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Shape up

Published on Friday, 06 Sep 2013
Illustration: iStockphoto
Book: The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else In Business
Author: Patrick Lencioni
Publisher: Jossey-Bass
Patrick Lencioni

Patrick Lencioni’s latest book claims that organisational “health” is the key to success

There is, apparently, a crucial difference between successful companies and those that are doomed to failure. This has little to do with what they know or how smart they are. It is instead all to do with how “healthy” they are. This is, at least, according to the latest book from New York Times best-selling author Patrick Lencioni, The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business.

Lencioni’s professional development books have shifted over three million copies across the globe, with his best known works including The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Death by Meeting and Silos, Politics and Turf Wars. He also runs his own management consulting firm – The Table Group – which specialises in executive team development.

In The Advantage, he draws on his considerable corporate experience and delivers a cohesive exploration of the tremendous advantage that organisational “fitness” provides. While he eschews his usual style of fable-like storytelling – which results in an unfamiliar dryness – he does provide a remarkable template for conducting business in a way that maximises staff potential and aligns the organisation around a common set of principles.

The book encompasses many separate themes of his previous works and weaves them into a beguiling tapestry, even if the colours are rather dull.

The Advantage start off a little slow, but then it starts drawing the reader in. The book is built around very basic, but often overlooked, leadership principles, and it’s a useful read regardless of your position in the company.

Sound organisational health is attainable, the author argues, but most companies decline the “healthy options” on the menu as they are too often tempted by the over-sweet, low-hanging fruit instead. Such companies are seduced by impressive marketing plans and cutting-edge technology, which regularly only results in making their organisations “sick”.

They focus on “tweaking the dials” rather than on the overall picture. Studying spreadsheets and financial statements is all very well, but the messier and less predictable ways of taking care of the bottom line need to be addressed as well.

Lencioni believes that the business organisation can be susceptible to three strong biases: “The Sophistication Bias”, which results in organisations often ignoring that which is simple and straightforward; “The Adrenaline Bias”, where leaders who fight organisational fires every day suffer from chronic adrenaline addiction; and “The Quantification Bias”, resulting from the difficulty of measuring things in financial terms.

Lencioni suggests that the reason for such centrifugal forces arising could be because no one has ever presented organisational health as a simple, yet integrated, discipline.

Health can be recognised by observing the symptoms within an organisation, such as debilitating internal politics, low staff morale and confusion. When it comes to re-enforcing clarity, the author says, there is no such thing as too much communication. Leadership team members also need to see their goals as collective and not simply operate in isolation. Trust is imperative for building a cohesive team and everyone needs to be entirely comfortable with being transparent and honest.

The author does, though, suggest that a certain level of conflict is essential. This is particularly true in meetings, where it is important to obtain the best ideas and solutions – even if this may mean someone oversteps the line from time to time. This is a situation which should be managed, rather than feared. Indeed, Lencioni goes so far as to say a degree of creative friction needs to be encouraged.

It is also imperative for team members to know and understand their purpose. Their purpose, Lencioni stresses, is not to increase stakeholder value – this should only be a result of their purpose.

Going back to the subject of meetings, Lencioni says that four types of staff get-togethers are required to maintain optimum organisational health. Daily check-ins of around 10 minutes should ask the question: are we on track and are there any important issues to resolve? Then there’s the critical weekly staff meeting, where the whole team should be brought together to go through the biggest initiatives and important issues. “Ad hoc topical” meetings should be used to take on big issues and strategic decisions, while finally, quarterly offsite reviews should round up objectives, goals and high-level strategy.

Does Lencioni, though, practise what he preaches? When asked if he considered his own company healthy, he replied with characteristic self-assurance.

“Yes, I consider my company healthy. And like any healthy company, we’re messy and imperfect. We argue sometimes, we make mistakes, we try things that don’t work. But we know who we are, what we believe in, and what we’re trying to accomplish, so we’re able to recover from setbacks quickly and grow stronger through conflict and adversity,” he said.

“I’m glad to say that we’ve always believed in living the principles that we espouse. And though we can sometimes forget and feel like the cobbler’s children without shoes, we have certainly worked hard to become a healthy organisation, and we continue to do so every day.”

 


GET ‘FIT’ IN FOUR EASY STEPS

Lencioni outlines his four disciplines for organisational health

Build a cohesive leadership team “The leaders of any group must build trust, master conflict, achieve commitment, embrace accountability and focus on results.Teamwork is not a virtue, it’s a choice.”

Create clarity “Why do we exist? What do we do? Who does what? These questions must be answered together. Failing to achieve alignment around any one of them can prevent an organisation from attaining the level of clarity needed to become healthy.”them can prevent an organisation from attaining the level of clarity needed to become healthy.”

Over-communicate clarity “Clearly, repeatedly and enthusiastically give the answers created to help clarify. There is no such thing as too much communication.”

Reinforce clarity “Critical systems must be implemented to reinforce clarity in every process. Every policy and programme should be designed to remind employees what is really important.”


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