January 8th, 2018

When was the last time your company received an organizational health checkup?

No need to? better think again…. chances are, it could be suffering from the “organizational flu” and your leadership team doesn’t even know it. If you ask your leaders what the issues are what will they tell you? Poor communication? Poor decision making? Trying to do too much too fast or with too little? What is it about poor organizational health and leadership that results in companies missing the problem altogether? Even more importantly, what is it really costing your organization in terms of lost revenue, time, and resources? Perhaps the answers are hiding in plain sight and appear to be so common sensical and trivial that they are not given the credibility they deserve. The fact is poor organizational health and leadership exists within thousands of organizations across the globe, but only a fraction of them have taken notice and are actively doing something about it.

In this first of a four-part series on the need for good organizational health, we will look at the importance of constructing a solid leadership team. In the next article we will concentrate on how leadership teams communicate with clarity, the third article will focus on a leadership team’s approach to clarity on organizational alignment, and finally, we will conclude with how leadership teams strengthen that clarity and alignment.

Good organizational health starts with building a solid leadership team. We have all heard this one before, but what does building a solid team really mean? Let’s first define “team”. Team refers to a group of individuals who have a shared responsibility for achieving mutual goals for their organization. This is not to be confused with work group, which can be defined by Webster’s as: “a group of people who work together: such as an organized group of coworkers within a business or other organization”. The big difference here is a team works together collectively, putting the organization’s needs above individual member or department needs. Now that we are clear on the definition of a team, let’s look a little deeper into the makeup of a team. For a team to be truly effective, it should consist of no more than 10 members. Studies have shown when teams consist of more members, not only is there an increase in the number of lines of communication, but the dynamics of communication change. The communication goals of members tend to shift from having an open and information-seeking type communication (inquisitive) to one of getting one’s point of view across and seeking as many supporters as possible to support their opinion. (sponsorship). Teams having more of inquisitive communication style exhibit six common traits.

  1. Teams not too large (less than 10 members)
  2. Team members deeply trusting each other
  3. Engaging in healthy conflict among each other
  4. Attaining commitment from each other
  5. Obtaining accountability from each other
  6. Concentrating on results

Trusting each other sounds very trivial, but here is what it really means; reaching a point where team members stop second-guessing decisions they have made, leaving their pride and ego by the wayside, and allowing themselves to become vulnerable to their team members. For you and your team to exhibit this type of behavior means you have reached a comfort level where open and honest conversations can take place with one another without feeling like you are overthinking words or actions, and politics are not a means or a motive in achieving goals and objectives for the organization. Teams functioning in this manner may seem truly utopian, but it is possible with a lot of work.

Once team members establish a deep trust with each other, then it can open the door for members to feel comfortable enough to have open and deep discussions that may involve conflict. This isn’t possible without establishing a deep trust first. Achieving this trait can be very challenging because you first must work through the organizational culture, where any kind of conflict may be frowned upon. Second, once you have mastered the organizational culture, you then must account for other types of culture, such as a team member’s country culture. Those working for multi-national firms know this better than anyone. What may be acceptable within U.S. culture may not be acceptable within a culture outside of the U.S. This is another reason why trust is a predecessor to this trait. It is necessary for all team members to trust one another and express themselves when they are not feeling comfortable with the actions of the team. Guidelines and rules of engagement are always helpful when team members feel like they are entering an unknown or uncomfortable area. If conflict is avoided at the top levels of the organization, rest assured, it doesn’t disappear from the organization, it is simply transferred to other parts of the organization where a much larger number of employees will feel its discomfort. Healthy conflict among executive leadership is necessary, and in some extreme cases, can protect an organization’s mission, vision, and core values if the company starts to drift away from why it was established in the first place.

This trait will require team members to master healthy conflict before mastering commitment from team members. One of the requirements of getting commitment from a team member is ensuring they have had an opportunity to express their opinion, ask questions, and understand the rationale behind project, goal, or organizational objective. Sometimes, going through these actions requires healthy conflict. If we look at the other side of the coin, we see people passively agreeing to something they didn’t necessarily support or believe in. Don’t expect these folks to come forward to be your change champions; in fact, they are probably going to be the ones that sit in their cubes, patiently waiting for decisions to blow up or go south and then say, “well, I never fully agreed with that decision anyway”. When teams meet to discuss goals, objectives and assign responsibilities, it’s extremely important to ensure each member has accepted total buy-in and commitment to the end-goal.

The fourth trait of a solid team is holding team members accountable. If the team is expected to accomplish its goals and mission, its members must be accountable for their decisions and actions. If team members don’t have complete buy-in or commitment (trait 3), it’s going to be very difficult to hold them accountable for only passively committing. Therefore, it is essential for all team members to be given an opportunity to voice their opinions, concerns, and ideas on projects and other organizational initiatives. Once this process has taken place and a final decision has been made, it is up to the team member to either fully support the decision or resign themselves from the team. Teams function best when there is peer-to-peer accountability.

Lastly, solid teams never lose sight of focusing on the results. It will be difficult to achieve results if the first four traits are not found within a team. If individuals are members of a higher-level team, they must keep in mind that organizational goals should always take priority over individual or department goals.

Now that we have reviewed the six traits of a solid team, take a step back and look at the teams you are a member of; do they exhibit these six traits? If you are unsure, following the checklist below:

  • The team is not too large (three to 10 members)
  • Team members trust each other and can become vulnerable with each other
  • Team members can engage in healthy conflict
  • Team members conclude meetings with specific agreements and commit to decisions
  • Team members don’t hesitate to hold each other accountable for commitments and behaviors
  • Members of the team put their collective priorities and needs of the larger organization above their own and their department’s priorities