Attract, Don’t Recruit


Finally let’s look at the organizational sphere. The organization is the sphere of the exterior collective. The organization is the house where the team makes a home. It is the external representation of the idea of structure with systems that allow the team and individuals to perform a specific function for the benefit of the stakeholders. The structures and systems provide boundaries to the collective experience of the self and team. It is the vessel that holds the cultural stew. Often these systems and structures have a broad and deep impact on our sense of wellbeing, team cohesiveness and performance – both positive and negative. Let’s look at some examples:

Rank: Rank is positional authority based on seniority often combined with performance based measures. Rank does not necessarily translate to a leadership position in a team, but often leads to a nuanced change in the relationship between the superior and subordinate in rank. This change in the relationship is felt and real, but clearly caused by an artificial structural element of the organization. Personally I felt very awkward with this artifice of the military structure even though I understand how and why it developed as an effective method for cultivating order and a career path.

Command Roles: Often he or she who sits in the leadership or command role is in that place by virtue of his or her performance and leadership success. However equally as often the occupier is an elected or appointed leader, or emplaced in the role by virtue of time in service and checking the right blocks. We have all been exposed to leaders who were authentic and easy to follow and support. We have also all been subject to a little Napoleon or emotionally challenged leader who lorded over his minions as if he was the anointed one. How an organization structures it’s ascension to leadership roles can have a huge impact on morale and performance. My experience is that most bureaucratic organization tend to be staffed by middling managers in their leadership roles, while entrepreneurial organizations are laser focused on performance and results with little time or stomach for politics and no budget for excess. As a result the role structures have an obvious impact on the culture and well-being of the individuals based upon the size and complexity of the organization.

Rules and Regulations: Rules and regulations are both explicit and implicit. Many times the rules are not written down, as in an early stage organization. This allows more freedom and flexibility assuming every team member is aligned and authentic. It can also lead to frustration if the owner or leader has a different idea of what the rule should be, and expects the teammates to define his intentions. If they do not, then there is an inflection point, creating the awareness of the need for a new rule. The rule gets formalized and codified in the new employee manual, one artifact of the structure of the organization. In larger organizations these rules and regulations can be quite complex. An extreme example is the entirely separate legal system for employees of the military (the Uniform Code of Military Conduct). Complexity has a dampening effect on the individuals and teams in an organization, often leading to risk aversion and a zero tolerance mentality. If there is an apparent transgression in an area that the management sees no flexibility in or for which the role leader would lose face, (such as sexual harassment or race discrimination), then the structure is inflexible and the ax will fall hard. The noose of rigid rules and regulations leads to an internal state of contraction, rather than expansion and expression, as if one were being watched, judged and sentenced prior to even committing any act of treason. It shuts down creativity and innovation. In addition, the larger and more complex the organization, the harder it is for its individuals to grow the “self” sphere beyond the predominant level of systems, rules and customs of that organization.

Support Systems & Resource Allocation: The way an organization is structured and how its resources are allocated is another influencer on individual and group behavior often overlooked. This is closely related to roles, but includes functional and administrative structures emplaced to facilitate the flow of things. The structures can lead to gross imbalances if not aligned properly with individual and team missions. Arthur Andersen, one of my earliest employers, had a loose organizational structure based on a federation of aligned accounting practices with centralized upper management. The folks out on the tippy end of the spear were largely unsupervised as long as they generated revenue and the clients were happy. Enron changed all that as one individual was held responsible for fraudulent financial statements and the entire firm was brought to ruin. In the Navy I had interesting experiences with structure and resource allocation. During a deployment to Iraq I was issued an entirely new deployment kit with web gear, gas mask, backpack, boots, and a bevy of other cool guy gear. Much of it went unused. When I sought to return the gear at the end of the deployment the Navy supply system would not receive it. They were equipped to issue gear out but not take it back in, like Hotel California in reverse. Taking gear back would blow their budget and require them to acknowledge that they did not need as much in the next budget cycle. This process repeats itself in almost every unit in the military and many other bureaucratic agencies leading to a massive misuse of taxpayer money. As a business owner I find this lack of fiscal responsibility appalling and a major flaw of our governmental structures. What structures are limiting the growth and full expression in your organization? It is an interesting thought study.

Not all of us can be a change agent at the organizational level, but it is important to note how rank, roles, rules, systems and structures impact your team and self spheres. Are your teams stifled in their training and readiness? Are the individuals in your team lifted up by the organization or shut down and put out? How can we as a leader shield the team from the most invasive and unbalanced rules, systems and structures – those built for the .01% but impacting the 99.9%!

Elite teams are different. They are staffed with authentic leaders focused on consciously integrating all three spheres, opening up the opportunity to add functionality to them while optimizing interactions between the three. Ultimately elite teams seek strong individuals who, together, build strong teams. They are supported by healthy, aligned organizations. If not, then they understand the limitations of the organization and find ways to work around and through it while maintaining high levels of team spirit and performance.

Thus, we could say elite teams focus on developing three core competencies that tie together and include all three of these spheres:

Understanding – “knowing” each other through shared risk and experience, and hence a more collective worldview. This leads to an enhanced sense of connection and mutual support, and less of a sense of separation (especially for any outliers such as the lone minority on the team).

Developing – seeking growth of “self” and “team” in a healthy organization. This is an active rather than passive process. The team and leader actively seek opportunities for growth and challenge at the individual and team level. The team leader works to get the support of the organization. The team and leader encourage risk taking, trial and error. If a rule of the organization is triggered by an individual, or team “failure,” then the leader and team go to bat. They seek to educate the organizational leaders on the ground level truth surrounding the failure and to protect the team from an in flexible “one-size-fits-all” response.

Balancing – Elite teams and individuals seek balance between the three spheres, ensuring that one of the spheres does not stifle or poison the others. This is particularly evident in an elite team policing its members through effective debrief and mentoring processes. If a team member starts to slide in performance or integrity, then it is noticed and acted upon immediately so that the bad water doesn’t poison the well.

Ultimately, for a team to operate at an elite level, all three spheres must each be operating at peak performance level as well. Otherwise the lagging sphere will adversely impact the others. Each teammate should be seeking a strong body, mind and spirit individually while simultaneously working toward a strong collective body, mind and spirit of the team. The structure and systems of the organization must align to make this possible, especially as the individuals come together to form a team, train to optimize performance, and then go after their mission. Let’s look at the stages of a team to gain more insight on this element of the leadership-team paradigm.

Course Discussion