Have you ever heard the term “organizational health”? In 2012 Patrick Lencioni wrote “The Advantage” addressing this topic. He wrote “Organizational health will one day surpass all other disciplines in business as the greatest opportunity for improvement and competitive advantage.” What is organizational health? It’s how cohesive the leadership team in the organization is and how well they are communicating with each other and the rest of the organization. Lencioni uses a four discipline model to describe his concept of organizational health. The first discipline is to build that cohesive leadership team, which is difficult and takes time. You are after a high level of mutual trust, the ability to have crucial conversations, commitment to the team and peer to peer accountability.
Where do you start if you think your team isn’t that cohesive? An exercise I use to get people to a higher level of trust quickly is the life story exercise. Each person takes 15 minutes and shares their life story, chronologically covering these questions along the way:
- Where and when were you born and grew up?
- What did your parents do for a living?
- College or work?
- When and where did you meet your spouse?
- Children? Grandchildren?
- How did you end up in the area if you are from somewhere else?
I have yet to see this not result in improved communication among the team members. They often find points of commonality or something difficult or even tragic that someone overcame. Even people who have been working together for years usually don’t know their co-workers life story. Building relationships is crucial to building trust and that takes spending time together.
The other three disciplines Lencioni describes are all related to clarity. The first is clarity among the leadership team. This can be somewhat measured by bringing them all together in a room and discussing the answer to six critical questions, checking for alignment. If the leadership team is aligned on these six critical questions, then the team can lead the organization more effectively. Here are the six 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?
Once the leadership team is clear and aligned on these questions, they can effectively lead the rest of the organization. This is done by executing the other two disciplines, over communicate clarity and reinforce clarity. Note that the word “clarity” is part of three out of the four disciplines Lencioni describes as elements of a healthy organization. Communicating clarity is something I see many organizations struggling with. It was something I struggled with myself in running an IT company prior to becoming a C12 Group chair. Keeping the message simple and communicating it often, repetitively is key to successfully bringing clarity and health to your organization.
Lencioni provides some tools to help you evaluate your organization’s health at his website www.tablegroup.com. There is a survey you can take to get an idea of where you are and the resulting report will give you some suggestions on beginning the process to improve your organizational health. Reading the book is a good idea, of course. Another book that you should read and use as resource for the first discipline of building your cohesive team is “Crucial Conversations” by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan and Switzler. It will help you immensely with the inevitable conflict that will arise as you work through the six critical questions. Their techniques will help in any conversation that is difficult, in any situation or setting.