Tag Archives: accountability

The Feeling of Family

“So, you want your team to feel like a family, at least an extended family?” I asked.

Andre was thoughtful. “You have heard the expression, familiarity breeds contempt? That is the behavior I see. Petty grievances. Subtle discord. You would think that, as a family, they would get along better and, in turn, be more productive. I want them to work together, collaborate, support each other, you know, real teamwork.”

“All, noble ideas. But, could there be a paradox? Could it be, that effective group collaboration, teamwork, does not stem from a feeling of family, but rather a clear recognition of individual team members, each with individual accountability in clearly defined working relationships? Could it be structure that creates the feeling, not the feeling that creates the structure?”

Sibling Rivalry

“The biggest problem I have,” Andre complained, “is getting my people to work together. I want them to be like a family. I want them to feel like they belong to a tribe, you know, an extended family.”

“Oh, really,” I looked surprised. “It is a noble feeling to impart to a group of people, to get them to feel like they are part of something bigger than themselves. So, what seems to be the problem in getting them to work together?”

“There always seems to be petty bickering between the personalities. It’s not overt passive-aggressive behavior, but the conversations that end up in my office are petty transgressions. Someone borrowed a stapler and didn’t return it. Someone took a snack out of the company refrigerator. Someone had a bright idea that the group ignored or made fun of. Someone got passed over on a new project. Someone got passed over for a promotion.”

“So, what do you think the problem is?” I asked.

“I think it’s the culture of the group,” Andre nodded.

“And, who sets the culture?” I prompted.

“Ultimately, I set the culture,” he thought out loud. “Funny, I want the group to feel like a family, an extended family, but I end up with sibling rivalry.”

Parlor Games at Best

Samuel Pierce felt it was his duty, as Chairman of the Board, to make sure the new CEO was grounded in reality. “Catherine, I just want to make sure that you are up to the challenges you face as the new CEO, and that you are not being too idealistic.”

Catherine Nibali was chosen as the successor CEO to a company in trouble.

“You will have the union to deal with,” Samuel warned. “I know it was here when you arrived, but it is here nonetheless.”

“That’s true,” Catherine agreed. “The existence of a union is only one indicator of the deeply ingrained misconceptions this company drifted into. The people systems were based on false assumptions of managerial leadership. It’s no wonder the union was able to take hold. But, Samuel, there is more. The union is only the tip of the iceberg.”

“With all due respect,” Samuel interrupted. “Your predecessor, Al Ripley, tried a number of things. He re-engineered many of the work processes, he allowed group dynamic exercises, ropes courses, results based incentives, group bonuses.”

It was Catherine’s turn to interrupt. “Exactly,” she stared directly at Samuel. “Parlor games. Parlor games that, at best, might create a small burst of productivity, but in the long run, laid the ground for the union and shaped a culture that provokes disruptive behavior. We stand for what we tolerate.”

This is the beginning of the next book, sequel to Outbound Air. Find out how Catherine got here.

How to Predict a Departure

“Who is responsible for the team?” I asked. “Who is responsible for the performance of the team, and all the things that affect performance?”

Melanie looked around her office, as if someone was going to appear.

I continued. “If it’s not you, as the department manager, if it’s not you, then who?”

Melanie’s eyes stopped skirting the room. No hero appeared. She floated her excuse, “But how am I responsible that one of my team members quit?”

“That’s a very good question. How are you, as the manager, responsible that one of your team members quit?”

“What, am I supposed to be clairvoyant?” Melanie snapped.

“That would be helpful,” I nodded. “But let’s say you don’t have supernatural powers. How could you, as the manager, know enough about your team, to have predicted this departure?”

Sure Fire Participation

“Yes, but if people are afraid to participate, afraid to contribute their ideas in a meeting, how do you deal with that?” Reggie asked.

“Do your team members have ideas?” I responded.

“Well, yes, some sort of an ideas.”

“So, the problem is, to get the idea out of their head, with zero possibility that it might be rejected by the group? How would you do that?” I stared at Reggie while I reached over and pulled a pen out of my pocket and set it on the table.

“Get them to write their idea down?” Reggie guessed. I nodded. “But still, how do you get them to share their ideas with each other, with the group?”

“It’s too late, the idea is already out of their head. By the way, what happens to the quality of any idea as it moves from the mind to a piece of paper?”

“Well, it improves.”

“So, now, each person owns a much improved idea on a piece of paper in front of them. Divide the group into teams of two or three and have them share their idea with that small group. I guarantee, there will be no hesitation in that small group.

“The next step is to have the small groups report their ideas to the large group. The quality of ideas will be very high and everyone will have participated. Remember, the purpose of this meeting was simply to get your people discussing ideas with each other.”

