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Book:  The Advantage

Author:  Patrick Lencioni

Purchase:  Print | eBook | Audiobook

Citation:  Lencioni, P. (2012). The advantage : why organizational health trumps everything else in business. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Three Big Takeaways:
  1. Organizational health includes minimal politics and confusion, high levels of morale and productivity, and low turnover among good employees. (pg. 5)

  2. There is probably no greater frustration for employees than having to constantly navigate the politics and confusion caused by leaders who are misaligned. (pg. 75)

  3. No action, activity, or process is more central to a healthy organization than the meeting. There is no better way to have a fundamental impact on an organization than by changing the way it does meetings. In fact, if someone were to offer me one single piece of evidence to evaluate the health of an organization, I would want to observe the leadership team during a meeting. (pg. 173)


Other Key Ideas:

Many leaders struggle to embrace organizational health because they are too sophisticated, too busy, or too analytical to bother with it - they think organizational health is beneath them. (pg. 2)

Organizational health is hard to accurately quantify - it affects so many aspects of a company that isolating any one variable and measuring its impact is almost impossible to do. (pg. 4)

Without politics and confusion getting in their way, healthy organizations cycle through tough problems and rally around solutions much faster than their dysfunctional and political rivals do. Leaders who pride themselves on expertise and intelligence often struggle to acknowledge their flaws and learn from their peers. They aren’t as easily open and transparent with one another, which delays recovery from mistakes and exacerbates politics and confusion. (pg. 9)

Your team needs to get to a point where they have vulnerability-based trust.  This is what happens when members get to a point where they are completely comfortable with being transparent and honest with one another.  Each team member should be able to say, "I messed up”, “I need help”, or “your idea is better than mine." When everyone on a team knows that everyone else is vulnerable enough to say and mean those things, they develop a deep and uncommon sense of trust. They speak more freely and don't waste time pretending to be someone they're not.  At the heart of vulnerability lies the willingness of people to abandon their pride and sacrifice their egos for the good of the team. This approach becomes liberating for people who are tired of spending their time and energy overthinking their actions and managing interpersonal politics at work. (pg. 27)

There is no such thing as "too much" vulnerability.  And as important as it is for all members of a leadership team to commit to being vulnerable, that is not going to happen if the leader does not go first. By stepping up and doing something that feels unsafe at first requires an extraordinary level of selflessness and dedication to the team. (pg. 35)

You cannot be an intimidating CEO that is unwilling to accept criticism. A strong leader cannot be afraid to admit mistakes. (pg. 36)

Contrary to popular wisdom and behavior, conflict is not a bad thing for a team. In fact, the fear of conflict is almost always a sign of problems. However, conflict must be productive ideological conflict, the willingness to disagree around important issues and decisions that must be made. But this can only happen when there is trust. When there is trust, conflict becomes nothing but the pursuit of truth, an attempt to find the best possible answer. Conflict without trust, however, is politics, an attempt to manipulate others in order to win an argument regardless of the truth. (pg. 38)

Even when teams understand the importance of conflict, it is frequently difficult to get them to engage in it. One of the best things a leader can do is mine for conflict during meetings. When a leader suspects that an unearthed disagreement is lurking in the room, they must gently demand that people come clean. Furthermore, leaders must give real-time permission to engage in healthy debates. When they see two individuals tactfully challenging one another, they must remind them what they are doing is good. (pg. 45)

People will not actively commit to a decision if they have not had the opportunity to provide input, ask questions, and understand the rationale behind it.Its only when colleagues speak up and put their opinions on the table, without holding back, that the leader can confidentially fulfil one of his most important responsibilities: breaking ties. When a leader know that everyone on the team has weighed in on the decision, he can then bring the discussion to a clear and unambiguous close and expect team members to rally around the decision even if they initially disagreed with it. (pg. 48)

