Create a crisis, forge a team

In Business Class, Connecting to Communicate on January 19, 2010 at 3:10 pm

Have you noticed how a crisis can pull a team together?

Picture this: Your team has fallen apart. People are carping at each other, letting each other down and pointing fingers. They can’t get the simplest project completed on time. Then a crisis develops – maybe it’s a client meltdown, a serious illness on the team, or something as mundane as an empty soda machine – and suddenly everybody’s pulling together. They unite against a common foe and act honorably, selflessly and passionately.

I was reminded of this dynamic last weekend when I led a board retreat for an area nonprofit. Fortunately, this board hasn’t devolved into fighting and finger-pointing, but it does seem to have lost its way. The organization has stagnated, and nobody seems to know how to breathe new life into it. I was just about to address this topic when one of the board members said, “What we need is some sort of rallying cry.”

He had played right into my hands: The next topic on my agenda was an organizational strategy that uses a “crisis mentality” to rejuvenate a floundering team.

How? By establishing what author Patrick Lencioni (the guy behind business bestsellers such as “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” and “Death by Meeting”) calls a “thematic goal.” He defines this as “a single, overriding theme that remains the top priority of the entire leadership team for a given period of time.” Translation: An organizational rallying cry.

At a leadership conference a few years ago, Lencioni offered examples: For a tire manufacturer that had been through a tire recall, the thematic goal might be to “survive by re-establishing credibility.” A biotech firm might want to “avoid complacency.” He even offered one for his family: “Prepare for Baby No. 4.”

But simply creating the theme doesn’t get the job done. The thematic goal must adhere to certain guidelines and become a central part of operations.

Here’s how it can work:

Step 1: Establish the thematic goal. This must be a single goal, qualitative in nature but attached to metrics. In addition, it should have a time limit (six months, a year, two years) and it should be shared across departments.

Step 2: Establish defining objectives. These are secondary objectives that apply directly to the thematic goal. For the tire company, these could include fixing tire problems, settling lawsuits and improving distributor relations.

Step 3: Establish standard operating objectives. These are the key business components that need to be addressed regardless of the thematic objective – things like revenue and expenses, productivity, customer satisfaction and market share.

Step 4: Build leadership meetings around the goal and objectives.  Blow up your meetings and structure them around the defining and operating objectives. Ignore departmental agendas and invite everyone to participate in all discussions … a lot of new ideas come from people thinking outside their areas of expertise.

By rallying around the thematic goal, an organization can conjure up the positives of a crisis situation without the accompanying crisis. The result can be a group that is focused, collaborative and, most importantly, successful.

What thematic goal would get your organization to pull together?

 NOTE: For more on this topic, pick up Lencioni’s 2006 book Silos, Politics and Turf Wars: A Leadership Fable About Destroying the Barriers That Turn Colleagues Into Competitors

  1. Missed your writing. Glad to read you regularly again! Nice blogger beginning with your columns to date. Keep it up!

    • Thanks for the kind words, and the encouragement. Hope all is well with you. Thought of you this week with the MLK holiday, remember the speech we worked on for Sam. Seems like 10,000 years ago. Take care.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: