Teams in Transition?

One of the real pleasures of my work as a team coach and facilitator has been supporting teams to get back in the room together, face to face over the last few months, after in many cases well over a year of staring at each other through a computer screen.  Teams are rediscovering the joys of connecting, having informal conversations over a coffee, and allowing themselves time to ‘be’ rather than constantly ‘do’. Conversations are deeper and more insightful, and solutions to sticky issues are more easily found.

One issue that comes up repeatedly in the teams I am working with, is the issue of transition.  Teams that have formed during the pandemic are now finding that Tuckman’s observation of storming before you can get to norming is very real, and team leaders are facing ambiguity about roles, responsibilities and expectations, structural reorganisations, and the challenges of a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) world.

Organisational Health has been defined as the ability of organisations to align, execute, and renew themselves faster than their competitors can to sustain exceptional performance over time.  To sustain high performance, organisations must build the capacity to learn and keep changing and this involves investment in the people-oriented aspects of leading an organisation and connecting them to performance. It comprises core organisational skills and capabilities, such as leadership, coordination, or external orientation that traditional metrics don’t often capture.

Patrick Lencioni, in his excellent book “The Advantage: Why Organisational Health trumps everything else in business” (John Wiley & Sons; 2012) highlights stories of healthy organisations as places where politics and confusion have all but been eliminated and as a result, productivity and morale soar, and good people almost never leave.  You’re now probably thinking, tell me something new and if all this is true, then why haven’t more organisations embraced and reaped the benefits of organisational health?

And of course the simple reason is it’s hard.  It requires real work and discipline, over a period of time, and it must be maintained.  It needs sustained leadership, relentless focus and absolute clarity of expectations at every level.  Lencioni talks of four key steps you can take, and encourage your peers to do the same:

1.  Build a Cohesive Leadership Team – This first step is about getting the leaders of the organisation to behave in a functional, cohesive way.  If the people responsible for running your business are behaving in dysfunctional ways, then that dysfunction will cascade into the rest of the organisation and prevent Organisational Health;

2.  Create Clarity – The second step for building a healthy organisation is ensuring that the members of that leadership team are intellectually aligned around six simple but critical questions:

  • Why do we exist?
  • How do we behave?
  • What do we do?
  • How will we succeed?
  • What is most important, right now?
  • Who must do what?

Leaders need to eliminate any gaps that may exist between them, so that people one, two or three levels below have complete clarity about what they should do to make the organisation successful.

3.  Over-Communicate Clarity – Once the behavioural and intellectual alignment is under way, leaders need to over-communicate the answers to questions above.  Leaders of a healthy organisation constantly repeat themselves and continually reinforce what is true and important.

4.  Reinforce Clarity – In addition to over-communicating, leaders must ensure that the answers to the six critical questions are reinforced repeatedly using simple human systems.  That means any process that involves people, from recruitment and disciplinary to performance management and decision-making, is designed in a custom way to intentionally support and emphasise the uniqueness of the organisation.

So as the hard work of the autumn months kicks in,

  • How Healthy is your Organisation?
  • How do you re-focus your efforts on the people-oriented aspects just as much as the strategic or operational?
  • What actions could or must you take now?

Mark Greenfield