A favourite resource of ours when working with teams is the body of work undertaken by Patrick Lencioni, which is summed up and his terrific book called The Advantage. Our associate Gabriel, took the time to synthesize this book into a brief post on some of the key learnings. We hope you enjoy it and find ways to apply it within your team and organization.

In the book The Advantage the author Patrick Lencioni discusses the value of developing a concept called Organizational Health. He presents this as a real competitive advantage and includes practical steps to begin doing so. Creating a cohesive leadership team is offered as the first step on this journey to organizational health. The following is a brief summary of these insightful chapters.

To be a successful company you must be both smart and healthy. By smart, we mean having competence and knowledge surrounding the fundamental pillars of business such as marketing, finance, operations management, etc. The second requirement is health. A healthy organization that has high morale and productivity while also having low levels of politics and turnover.

As a business owner or a member of a leadership team, we often place most of our attention on being smarter rather than healthier as an organization. This is due to a variety of reasons both internal and external. Internally we do this due to cognitive biases that affect how we value certain ideas and theories. These three are as follows:

  • Complexity Bias: We believe that the more complicated a concept is the more valuable or effective it will be.
  • Adrenaline Bias: We tend to gravitate towards tasks that are urgent at the moment and ignore tasks that are not an emergency right now but are nevertheless critical to our long-term success.
  • Quantitative Bias: We value ideas or theories that can be directly tracked to quantitative results or measurements.

The concept of creating a healthy organization goes against each of these three modes of thinking. Firstly, the steps are simple and straight forward but not necessarily easy. Improving and retaining an organization’s health is a continuous and repetitive just as brushing one’s teeth is necessary but seen as boring or unappealing. Lastly, while the benefits of having a healthy organization are great, it is next to impossible to quantify its direct impact on a company’s bottom line.

Most business leaders fall prey to these biases and overlook the value of organizational health. If you can push through the resistance to do the same, you will gain access to a new competitive advantage in today’s modern-day economy. There are multiple steps to improving the health of an organization. The step we will discuss today will be creating a cohesive leadership team.

Creating A Cohesive Leadership Team

Ensuring that the leadership of an organization is aligned, unified, and effective is the first and most critical component of a healthy organization. A leadership team is defined as the following: a small group of 3-12 people who are collectively committed to a common objective of their organization. There are five behaviors of a cohesive team:

  1. Creating Trust
  2. Constructive conflict
  3. Commitment
  4. Accountability
  5. Focus on Results

Creating Trust

Trust is the first and most essential component of creating a cohesive leadership team. The kind of trust we are talking about is based on vulnerability, honesty, and transparency. Members on a cohesive team trust each other enough to be open about their own shortcomings while also creating space for others to do the same. Creating this kind of trust takes time but there are several activities you can use to begin this process.

One such activity is a team exercise in which each member shares a bit of their backstory with the rest of the group. Ask each member to share where they grew up, how many people there were in their family, where they fall in line among their siblings, and one challenge they had while growing up. This exercise will allow members to learn about one another more deeply and introduce the concept of being vulnerable in a low-risk way. The Leader of the team should always go first to give others on the team permission to do the same.

Another way to begin to develop trust is to explore and discuss each team member’s innate behavioral traits and personality tendencies. One way to do this is to use the Myers-Briggs personality template. This template will show the strengths and soft spots of each team members and explain how they relate to other members with opposite personality types. This will allow team members to be vulnerable and admit their own short comes and feel more understood by their peers.

Constructive Conflict

After you have developed a sufficient level of trust the next step is to cultivate constructive conflict among team members. Constructive conflict is disagreement in the pursuit of the best course of action in order to achieve the team’s collective objectives. While in this mode of conflict you set your ego when in dispute with another team member. Constructive conflict can be messy and will at some point cross the line during heated moments when emotions run high. Having the foundation of trust will allow members to retain their relationship when someone crosses that line.

You must also be aware that every person relates to conflict differently. Some team members may be conflict-avoidant while others may tend to actively seek it out. The Myers Briggs exercise may prove insightful in revealing how team members relate to conflict. Encourage conflict-avoidant members of the team to voice their opinions even if it may cause disagreement. Doing so prevents resentment that comes from avoiding conflict and silently going along with decisions you disagree with.

Promote constructive conflict with your team by creating rules of engagement and expectations for disagreement and debate. This may take a variety of forms such as telling team members that silence in a team meeting is taken as a sign of disagreement. This way all members become accustomed to voicing their opinion. Another way to promote constructive conflict as the team leader is to interject yourself while two team members are in debate and tell them that what they are doing is good. This may feel odd but works as a simple way to directly reinforce this desirable behavior.

Achieving Commitment

After the team has engaged in constructive conflict and all have voiced their opinions you must gain commitment to the decision that is made. As a team leader, you do not need a 100% consensus to come to a decision. Team members may still disagree but as long as they had the opportunity to weigh in they will be far more likely to commit to the decision you make. Commitment within a leadership team must be crystal clear and understood in the same way between team members. If it is unclear what you are committing to your leadership team may leave the meeting with very different expectations in mind. This may cause confusion and misalignment within an organization. Before you end a meeting make a point to recap exactly what decision has been made moving forward and what each team member is committing to. Instruct your team members to relay this commitment in the same way to the teams they manage.

Embracing Accountability

The next step after committing to a course of action is keeping each other accountable. Accountability is having the courage to confront a team member about a shortcoming and be able to face the reaction that follows. This is not easy and often will be very uncomfortable. However, this behavior is essential to keeping a team engaged and on course towards their collective goal. As the team leader, it is your responsibility to practice and promote this behavior. The more your team sees you enforce accountability the more likely they will begin holding themselves and each other accountable. Accountability should be based on behavior rather than quantitative measurements. As a team leader you should hold team members accountable publicly rather than privately. Take a private approach In extreme cases where the deficiency is so great that the person’s place in the team is being called into question.

Focus On Results

No matter how good a team feels about itself, if it does not produce results it is not a good team. The primary purpose of a team is to achieve a common objective. Emphasizing the collective objectives rather then individual objectives of various departments is key. Unfortunately, team member often prioritizes their versions of success. This often manifests itself as solely prioritizing their department rather than the overall goal of the organization. As the team leader communicate what the collective objectives are and encourage ways for team members to move outside of their usual field to assist most struggling departments.

Key Insights

Organizational health is quickly becoming the next competitive advantage in today’s economy. The first and most essential way to develop organizational health is by creating a cohesive leadership team. Developing a cohesive Leadership team involves the following:

  • Members trust one another and can be genuinely vulnerable to one another.
  • Members consistently engage in productive conflict regarding essential issues.
  • Team meetings end in clear agreement and commitment regarding the decisions made.
  • Members keep each other accountable to commitments and behaviors.
  • Members place the collective objective of the organization above their own individual departments.

If you can confidently say yes to each other these items then your organization has take a major step ahead of the competition and towards the desired outcome.