Leading High Performance Cohesive Teams


“There is a desire in each of us to invest in things that matter, and to have the organizations in which we work be successful…Our task is to create organizations we believe in…to be part of creating something we care about so we can endure the sacrifice, risk, and adventure that commitment entails. That’s team work motivation.” – Peter Block

 A characteristic commonly seen in high-performance teams is cohesiveness, a measure of the attraction of the group to its members (and the resistance to leaving it).  How do you get people to work together, to collaborate, to manage tension without emotion, especially in a virtual environment?  

Often in business today, people are siloed and focused on their own objectives, losing sight of the overall purpose, direction, and goal of the team or company.   When they attend virtual staff meetings, they are not 'present' and unable or unwilling to practice active listening and full participation.  They often are not responsible for their promised outcomes or objectives.  They are active on their mobile devices during meetings and at other times during the workday, and don't contribute at a level necessary for productive growth.  Their peers are also impacted due to a loss of focus on team productivity focus.  Leading a team in today's business environment can be challenging.  
Here are some questions I ask when working with clients struggling with these issues:

  • How does a manager get people to work together without a lot of drama? 

  • How do they conduct staff meetings or 1:1 meetings with their direct reports?  

  • How do they find and continuously develop talent?  

  • How do they foster a culture of responsiveness, innovation, and value creation?  

  • How can they get their people to better align with their vision of the company?

  • How do they manage their people and get them to be more focused on results that drive enterprise value? 

Here is what I think…

Leadership takes courage, devotion, and passion.  People don’t follow titles, they follow courage, and leaders who demand excellence will win.  Organizations are limited by their leaders, and your education, character, capacity, ability and vision define what John Maxwell describes in his classic book (21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership) as the ‘leadership lid’.  

Leaders don't really lead people, they set the vision and manage processes.  As leaders, our people will decide whether or not to follow us.  Our people will determine if we are a leader. Our people are perfectly capable of managing themselves and, if not, they need to be reassigned their job, or set free to work elsewhere. Our job as leaders is to articulate a strong vision; engage the available talent who design and perfect processes; execute on the strategy; measure outcomes vs. plan; search for ways to improve the processes, and train people to be accountable to those processes.  Most of the time this involves team interaction. 
Creating a highly functional cohesive team is the number one job of the CEO.  In a team environment, each team member must be aware of what they are doing individually, and what contribution they are making.  They must also hold each of the other team members accountable to their respective roles and progress towards objectives.  This takes a high level of trust, and willingness to be bold in providing honest objective feedback, and to deal with conflict and tension that inevitably arises when debating important topics and initiatives.
Assembling and managing collaborative cohesive teams in today's virtual and distributed workforce is a growing and real challenge for leaders.  Natural work teams coming together in person with a pre-set rhythm is more effective than meeting virtually on a video or voice call.  Staying in physical contact or being in close proximity to our teammates promotes discussion, camaraderie, esprit de corps, and progress which simply disappears in a virtual environment.   

Want more detail? Check out the resources below:

ARTICLE: Understanding Team Cohesiveness.  Daniela Molnau. Six Sigma. [15 min read] 

The author describes 4 stages of team development, from a theory advanced by researcher Bruce Tuckman:  forming, storming, performing, and norming.  Highly cohesive teams focus on the process, not the person; they respect everyone on the team, assuming good motives; and they fully commit to team decisions and strategies, creating accountability within the team. Morale is also higher in cohesive teams because of increased team member communication, friendly team environment, loyalty and team member contribution in the decision-making process.  Daft, R., & Marcic, D. (2009)
High performance teams are what make companies successful.  In order for strategy to be imagined and deployed, a cohesive team must be in place to do the work.  Such teams achieve higher levels of performance because their members trust one another, share a strong sense of team identity, and have confidence in their abilities and effectiveness.
Recognizing the team has a level of collective Emotional Intelligence (EI).  Research from organizational behavior experts Vanessa Druskat and Steven B. Wolff suggests following three practices to build your team’s EI:

1. Make time for team members to appreciate each other’s skills.
2. Raise and manage emotional concerns that can help or encumber the team’s progress.
3. Celebrate success.
VIDEO: The Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team.  Patrick Lencioni. [2:28 min.] 

If we can get our people working together, focused on doing everything well, we would have fewer issues to deal with, less entropy, and a happier more fulfilled workforce with delighted customers.  Teamwork is the greatest competitive advantage that any group can have.  Building a highly functional cohesive team is a fundamental strategic decision we have to make as managers or leaders.  It takes courage, sacrifice, and personal investment to make this work properly, and it is often not easy to accomplish.  While you lead the team, you have an opportunity to impact the lives of the team members in a way that is much greater than anything you do in your life's work.  In fact, it may become the biggest and most altruistic thing you ever do in your life.

BOOK: The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.  Patrick Lencioni. 

In this classic work, Patrick Lencioni describes the challenges to the team that present themselves when different personalities are operating in the same team environment.  

