Monthly Archives: March 2013

Going Undiagnosed

Three years was enough. The pain had simply become unbearable. The symptoms could no longer be ignored. It was time to get a proper diagnosis and consider treatment options. Ever since the economy bottomed out, the team had been spiraling toward its demise. Organizational morale was at an all-time low. Top talent was jumping ship. Yet, their competitors had already recovered. Perhaps it wasn’t the economy…

The story told by the metrics of the team effectiveness survey suggested a different source of pathology. The team’s vulnerabilities were most visible in the “trust” section of the data. Although most employees reported having a trusted colleague on the team, the practice of collaboration, coordination, and cooperation was disabled. A-level clusters of talent housed within shouting distance of each other were not sharing vital resources.

There was no obvious explanation. Unselfish sharing of expertise would be to everyone’s advantage. Yet senior leaders were hoarding business intelligence. Undiagnosed, the chasm widened each day. Once the assessment illuminated the symptom, the search for the source of the problem was underway.

The diagnosis surprised the majority of the team. The explanation hadn’t occurred to most employees because it hadn’t been visible to them. Only a subset of the team had become aware of the rift between a small group of key leaders who had been forced to take sides after a protracted internal power struggle. Unbeknownst to the larger team, the fighting leaders had chosen to solve their disagreement by refusing to ever talk again. It had devolved to a grade school playground battle.

Since the diagnosis was so simple, the treatment plan was equally clear. Play nice in the sandbox or leave. The actual ability of the warring factions to establish a truce was yet to be determined, but the direction of the remedy was absolute. If they could do it, professional collaboration and sharing would resume. However, if the personal disagreement was more important to them than the team’s business goals, their leader was poised to help them launch their job search.

What a relief!



It was a battle of emotional immune systems. The team’s leader was burned out. He had been in his role too long without growth or challenge. Each day, he dragged himself into work, put in his hours, produced the minimum necessary to keep his job, left at 5:00 on the nose, and returned home to refuel sufficiently to come back and do it again. Another day…another dollar. Most of his direct reports followed his lead and sleepwalked through their careers…except one.

The most recently hired manager didn’t fit very well in the sleepwalking culture. When she accepted the job, she inherited three direct reports who bristled whenever she challenged the apathetic attitude that seemed to have permeated the workplace. The rules of engagement appeared to be designed to maintain a mediocre product and prevent anyone from ever having to manage change.

Eyes up and deep in thought on her way back to the train station for her daily commute, she found herself amongst a herd of others all staring at the ground or their smartphones as they marched their well-worn paths. Just as she began to question her decision to accept this job, an oncoming stranger made eye contact and smiled. Without hesitation, she smiled back and then began delivering smiles to anyone’s eyes she could meet in the train station. She managed to ignite smiles on seven other commuters within the next few minutes.

This was a test. If emotions are so contagious, she thought, what’s to stop me from awakening my team of three sleepwalkers? At the first opportunity, she scheduled a meeting with her boss and asked that her team’s performance expectations be raised from the traditional annual target. Not surprisingly, his eyes lit up and he smiled when she came beaming into his office to request the challenge. As the day wore on, every interaction was designed to infuse energy in someone else. Without exception, every exchange finished more positively than it had started.

It takes more than one high performer to transform a culture. Most stagnant workplace cultures find a way to eliminate energetic employees who try to elevate the attitude and productivity of their peers. But it forces everyone to engage their emotional immune system to allow the healthy people in and fend off the sick. We are all accountable for the moods we deliver and the moods we receive.

What contagion would you like to spread today?

The Intimacy of Teams

The eyes of the 21-year-old college student lit up as she raised her hand. She had experienced an epiphany. Suddenly, the theory of effective teaming crystallized when she applied it to a current romantic relationship. “I have a personal responsibility for my contribution to the relationship I’ve joined,” she observed. “The entity itself needs to be nurtured and cultivated.” Not surprisingly, the same “ah-ha” moment had occurred in a recent executive coaching conversation in a global telecommunications company with a senior leader twice her age.

The leader mapped out her strategy for unveiling the company’s reorganization plan. She had four teams in three geographies representing a range of talent functions. As she reflected on her message, she realized the need to be multilingual. Each conversation would need to answer both the “what does this mean for me?” as well as the “what does this mean for us?” questions. Depending on the teammate, these would be very different questions with very different answers. Each exchange would be unique to the background, circumstances, and perspective of that particular human connection.

Just like the bonds between members, the team is its own living, breathing, dynamic organism. Every interaction counts. Both investing and neglecting have consequences. Neglect causes distance and investment invites closeness. When our energies are distracted, the entity grows weaker. When we act as stewards of our connections, the entity strengthens and a professional level of intimacy is allowed to unfold.

Every connection. Every interaction. Every day.