At the end of every meeting, cohesive teams must take a few minutes to ensure that everyone sitting at the table is walking away with the same understanding about what has been agreed to and what they are committed to do. Unfortunately, people are usually eager to leave the room when a meeting is coming to a close, and so they are more susceptible to tolerating a little ambiguity. That's why functional teams maintain discipline to review their commitments and stick around long enough to clarify anything that isn't crystal clear. A good way to ensure people take this process seriously is to demand that they go back to their teams after the meting and communicate exactly what was agreed on. When team members know they are going to have to stand in front of the people they lead and vouch for a decision, they are much more likely to push back on that decision if they don't agree with it. As painful as it may be for a group who is ready to get out of a meeting, the only thing more painful than taking additional time to get clarity is going out into the organization with a confusing and misaligned message. (pg. 51)

When members of teams go to leader when peers deviate from a commitment, they create an environment for distraction and politics. Colleagues start to wonder who ratted them out, they get resentful of one another, and the team leader finds herself being pulled into situations that could be more quickly solved without her. (p. 55)

Leaders must take action when you see someone is not behaving or performing at a high level. Why would a team member want to confront a colleague about an issue when the leader isn’t willing to? (pg. 56)

Accountability is about having the courage to confront someone about their difficulties and then to stand in the moment and deal with their reaction. Unfortunately, it is far more common for leaders to avoid holding people accountable. This is one of the biggest obstacles preventing teams reaching their full potential. (pg. 57)

Some leaders don't realize they have an accountability problem because they are more than comfortable confronting people about issues regarding measurable performance. For instance, when a direct report missed his sales target four quarters in a row leaders have no problem telling him and taking action. That is indeed one form of accountability, but its not the most important kind. That kind that is more important (and difficult) is about behavior. The reason that behavioral accountability is more important than the quantitative, results-related kind has nothing to do with the fact that it is harder. It is due to the fact that behavioral problems almost always precede - and cause - a downturn in performance and results. (pg. 59)

When it comes to addressing relatively serious issues in which a leader is wondering whether a member of the team might not be worthy to be on the team anymore, these conversations should be held privately to respect the dignity of the person being held accountable. However, and this can be dicey, the leader is often well advised to let her people know that she is addressing the situation to avoid unproductive and dangerous speculation. (pg. 64)

Some leaders of teams that don't regularly succeed will insist that they have a great time because team members care about one another and no one every leaves the team. A more accurate description of their situation would be to say that they have a mediocre team that enjoys being together and isn't terribly bothered by failure. If the team rarely achieves its goals, then, by definition, it's simply not a good team. (pg. 65)

Organizational Core Values should provide the ultimate guide for employee behavior at all levels. Successful companies adhere strictly to a fundamental set of principles that guide behaviors and decisions over time, preserving the essence of the organization. Values are critical because they define a company's personality. They provide employees with clarity about how to behave, which reduces the need for inefficient and demoralizing micromanagement. (pg. 91)

One of the best ways to go about identifying an organization's core values is to first identify the employees in the organization who embody what is best about the company and to dissect them, answering what is true about those people that makes them so admired. Those qualities form the initial pool of potential core values. Next, leaders must identify employees who, though talented, were or are no longer a good fit for the organization. These are people who drive others about them crazy and would add value to the organization by being absent. It is the opposite of those people's annoying traits that provide yet another set of potential candidates for core values. (pg. 102)

On organization's strategy is simply its plan for success. It's nothing more than the collection of intentional decisions a company makes to give itself the best chance to thrive. The Strategic Anchors will be used to inform every decision the organization makes and provide the filter or lens through which decisions must be evaluated to ensure consistency. (pg. 107)

Different kinds of organizations have different goals and objectives for a variety of reasons. However, what they all have in common is that their goals fit on a single sheet of paper. Walking away with a single sheet of paper gives leaders the clear focus they need to align their actions and avoid distraction. (pg. 127)

Leaders need to clearly and unambiguously stipulate what their respective responsibilities are. Every organization needs some division of labor, and that begins at the very top. Without clarity around that division of labor, the potential for politics and infighting, even among well-intentioned people, is great. Regardless of how clear or how confusing a company's organizational chart may be, it is always worthwhile to take a little time to clarify so that everyone on the leadership team knows and agrees on what everyone else does and that all critical areas are covered. (pg. 132)