With the stress of a new product release, even the eventual success or failure of the company at risk and looming in the near future, Lencioni takes his readers through a sequential process of optimizing team function.  Briefly, his model first establishes the importance of building trust amongst team members.  Once trust is established, the team can begin to deal with the inevitable conflicts that arise in working together.  If the team members can overcome the reluctance to deal with constructive conflict without emotion and drama, they become committed to each other, and hold themselves and each other accountable to the objectives, initiatives, and priorities they have set for themselves.  Sometimes this activity results in team members having to leave the team, or the company, because they are uncomfortable with giving and receiving feedback in a group environment.  But after the right members are in place and functioning well together, the team achieves an outstanding result, and the company continues at a much higher level of performance.  

A self-inquiry question to consider:

  • What is your company doing to ensure world-class team performance?

And finally, I'll leave you with a quote:

“The ability to establish, grow, extend, and restore trust with all stakeholders – customers, business partners, investors, and coworkers – is the key leadership competency of the new, global economy.” —Stephen M. R. Covey 

Customer Experience Defines Your Brand

Good leaders understand that an inspirational Vision, supported by enduring Core Values, with Goals that are in alignment with the current mission are all critical factors in a successful organization. They understand why they do what they do, and are clear about their purpose.

The Value of Respect

Barron’s recently published results from its annual survey of institutional investors about their views of the world’s top 100 companies, based on market cap as of May 12, 2014. This cross section of U.S. money managers ranked companies on the basis of 1. Strong management, 2. Ethical business practices, 3. Sound business strategy, 4. Competitive edge, and 5. Product Innovation. Barron’s has been conducting this survey since 2005, and uses a numerical scale relating to four statements of Highly Respect , Respect, Respect Somewhat, and Don’t respect.

Radical Empowerment…Exponential Growth

Kip Tindell, Chairman and CEO of The Container Store has a system of onboarding that is revolutionary.

Tindell is author of Uncontainable, How Passion, Commitment, and Conscious Capitalism Built a Business Where Everyone Thrives. Training is a large part of The Container Store’s onboarding process, where new employees receive nearly 300 hours of education and training, compared to a retail industry average of 8 hours. As a result of the investment, The Container Store has a following of devoted customers who love to shop there, and who tell others of their experience.

Great Workplace Cultures. A Professional Services Sector Study

This month Fortune Magazine featured two articles on culture trends in the professional services sector.  In the first, '20 Companies with Great Workplace Culture', authors Ed Frauenheim and Kim Peters describe characteristics of a great place to work within the sector.  The second, which lists the 20 Companies, is based on a survey of 255,200 employees, and is titled 'Best Workplaces in Consulting & Professional Services.' by Christopher Tkaczyk.

Open Book Management. Transparency that Works

The Great Game of Business is a company whose origins were from the Springfield Re-manufacturing Corp, (SRC).  For those who do not know about Jack Stack and Springfield Re-manufacturing, I will be writing more about this great story of American Manufacturing ingenuity in future posts.  Suffice it to say, Jack Stack and his smokestack industrial Midwest manufacturing companies are the real deal.  Key learning from the SRC story are all rolled up into an Open Book Management Concept they call the Great Game of Business, and it is an awesome system to utilize if you want your company to succeed and thrive for decades to come.

Culture as a Competitive Advantage

What is your company’s culture?  How would you describe it?  Are you able to say that everyone in your company understands what you mean by culture?  Are they completely aligned with it?  Do you communicate it during your recruiting, interviewing, hiring, on-boarding and training of all employees?

A Tale of Three Cultures

A definition of culture that I like is from Jim Collins, author of Good To Great, Built to Last, and numerous other books and articles … Culture is a combination of core values, core purpose, combined with the BHAG, or Big Hairy Audacious Goal, which is a very aggressive stretch goal set for a long timeframe.  Another is what people are saying about their company to others, including customers.  Culture is either intentional by active design and promotion, alive in the organization and cause for continued operations, or it is unintentional and largely ignored by passive default.

Most companies have two cultures.  The first is the one reflected by your view of the world as a CEO.  It is written on your website, and discussed in your annual retreat.  It is a corporate worldview that may be shared by your Senior Leadership Team.  However you have a big problem if that view of culture is not shared by the majority of employees in your company, who are actively supporting Culture #2.

Culture #1.

  • Developed at the annual strategy retreat by the senior team a number of years ago.
  • Mission, Vision, and Core Values written on a sign on the conference room wall.
  • Posted on the website, and sometimes on the back of business cards.
  • Descriptive words are similar to Integrity, Quality, Innovation, Responsive, Customer Focused.
  • Listed on certain company documents, like an employment intake form, to be signed after reading indicating the new employee has read and understands the mission and vision statements, and agrees with the core values shown on the conference room wall.
  • Not frequently communicated, or clearly understood or remembered by anyone in the company
  • A somewhat cloudy vision of culture the leader believes exists in the company.
  • Something that is separate from day to day operations.
  • Not used as a strategic differentiator, recruiting tool, or weapon with which to dominate markets.

