

Measuring and improving what feels intangible may be a challenge. Elevating interpersonal (soft) skills is challenging and worth it, 100 percent! Take one step at a time. Choose to move it in either trust, courageous conversations, commitment, or accountability, and move the needle in a positive way, enhancing patient care, client experience, and job satisfaction.

Rebecca Rose, CVT, certified career coach, has a diverse background in the veterinary community. Her most current role includes outreach specialist for Lap of Love Veterinary Hospice. Rose’s enthusiasm for professional development in veterinary medicine is contagious, as she encourages and supports veterinary teams in reaching their highest potential. She can be reached via


  1. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team; A Leadership Fable, Patrick Lencioni, 2002
  2. Covey, Stephen M.R. Speed of Trust, The One Thing That Changes Everything, 2008
  3. Courageous Conversations, Respond Don’t React, Rebecca Rose, CVT,
    February 2020, Veterinary Practice News;
  4. Rose, CVT, Rebecca. “How a clear mission can spur purpose,” Veterinary Practice News,
  5. Proud, Amanda, BS, CVPM, SPHR, “The ABCs of transforming workplace culture,” Veterinary Practice News, July 2021,
  6. Gittell, J.H., High Performance Healthcare; Using the power of relationships to achieve quality, efficiency, and resilience. New York: McBraw-Hill, 2009

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