Once the leadership team has developed their goals, strategies, core values, etc. it is absolutely critical they capture those answers in a concise, actionable way so that they can use them for communication, decision making, and planning going forward. The most effective tool for keeping key decisions alive is the creation of a playbook. In most cases, the playbook can be captured on a single page. Also, the playbook should be available for quick reference as it is a tool for communicating with employees. (pg. 134)

Once a leadership team has established alignment between goals, strategies, core values, etc. they must over-communicate their plan. They must share the plan with their staff consistently over time. Unfortunately, most leaders are hesitant to repeat themselves. They confuse the mere transfer of information to an audience with the audience's ability to understand and embrace the message that is being communicated. The only way for people to embrace a message is to hear it over a period of time, in a variety of different situations, and preferably from different people. (pg. 141)

The most reliable and effective way to get an organization moving in the same direction is for members of a leadership team to come out of their meetings with a clear message about what was decided, promptly communicate that message to their direct reports, and have those direct reports do the same for their own direct reports. The best way to communicate decisions is through face-to-face communication as opposed to email and other electronic communication. (pg. 143)

The best approach to hiring is to put just enough structure in place to ensure a measure of consistency and adherence to core values - and no more. I find that it is better to be somewhere closer to having a little less structure than more. I believe this because too much structure almost always interferes with a person's ability to use their common sense. (pg. 158)

Because the purpose of an interview should be to best simulate a situation that will give evaluators the most accurate view of how a candidate really behaves, it seems to me that getting them out of the office and doing something slightly more natural (than sitting at a desk) is a good idea. The key is to do something that provides evaluators with a real sense of whether the person is going to thrive in the culture of the organization and whether other people are going to enjoy working with him or her. (pg. 159)

The most memorable time of an employee's career, and the time with the biggest impact, are his or her first days and weeks on a new job. The impact of first impressions is just that powerful, and healthy companies take advantage of that to move new employees in the right direction. That means orientation shouldn't revolve around lengthy explanations of benefits and administration but rather around reinforcing the district mission, vision, core values, etc. Leaders of organizations need to understand the value of bringing in new employees with clarity, enthusiasm, and a sense of their importance. (pg. 160)

Over the years, as the litigiousness of society has grown, leaders have become more fearful that employees who are fired will sue the company. As a result, legal departments have tried to use the performance management process to protect the company. They've insisted that managers master the art of detailed documentation and record keeping. As logical as this might seem, the unintended consequences have been devastating. Employees and managers have come to see the performance management process as an adversarial activity. When employees focus more on the "grades" they receive from managers, and managers focus on documentation more than coaching, trust is diminished and communication suffers. (pg. 163)

The best performance management programs are simple. They are designed to stimulate the right kinds of conversations around the right topics such as goals, values, roles, and responsibilities. When organizations build simple performance management programs, they make it much easier for managers to use them more frequently. This provides regular reminders for employees about what is important and builds greater trust by preventing too much time from passing between meaningful conversations. (pg. 164)

When leaders fail to tell employees that they're doing a great job, they might as well be taking money out of their pockets and throwing it into a fire, because they are wasting opportunities to give people the recognition they crave more than anything else. Direct, personal feedback really is the simplest and most effective form of motivation. (pg. 167)

The vast majority of employees see financial rewards as a satisfier, not a driver. That means they want to receive enough compensation to make them feel good about their job, but additional money doesn't yield proportionate increases in their job satisfaction. Instead, gratitude, recognition, increased responsibilities, and other forms of genuine appreciation are drivers. That means an employee can never really get enough of those and will always welcome more. (pg. 168)

Keeping a relatively strong performer who is not a cultural fit creates a variety of problems. Most of all, it sends a loud and clear message to employees that the organization isn't all that serious about what it says it believes. Tolerating behavior that flies in the face of core values inspires cynicism and becomes almost possible to reverse over time. When leaders take the difficult step of letting a strong performer go because of a values mismatch, they not only send a powerful message about their commitment to values, they also usually find that the performance of the remaining employees improves because they are no longer being stifled by the behavior of their former colleague. (pg. 170)

A great deal of the time that leaders spend every day is a result of having to address issues that come about because they aren't being resolved during meetings in the first place. That's why it's really hard for executives to make a credible case for spending less time in meetings, assuming those meetings are good ones. (pg. 186)