Culture #2

  • Informal, default, risk averse, and protective of the status quo.
  • Alive in the organization at levels below the senior team.
  • Unwritten, but clearly understood by all employees, at levels below the senior team.
  • Accepting of triangulation, where it’s ok for folks to talk about others when they are not present.
  • Completely different than the words used by the leaders to describe it.
  • Protective of the group, who desires a paycheck for time spent working each day.
  • Promotes job security, and a strategy that says ‘Don’t rock the boat’.
  • Confused by efforts of leadership to enforce Culture #1, which few if any understand.

Culture #3

  • Could be a blend between #1 and #2
  • Could be something entirely new and different, but clearly understood, adopted, and promoted by all employees.
  • Should be used as a competitive advantage in recruiting talent and acquiring customers.

With culture #1, you will have difficulty scaling your business, and will be stuck and frustrated each day working ‘in’ the business instead of ‘on’ it.  And employees will not have the same view of culture that you as the leader and your Senior Team have if you do not consistently and frequently communicate the core values and core purpose, and BHAG of your company to others.

  • If your company’s culture looks like culture #1, then you are not consistently and frequently communicating the purpose and core values, and your goals.  The generic words you have written on the conference room wall have no viability and are basically useless.  In fact, having two cultures takes a lot of energy to manage, drains the organization of creativity and innovation, and creates tension.  It definitely hurts your credibility as a CEO.

If this resonates with you, it is a problem… your problem.  You created it, and you need to fix it.  Your big job is to create a new culture, one we’ll call Culture #3.  Culture #3 could be a bridge between what you would like to have as a culture, your ideal state, and what actually exists within your firm.

My guess is that if you don't do something about it, your company will be challenged to be relevant going forward.

I would like to hear your thoughts.  Feel free to connect and we can discuss how to create a high performing culture you would be proud of.

The Turnaround. Part 2 of 3

Strategy can emerge from a gap analysis illustrating where you are currently, your mission, vs your vision of where you want to be. Strategies, goals and objectives can all be set once the mission and vision are identified and agreed upon, and those strategies must be in alignment with the mission, and the organizations overall vision. Its extremely important to identify a unifying strategy(s) and to gain buy – in from all stakeholders in the value chain, and that includes customers, suppliers, employees, bank, and board.

The Turnaround. Part 1 of 3

Congratulations!  You’ve just been hired as CEO of a company in deep financial trouble. The ownership and board of directors have given you free reign to do your job, and you feel up to the task of leading the effort, but you have limited time to turn this ship around, and get it moving in a different more profitable direction.

What will be your plan starting Monday, your first day on the new job… the first month…the first six months. How will you evaluate and manage the company and its processes.  How will you engage with the customers?

Are You a Passionate Leader?

Are you passionate about your work as a leader?  You know the answer, and what may come as a surprise, so does your team.  If you aren’t, you may be frustrated, ineffective, and struggling to get results.  It may be the reason you are not making progress.

Leading with Humility. Lessons from Pope Francis

Pope Francis, the Pontiff of the Catholic Church and spiritual leader to 1.2 billion Roman Catholic’s worldwide, is known for doing things that are considered contrary to the traditional role of a Pontiff.

He is attempting an amazing turnaround…the reformation of one of the oldest and greatest institutions in the history of mankind, and doesn’t want to be idolized, lifted up, or pandered to just because of his position in the Church. He is setting a new direction for the Catholic Church, which desperately needs reformation, and is doing so by setting himself up as a servant leader, one with great humility.

Hire for Value

The most important and long lasting decisions you make as a leader have to do with the people you hire. How you shape the job posting, and then recruit, interview, hire, on-board, and train new people, and how you position them will have an enormous impact on the effectiveness and value of the organization. If you are hiring the right people who might be different than you and have great capacity to do things you can't do, then the organization increases in capacity. You need to model this behavior and drive it throughout the leadership team. Diversity of ideas will promote innovation, growth, and eventually creation of great value.

Building a Culture of Trust

Strategy, Structure, and Culture... Get one wrong and you might have a chance for success. Get two wrong and you are out of the running before the race starts. Get all three right, and you'll be sure to succeed.  It's important to get back to basics to discover what you are doing and where you are headed.  Do you have a Culture of Trust in your organization?  If not, you are missing one of the most important links to the ongoing success and value of your company.

Results Based Leadership

Quotations from luminaries whether in business, sports, medicine, law, or politics can inspire and clarify. A great quote is concise and crisp, capturing a thought or idea in an entirely new way.

Great quotes can speak directly into our own unique situations. One quote from Peter Drucker on leadership said ‘Effective leadership is not about making speeches or being liked; leadership is defined by results not attributes.’ Of course, he is right about getting results, but in my own view Drucker leaves something on the table for debate.

Obsess Over Your Customer, and WIN!

In a recent Peer to Peer discussion with some CEO’s, most were defensive on the topic of how to deliver an outstanding customer experience. They mostly felt that their employees were always focused on the customer. One CEO said his company has data showing their consistent delivery of full customer satisfaction through customer surveys reflecting on time deliveries, rapid response rates on corrective actions, on time billing, and so forth.