Five Missteps on the Path to Organizational Health
By Jeff Gibson
September 2016

I've always been very disciplined.  Even as a kid, I wanted to do things the "best way."  I remember going to the dentist once and when he asked about my teeth-brushing habits, I proudly explained, "always twice a day, and I brush side to side."  "I can see that," he responded. "But you should brush up and down instead." That's when I learned that even though I had the discipline and the right intentions, I wasn't executing correctly. 

Our work with clients is sometimes like that.  I see many clients implementing organizational health, with all the right intentions, but something is off.  In this article, I want to share the five common missteps I've seen clients make in their organizational health efforts.

Misstep #1: Death by Lightning Round 

We recommend that teams start their weekly staff meeting with a "lightning round," where each member of the team takes 30 seconds or less to share their two or three top priorities for the week.  Unfortunately, we sometimes find that our clients make their lightning rounds detailed updates on every activity.  As a result, the meeting runs long and people leave frustrated because they didn't get the chance to talk about what matters most.  If the lightning round goes as intended, team members will have a good indication of what their peers are working on while also having ample time to talk about the most urgent and important issues. 

Reminder: Keep the lightning round quick and focused only on each person's top priorities for the week.

Misstep #2: Team Number One as an Excuse

Our concept of team #1 dictates that team members must prioritize the team they are a member of over the team that they lead or manage.  Unless you are the CEO, most leaders "first team" is not the team they manage.  I recently came across a leader who told the members of the team he manages that they are failing and need to figure out their problems on their own because they aren't his first team.  He used the team #1 concept as a means to abdicate leadership. Instead, he needed to recognize that while his priority is with the team he reports to, his job is to guide his direct reports to the best possible decisions for the business. 

Reminder: Understanding and clarifying team #1 is not permission for leaders to step away and focus elsewhere - they are still responsible for their own team's performance. 

Misstep #3: Clarity Gathers Dust 

In The Advantage, we advocate that executive teams work to create clarity for their organizations by addressing the six critical questions intended to ultimately drive alignment and empowerment down to all employees.  The questions range from the high-level to the practical, and are meant to guide day-to-day decisions for the organization.  Unfortunately, many clients stop at merely answering the questions and never get to actually using the answers to those questions to help them make decisions.  Instead, leaders should understand and utilize their organizational clarity to help move the company forward.

Reminder: The answers to the six critical questions should be used by the leaders to help them make decisions, discuss strategies and adjust goals.  

Misstep #4: Skipping the Conversation

We ask each of our client teams to come up with a thematic goal and "scorecard" to review in their weekly staff meeting.  This provides clear direction for the entire organization and an action plan for the team to discuss each week.   The scorecard is intended to be a guide to drive active discussion among team members where important issues are highlighted and resolved. Sometimes we find that clients drift to reporting on data solely and neglect to question its accuracy or relevance.  Data can be used to inform discussions, but should not be the focus.  Qualitative dialogue is essential to ensure the right issues are addressed.

Reminder: Scorecard discussions should be inherently qualitative - it's about getting the team on the same page and resolving issues holding the organization back.

Misstep #5: Conflict as Punishment 

We teach our clients that teams need to engage in productive, ideological conflict around important issues and decisions.  Conflict should be around ideas and not around people or personalities. Unfortunately, some leaders use conflict as an excuse to be overly harsh with their team.  Conflict becomes an opportunity to embarrass a team member for not knowing the answer or for making a mistake.  Leaders should set an example where productive, ideological debate is encouraged and conflict is in pursuit of the best possible answer.

Reminder: Productive conflict on a team creates commitment and leads to better decisions. Conflict as punishment leads to mistrust.

Check Your Progress

Even the most successful teams have fallen prey to some of these missteps.  The key is to remember that every organizational health effort takes discipline and perseverance.  It's not something that you do one day and forget about the next.  The next time you meet as a team take some time to ask if you need to change course in any of these areas.  Constant attention and evaluation will help you match your actions with your intentions around organizational health.  

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