Some organizations are really smart. Their structure, marketing, finances, and technology are all at the highest levels. Does that make them successful? Well…sometimes smart isn’t enough. In The Advantage (Jossey-Bass, 2012), Patrick Lencioni (author of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team and Death by Meeting) proposes that organizational health can be just as – if not more – important than technical proficiency. He points out that both good and bad decision-making can be a product of organizational health, though they are often only attributed to intelligence. He identifies the signs of a healthy organization as minimal politics, minimal confusion, high morale, high productivity, and low turnover.
So how do we make sure that the health of our organizations is not casting a shadow on its intelligence? Lencioni sets out the Four Disciplines of Organizational Health:
- Build a Cohesive Leadership Team
- Create Clarity
- Over-Communicate Clarity
- Reinforce Clarity
He begins by highlighting the role of leadership as played by a team of leaders, and advises the assessment and recognition of personality styles as a starting point on the path to organizational health – creating a solid, trusting relationship between leadership team members. Once team members understand each other’s personality styles, they can mitigate or put aside points of stress that stem from personal behaviors. That, however, is not to say that a lack of conflict is a sign of a healthy team. Lencioni argues that the avoidance of conflict keeps important issues from being discussed at a level where truths are brought forward, and best solutions are reached. Reaching not a passive consensus, but commitment through conflict leads to accountability – if a public agreement is reached, everyone feels more comfortable confronting deviant behavior. This commitment to cohesive behavior within the leadership team translates to the rest of the organization as well.
Once the leadership team is operating as a unit, Lencioni urges them to identify or clarify standards of alignment with the following 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?
Providing real-life examples at every step of the way, he guides us through the process of developing a “strategy,” and how this strategy needs to be communicated in order to assure organization-wide alignment.
A great thing about this book is that it doesn’t just hand its readers a strategic plan and push them out of the nest; it explains how organizations change over time, and how leaders can keep them on track through those changes. The final chapters of The Advantage show how hiring and meeting structure can be keys to maintaining alignment in a healthy organization. Lencioni provides us with a checklist of all the steps he’s laid out, so that we can see what lies ahead for our soon-to-be healthier organizations at a glance.
The Advantage is, by no means, a guide for only new organizations. You can teach an old dog new tricks, as long as he’s healthy enough to perform. Give your organization the advantage of health today!