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GILD 2013: Patrick Lencioni on leading a healthy organization

October 8, 2013

Patrick Lencioni has extensive consulting experience and has written numerous best-selling business books. He came to GILD to discuss “Leading Teams” with four deceptively simple lists to inspire success:

  • Two requirements for organizational success
  • Four disciplines of a healthy organization
  • Five dysfunctions to overcome
  • Six critical questions to answer

Two requirements for organizational success

  1. You need to be smart about strategy, marketing, finance, technology etc. But while this is only half the equation, it gets 98 percent of the attention.
  2. You also need to be healthy. A healthy organization has minimal politics, minimal confusion, high morale, high productivity, and low turnover (good people rarely leave a healthy organization). It turns out that being smart is pretty easy, hence the disproportionate focus on this area. But being healthy offers the greatest opportunity for organizational improvement and competitive advantage.

Four disciplines of a healthy organization

So, how do you begin the process of building a healthy organization? There are four key disciplines.

  1. Build a cohesive leadership team. The leaders of any group, be it a company, department, school, church, etc., need to be behaviorally cohesive.
  2. At the same time, you need to create clarity. The leaders have to be on the same page, they need to be completely aligned.
  3. You need to over-communicate the clarity. Note that it’s not about over-communicating in general, you need to over-communicate the clarity.
  4. You need to reinforce clarity. You must put just enough human systems in place to hire, reward, and manage effectively.

Overcome the five dysfunctions

  1. Absence of trust. This isn’t about predictive trust, which is what happens when you get to know people and will know how they will react in a given situation. This is about vulnerability-based trust: the ability to say things like “I don’t know,” “I screwed up,”  “I need help,”  or “you’re good at this, please teach me.” If just one person on the team can’t be vulnerable, the absence of trust will spread like a disease and the team will not be successful.
  2. Fear of conflict. Conflict is good for teams. Not mean, personal conflict but honest, issue-based conflict. You need to know that people on your team aren’t holding back their opinions. Our job on teams isn’t to be nice (to avoid disagreement) but to be kind and honest in how we disagree.
  3. Lack of commitment. Conflict leads to commitment. To be more specific, when we cut off conflict, we cut off the ability for the team to truly commit. If people don’t weigh in on a decision (i.e., create conflict) then they won’t buy into the decision. When a difficult decision needs to be made, the leader’s job is to ensure that every person on the team “stands on the chair” and gives his opinion. Then, the leader can explain why a decision was made and how all of the opinions factored into the decision. When everyone feels they have been heard, they are likely to support the decision even if they don’t agree with it.
  4. Avoidance of accountability. Without true commitment, you can’t have accountability. Peer pressure is your best friend when it comes to accountability on a team. But leaders must be willing to hold people accountable or it simply won’t happen – and they must hold people accountable for behaviors as well as for performance.
  5. Inattention to results. Great teams have a pattern of winning and, to do that, they focus on the collective outcomes.

Six critical questions to answer

 To build alignment across the leadership team, it must answer six key questions:

  1. Why do we exist? You need to go for the most idealistic and lofty answer possible.
  2. How do we behave? It’s about values, and winnowing down the list to the one or two that are so inherent in your DNA that you simply cannot give them up.
  3. What do we do? Provide a simple, direct explanation of the business.
  4. How will we succeed? This is how you come up with the strategy. Write down all the things that differentiate you from competitors and help you succeed, and then look for the themes. These themes become your strategic anchors.
  5. What is most important right now? This is your rallying cry. It’s okay to have multiple priorities, but one must the single most important one. If you don’t have a rallying cry, your organization will break down into silos.
  6. Who must do what? Don’t focus on titles, you need to really flesh out exactly what people need to do.

Three great quotes from the session

In all the itemized lists above, did you notice that there’s no list of three? Well, here are three great quotes from the session that are worth repeating.

  1. Pride is the great destroyer of teams.
  2. Design your systems to institutionalize your culture without bureaucratizing it.
  3. Samuel Johnson said, “Men more frequently require to be reminded than informed.” A great leader must be a CRO – a chief reminding officer.

Do you see these dysfunctions in your organization? What are your company’s obstacles to getting healthy? Let us know in the comments below.

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