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Becoming a healthy organization takes a little time. Unfortunately, many of the leaders I’ve worked with suffer from a chronic case of adrenaline addiction, seemingly hooked on the daily rush of activity and firefighting within their organizations. It’s as though they’re afraid to slow down and deal with issues that are critical but don’t seem particularly urgent.
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you have to slow down in order to go fast.
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Two Requirements for Success
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“I’m looking for my earrings,” Lucy responds. Ricky asks her, “You lost your earrings in the living room?” She shakes her head. “No, I lost them in the bedroom. But the light out here is much better.”
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Again, that’s not to say that being smart isn’t important. It is. But if someone were to press me on which of the two characteristics of an organization, intelligence or health, should receive first priority, I would say without hesitation that health comes out a clear number one.
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Health Begets—and Trumps—Intelligence
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In contrast, smart organizations don’t seem to have any greater chance of getting healthier by virtue of their intelligence. In fact, the reverse may actually be true because leaders who pride themselves on expertise and intelligence often struggle to acknowledge their flaws and learn from peers.
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First, organizational health just isn’t very sexy, so journalists aren’t terribly excited to talk or write about it. No magazine or newspaper wants to run a story about a humble leader who continues to run her medium-sized company with discipline, common sense, and consistency. They would rather tell you about how a brash young entrepreneur is trying to set the world on fire—and maybe himself—with a disruptive new piece of technology or a revolutionary new service.
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The financial cost of having an unhealthy organization is undeniable: wasted resources and time, decreased productivity, increased employee turnover, and customer attrition.
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When it comes to reinforcing clarity, there is no such thing as too much communication.
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Making these kinds of sacrifices is much easier to commit to in theory than in practice, because no leader likes to go back to his or her department and announce that bonuses are going to be smaller or head count is going to be reduced in order to help out another department that needs it more. But that’s what members of real teams do.
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As important as it is for all members of a leadership team to commit to being vulnerable, that is not going to happen if the leader of the team, whether that person is the CEO, department head, pastor, or school principal, does not go first.
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Overcoming the tendency to run from discomfort is one of the most important requirements for any leadership team—in fact, for any leader.
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As time goes on, they barely conceal their eye-rolling or sighs of exasperation whenever that colleague speaks. For the employee who is being merely tolerated, the treatment starts to feel hurtful and disrespectful, which is hard for that person to understand. It isn’t difficult to see how this behavior erodes the cohesiveness of a team.
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What they’re doing is confusing being nice with being kind.
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When leadership team members fail to disagree around issues, not only are they increasing the likelihood of losing respect for one another and encountering destructive conflict later when people start griping in the hallways, they’re also making bad decisions and letting down the people they’re supposed to be serving. And they do this all in the name of being “nice.”
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One of the best ways for leaders to raise the level of healthy conflict on a team is by mining for conflict during meetings. This happens when they suspect that unearthed disagreement is lurking in the room and gently demand that people come clean. At first, mining for conflict might seem like stirring the pot and looking for trouble. But it is quite the opposite. By looking for and exposing potential and even subtle disagreements that have not come to the surface, team leaders—and, heck, team members can do it too—avoid the destructive hallway conversations that inevitably result when people are reluctant to engage in direct, productive debate.
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First, if people remained silent during discussions, he would interpret that as disagreement. People quickly realized that if they didn’t weigh in, a decision could not be made. Second, at the end of every discussion, the VP would go around the room and ask every member of his team for a formal commitment to the decision.
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Great teams avoid the consensus trap by embracing a concept that Intel, the legendary microchip manufacturer, calls “disagree and commit.” Basically they believe that even when people can’t come to an agreement around an issue, they must still leave the room unambiguously committed to a common course of action.
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The truth is, very few people in the world are incapable of supporting a decision merely because they had a different idea.
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Forget about the financial cost of people continuing to fly business class. It pales in comparison to the loss in credibility that executives encountered and the internal politics that they created because they failed to achieve real, active commitment around a decision.
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The only way to prevent passive sabotage is for leaders to demand conflict from their team members and to let them know that they are going to be held accountable for doing whatever the team ultimately decides.
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At the end of every meeting, cohesive teams must take a few minutes to ensure that everyone sitting at the table is walking away with the same understanding about what has been agreed to and what they are committed to do.
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A good way to ensure that people take this process seriously is to demand that they go back to their teams after the meeting and communicate exactly what was agreed on.
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As painful as this may be to a group of executives who are more than ready to get out of a meeting, the only thing more painful than taking additional time to get clarity and commitment is going out into the organization with a confusing and misaligned message.
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At its core, accountability is about having the courage to confront someone about their deficiencies and then to stand in the moment and deal with their reaction, which may not be pleasant.
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I’m pretty sure there is nothing kind about firing someone who has not been confronted about his performance.
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For instance, when a direct report misses his sales target four quarters in a row or doesn’t deliver a product on time and according to specifications, leaders have no problem telling him and taking action. That is indeed one form of accountability, but it’s not the most important kind. The kind that is more fundamental, important, and difficult is about behavior.
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Conflict is about issues and ideas, while accountability is about performance and behavior.
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It is much harder for most people to hold one another accountable because it involves something of a personal, behavioral judgment.
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Losing a team member is not at all a common outcome of building a culture of accountability. In most cases, team members simply learn to demand more of one another and watch their collective performance improve.
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I’m often asked whether leaders should hold their people accountable privately during one-on-one sessions or in more public forums with the whole team, like during meetings. Although every case is a little different, generally I believe that on cohesive teams, accountability is best handled with the entire team. I say this because when leaders and team members call one another on issues in front of team members, they get benefits that don’t occur when it takes place individually. First, when accountability is handled during a meeting, every member of the team receives the message simultaneously and doesn’t have to make the same mistakes in order to learn the lesson of the person being held accountable. Second, they know that the leader is holding their colleague accountable, which avoids their wondering whether the boss is doing his job. Finally, it serves to reinforce the culture of accountability, which increases
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When leaders—and peers—limit their accountability discussions to private conversations, they leave people wondering whether those discussions are happening. This often leads to unproductive hallway conversations and conjecture about who knows what about whom.
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But there is no getting around the fact that the only measure of a great team—or a great organization—is whether it accomplishes what it sets out to accomplish.
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A more accurate description of their situation would be to say that they have a mediocre team that enjoys being together and isn’t terribly bothered by failure.
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Healthy organizations believe that performance management is almost exclusively about eliminating confusion.
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I like to explain to clients that when leaders fail to tell employees that they’re doing a great job, they might as well be taking money out of their pockets and throwing it into a fire, because they are wasting opportunities to give people the recognition they crave more than anything else. Direct, personal feedback really is the simplest and most effective form of motivation.
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