Who’s Your Team?

Two scenarios:

You lead a team of direct reports.

You are a member of a team reporting to the same manager.

Which team is your priority with regard to accountability? Who do you put first?

Many of us will say the team we lead. And yes, I have said the same thing. But that was before I read the works of Patrick Lencioni and learned about his five-stage model described in The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. In essence, Lencioni says that your “first team” is the team of which you are a member – your peer team. (Read “Thoughts from the Field – Issue # 9 – What is Your First Team?” to learn more about his views.)

I’ll be honest, my initial reaction to this was “what?” Being a huge believer in the role of a manager as a developer of talent and a communicator of substantive feedback, I thought shifting allegiance from your direct reports to your peers was equivalent to the captain abandoning ship. But Lencioni is not suggesting that you shift allegiance (it’s not one or the other), but that you reprogram your focus to the broader organization and the work needed to realize its mission. It’s a “heads-up – scanning right and left” versus “heads-down – tunnel-vision” perspective.

Let’s look at why.

When you think of the word “team,” the first thought that comes to mind may be “high-performing” or it may be “competition”. In organizations, we know that the desired behavior for team members is collaboration. But, as a team leader, when we look across multiple teams in an organization, doesn’t a tiny competitive thought enter your mind? Isn’t there a moment (maybe even fleeting) when you think, “My team is better than your team?” Face it, when we lead teams, we have the tendency to believe our team is (or will be) the best. Does this type of thinking result in silo management?

Now think of your peer team. You report to the same person.   You may have distinctly different areas of focus, but your goals are (hopefully) very similar. It is your combined effort that executes your strategy. By being an equal among equals, you now see how each piece fits and how your joint contributions make the mission happen.

What are the benefits of this switch in priority (team member versus team leader)?

Diversification of perspectives. As I said above, you may have very different focus areas and very different responsibilities. That difference is enlightening. Each member becomes the “honest broker” who brings to light observations and options that may be outside others’ thought processes.

Collaboration replacing competition. Instead of the “my team did better than your team” discussion, you know have the opportunity to view the puzzle as a whole. Collaboration brings about synergy.

Accountability that is easier to establish and sustain. As a team, you each have the same goals. Your path to get there may be different due to the variance of roles, but you are all responsible for the same outcome. So, if one doesn’t achieve, the whole doesn’t achieve. Sound harsh? Nope. We make it together or we don’t make it.

So how does this happen? How do you change an organization’s mindset from tunnel-vision individual downstream team priority to broad-spectrum collective priority?

State (and restate) your intentions. Yes, the team you lead is very important and should continue to have a huge influence on how you lead. But, the team of which you are a member is the team to whom you are accountable, first and foremost.

Change your measures. Accountability requires measurement. Instead of individual team metrics, create collective organizational metrics.

Create new communication paths. You may have to revise your communication methods and opportunities. Do you and your team members meet collectively? Do you have robust discussions on the collective goals/measures? How is each member accountable to the team?

Reinforce the “new normal” and celebrate the successes resulting from this new mindset. The pull to return to one’s departmental silos may be strong without constant reminders and reinforcement. It’s work to do things differently. But, the work is well worth the reward.

Your challenge is to envision how this will work in your organization. Imagine the exponential growth and productivity that will result with team members truly accountable to each other.

Start treating your team in this manner. Encourage (and expect) the team that you lead to do the same. The parts join to become a collective whole. Now, that’s high performance!

“The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team.”

— Phil Jackson


Building Your Organizational House on Competencies

Yikes!  I recently read an article maligning the inclusion of competencies in a performance management system.  The author (Jeffrey Cattel) raises the issue of “broken performance management systems plagued by lists of competencies.”  He describes the ideal performance management program as one that includes goals to meet business and professional development objectives – with less dependence on competencies and performance management scores.

I must respectfully disagree with this position.  Competencies are integral to a performance management system.  A properly designed competency model represents the performance roadmap to success.

Let’s use a construction metaphor.

  • You are building a house.  Your house is set on a strong foundation of cured concrete with rebar.  You are building an organization.  Your organization is also built on a foundation – one that is expressed in clear statements of mission, vision, and values.
  • Next, you begin to frame the house – to create the skeleton that will serve as the structure.  Inside this frame, load-bearing walls are formed to link the structure to the foundation.  In an organization, think of the load-bearing walls as the competencies (behaviors) that are linked to the mission, vision, and values.  Exhibiting those behaviors moves the organization toward achieving the results it desires.
  • Installing the systems in your home keeps the lights on, the air cooled or heated, the plumbing functioning, etc.  Installing a performance management system in your organization keeps clarity on the desired results and how they will be achieved.

Constructing one piece of the house without the others is like a three-legged stool having only two legs.  You may be able to balance for the short-term – but it is certainly not going to hold up for the long haul.

Competencies are the DNA of the organization. 

As in a human’s DNA, an organization’s genetic instructions are found in its competency model.  When you think of your organization, what reputation do you want?  One that is innovative?  One that is collaborative?  An organization that is known for its systems thinking?  These reputations are outcomes of the competencies that are exhibited.

If your reputation is something different from what you desire, look at the behaviors you reward … and modify your DNA to incorporate your desired outcome.  In other words, morph (or create, in some cases) your competency model to portray the ideal organization of your future.

With competencies – less is more.

I will agree with Mr. Cattel that some organizations have too many competencies included in their model.  As a matter of fact, I have been guilty of this in the past.  I have turned the corner and now propose a better way, however.

Just as not every wall is load bearing – neither is every competency a differentiator.  Now, it is nice to have written communication and customer service skills and a focus on being action oriented.  Many competencies are very important to your customer satisfaction.  But ask yourself – which competencies propel your organization toward the future?  Which competencies will set you apart as a world-class organization with world-class results?

Take for example,

  • An individual contributor – does success in exhibiting conflict management behaviors become a differentiator?
  • At the managerial level – how about building a team? We will certainly all agree that success in team building propels an organization forward.
  • And at the executive level – strategic agility is a must.

Conflict management, building a team, and strategic agility are just a small set of the differentiators an organization may choose.  “Less is more” is an exercise in prioritizing … eliminating the fluff and turning a laser eye toward the important few.

A competency model is just one piece of a quality – and effective – performance management system.

A quality – and effective – performance management program is a combination of parts – with (multiple!) conversations focused on competencies, business-related goals and objectives, employee development, and measurements that communicate accountability.

The quality – and effective – performance management program becomes part of the organizational pulse and is imbedded in the daily routine.  The ongoing discussions are what get the work done and the results achieved.  They are not special events to be met with dread and angst.  They are not separate from the business. They ARE the business.

Your charge …

The time involved with crafting an organization’s mission, vision and values is just the beginning.  You now have just a flat concrete slab.

  • Build your organizational “house” with competencies that, when practiced, will “bear the load” and produce the outcomes you desire.
  • Infuse your organization with a performance management system that will ensure all team members within are operating at peak efficiency … and therefore, peak effectiveness.
  • Cover your organization with purpose and engagement.

The results will be dramatic.