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A conversation with Adrian Gostick, author of the Orange Revolution

April 22, 2011
Adrian Gostick
Adrian Gostick

[adrotate block=”1″]On March 23, 2011 Adrian Gostick, author of The Orange Revolution presented as a part of Linkage’s Thought Leader Series, on How One Great Team Can Transform an Entire Organization. His research has been called a “must read for modern-day managers” by Larry King of CNN, “fascinating,” by Fortune magazine and “admirable and startling” by the Wall Street Journal. We sat down with Adrian Gostick following his presentation to discuss specific workplace strategies to address common team leading challenges.

Linkage: A lot of team building exercises facilitated by OD or HR folks start with some understanding of the personalities on the team. Did your research prove this approach to be effective in building more effective teams?

Adrian Gostick: Yes, absolutely. The trouble now is that people are people, and some of us have idiosyncrasies. We’re hard to manage. We’ve been working together in teams since the dawn of time and yet we fight and can’t get it right. So, understanding your specific drivers should be critically important to me as your manager. We’ve got to understand what motivates each person. You specifically might be driven by wanting to move up in this organization. So as your manager, I need to give you more access to the senior leadership team. Now somebody else may be more of a socializer. They may feel more recognized and appreciated when they have a party in their favor or whatever it is. But a big part of my role is to really understand what drives you as a person.

Linkage: What else does the team leader have to do exceptionally well in order to facilitate great teams?

Adrian Gostick: The role of the team leader does change in the modern day and a lot of leaders don’t seem to be making that switch. We believe that a leader should be dogmatic. They should be the visionary of the team they should set the rules. Actually a great team leader on the teams we’ve studied is somebody who really cares about the individuals. They remove obstacles. They’re somebody who brings the right people on the team, they celebrate successes.  They’re not the person just watching when people punch the clock. What we find is that great managers are what we called relevant to the work experience. They’re not just worrying about the assignments and the next steps for the day. They’re worrying about the big picture.  They’re worrying about whether or not their employees’ goals are aligned with the corporate goals. Because when that happens, magic happens. So it’s a little bit of a mind shift for managers. You’re not just the chief doer on the team. In a way you’re a motivator, you’re an inspirer, and you’re a person who really brings a great team together.

Linkage: Now what happens when one person on a team isn’t cooperating, has a really dogmatic personality style themselves, is a great performer actually but they’re just caustic within the team?

Adrian Gostick: That’s one we find many teams face: “I got Sam on the team. He does world class work but he’s just a pain. He doesn’t tell us what he’s up to so there are surprises. He doesn’t cheer for other members of the team, he’s constantly belittling.” We’ve found that great team leaders deal quickly with these types of problem. They come back to their rules and would say something like; “Sam look, we have a rule of cheering for each other and that’s one of our most important rules.” Poor team managers typically will wait at least six months before addressing such a problem—which is way too long. You’ve lost people by then. They’ve lost their motivation. Great team leaders address these problems quickly, and they bring it back to rules rather than personality.

Linkage: What does a team leader has to do differently if he/she is leading a team of thoroughbreds; with every team member being independently very successful and thinking they are God’s gift to the team.

Adrian Gostick: One of the things we found is that great teams do have this sense of humility as well. They believe more in the team than they do in themselves. And most of the managers we study would not say that 10 out of every 10 people they lead are phenomenal. They might say they’ve got some A performers, some Bs, and they’ve got some people who need some work. And that’s pretty typical. It’s a bell curve on most of our teams. The trick is keeping your A people motivated because they are your stars. They need more recognition and more appreciation. The B players have potential to be A’s, You’ve got to give them the right goals and the right metrics to motivate them to move up. And yet the trouble is that most team leaders spend most of their time with their C players and they shouldn’t. You have to give those players very clear directives and chances to improve. But in many cases you just have to have the right people on the right seats in the bus. It may be tough to hear but you may sometimes have to move some of those C players to different roles in the organization or even move them out if they’re not performing for you.

Linkage: You talked a little bit about the importance of continuity but what are some more dynamic rules to determine whether to break up the team or let them keep going?

Adrian Gostick: A company like Disney for instance that is launching new products and has a lot of marketing efforts might bring cross functional people together. Those groups are very difficult to manage because if I’m the project manager and you work on my cross functional team, I actually have no control over your pay or your performance reviews. All I can do is try to influence you. Those kinds of groups typically after they’ve had their success should be disbanded. The groups that should stay together are departments. Say you have a research and development group, the idea is not to break this type of group every year—which unfortunately is the norm in the corporate world. Breaking them up and shifting things around is actually disruptive to the workflow.

Linkage: Conversely, where do the average or low performing teams seem to get stuck?

Adrian Gostick: Great team leaders move teams along from average to great when they have great clarity. We talked about the idea of clarity of goals, clarity of the rules you live by. Think about that right now—if you are a team leader—does your team really have clarity around what behaviors you are really looking for? You may think so, but come back to that hospital example where they thought that everybody knew that the patients were their number one customers. Yet when they surveyed their employees they found out that the doctors were the number one customers. No one really cared about what the patients thought. They just wanted the doctor to be happy. Understanding this changed their thinking. So don’t ever assume that your employees know their goals. Don’t assume they know the rules that they should live by. Great companies really have a noble cause. Great teams live by a defined set of rules, and that’s what moves organizations from average to great.

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