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A Healthy Organization Always Starts at the Top

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Is your leadership team cohesive, unified, and functional? Did you answer “no” or “I’m not sure?” You may have an organization that could be running more smoothly through better collaboration.

For many years I’ve been talking about healthy organizations–ones that have minimal politics, minimal confusion, high levels of morale, high productivity, and low turnover among your best performing people. But where do these magical creatures come from?

A healthy organization always starts at the top. Therefore, the first component of a healthy organization is for the leadership team to be cohesive and unified. After all, you can’t have a healthy body if the head is going in different directions all at once!

Top of the Mountain

© Flickr user postscapes

Many times we confuse a leadership team with a work group. They are not the same. Here’s the difference:

  • A work group is a group of people that work together. They might be at any level of an organization, and they all might have different functions. They may not even produce something.
  • A leadership team is a small group of people responsible for achieving a common objective. (Small has meaning! I recommend 3 to 8 to be most effective). Leadership teams are trying to make something happen for their organization, a department, or a small entrepreneurial company.

See the difference? It’s not just about a bunch of people being together, or even all working at the same time. They need to be collaborative and connected by one purpose.

Here are the five behaviors from Patrick Lencioni’s book The Advantage, necessary for building that cohesive and unified leadership team:

The first behavior is to build trust: This is vulnerability-based trust and happens when, beginning with the team leader, all members can be completely honest about their strengths and weaknesses. They must be able to admit when they are wrong, and apologize. Just getting that far can be a huge accomplishment for many people!

Mastering conflict is the second behavior: Contrary to our culture, conflict is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, conflict has the capacity to be vital, healthy, and productive because it unearths disagreement that you can bring to the surface. (That is, as long as you are focused on getting the best answer and not beating up the other person.)

The third behavior is to achieve commitment: This isn’t passive agreement–where everyone “agrees” and then goes back to their work and does very little to support the decision. Instead it’s walking away from a discussion knowing that people really bought into the choice that was made.

Behavior #4 is to embrace accountability: That is peer-to-peer accountability which is much more effective on a leadership team. When people who respect each other as equals actually commit to a decision, then they have the courage to hold others accountable to the decision and to confront each other without fearing defensiveness or backlash. It’s not accountability if you’re only doing it because you’re afraid.

And the last behavior is focus on results: The point of these first four behaviors is to achieve results. If a leadership team doesn’t achieve results and instead focuses on their individual needs and private areas of interest, it’s not a truly effective leadership team. Meetings to have meetings are a waste. Remember: results trump everything.

In conclusion, results come about because of accountability, which happens because everyone is committed; commitment has been achieved because of working through conflict; and conflict is possible because people trust each other; the trust is built because, beginning with the leader of the team, everyone acknowledges his/her mistakes and is completely honest.

Make sense? It’s not easy. Start with radical, shameless honesty. Get people talking and see where it leads. You’ll find your organization growing more healthy every day!

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Cindy Allen-Stuckey

Cindy Allen-Stuckey

Cindy Allen-Stuckey, CEO and founder of Making Performance Matter, collaborates with organizations to convert their strategy into action. She takes global organizations to the next level by developing customized "people strategies" that bring their business strategy to life and enabling them to optimally execute it.
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