Everyone Contributes, No One is Wrong

“How could you create an environment of trust, where, no matter the contribution, it was accepted and valued?” I repeated.

Reggie was stumped, at least for the moment. I think it was more that he didn’t think this kind of conversation was possible with his team.

“Reggie, what if you opened the meeting with something like this, a Good News exercise? Go around the room and have each person describe something good that had happened to them in the past week, business or personal.”

Reggie began to stare at the right hand corner of the ceiling, making a picture in his mind.

I broke his concentration. “What do you accomplish with an exercise like that?” I asked.

Reggie’s head began to slowly nod, then he spoke. “Okay, first everybody participates. Second, no one can be wrong.”

“Exactly, that’s where we start.”

Getting the Team to Take Accountability

“So, Reggie, here is my challenge to you. In what way can you get your managers to talk about those behaviors instead of you?”

“But I’m the manager,” Reggie protested. “I thought I was the one to set the direction. I thought I was the one to give the marching orders. I thought it was my responsibility to tell them what to do. It’s my responsibility to manage them.”

“Reggie, people don’t want to be managed. People want to be lead. It is your responsibility to set the direction, but from there, your role becomes leadership. How do you get people to think? How do you get people to consider different alternatives? How do you get people talking?”

Reggie was quick to respond, “That’s easy. You just ask them questions. But I have tried that before and most times, I don’t get any response.”

“And why don’t you get a response. What’s the problem? What’s going on the mind of your team member?”

“Well,” Reggie started, “sometimes they just don’t have anything to say, and sometimes they are afraid to say anything.”

“Where does that fear come from?” I continued.

Reggie stopped. “I guess they don’t want to be wrong.”

“How could you change that? How could you create an environment of trust, where no matter the contribution, it was accepted and valued?”

First, Define the Behavior

“So, you tell me. What could we do differently to get the behaviors we want that drive the results that we want?” Reggie insisted.

“You already have the first two steps,” I began. “The first thing you did was define the purpose for the program. You said the purpose to keep your managers focused on the company’s goals and to engage in behaviors to create those results.” Reggie nodded his head in agreement.

“Your second step was to communicate those behaviors you identified to drive the results you wanted, right? You did that in your individual KRA meetings.” Reggie continued to nod his head.

“So, if you didn’t have the bonus program, in two cases you would have achieved the results you wanted anyway, three of your managers would not have spent counterproductive time trying to game your gross margin system, and your other two more of your managers would not have become discouraged halfway through the quarter?”

“Okay, I’m with you,” Reggie interrupted. “But, what can I do differently, to make sure I get the behaviors I want?”

“Every week, you sat down with each manager and reviewed the behaviors you wanted, right? And each week, each manager promised to try very hard to do what you talked about, yes?”


“So, stop talking about it. You stop talking about those behaviors.” Reggie looked puzzled. I continued, “The wrong person is doing all the talking. You stop talking. Your management team need to be talking about this stuff, not you. The first thing that needs to change is who is doing the talking.

“So, Reggie, here is my challenge to you. In what way can you get your management team to talk about those behaviors instead of you?”

Contrived System of Reward

“But the worst part of my little bonus system,” Reggie confided, “was not that my managers manipulated the numbers, but that the system I created changed the mindset. I corrupted their thinking. Digging out of that hole is going to take time. And some of them will not survive. I created a contrived system to reward something I thought was good.

“And the winner of my little contest, the successful candidate who gets the position as the new division VP, is going to think he got the job by gaming the system. It doesn’t matter how I explain it, in his heart, his experience will tell him that he got the job by playing with the numbers.

“It is really true,” Reggie continued, “the behavior you reinforce, is the behavior you get. I created the incentive. I got the behavior.”

“If you are going to create a different environment, what has to change first?” I asked.

“All crumbs lead to the top,” Reggie said. “I have to change first.”

Someone in the Wrong Role, How to Reassign

“But he has been doing a terrible job, as a Manager,” Cheryl observed.

“So, do you want him out of the company? Should he be gone?” I asked.

Cheryl shook her head. “No, Harold has too much knowledge, he knows everything about everything, he is just in the wrong position for our company. What he is doing now, works against us. But he could be so valuable in a different role.”

“Right now, you have Harold in the role as a Senior Manager, which you say is the wrong place for him. But you don’t want to fire him, just reassign him. How do you think that will work, in Harold’s eyes?”

“He’s not going to like it,” Cheryl replied, still shaking her head. “He might quit and we really do need his technical knowledge. I am afraid he is going to be embarrassed in front of his peers, in front of his direct reports. This move is going to be very touch and go.”

“So, what is the one thing you have to do, to make this move successful?” I pressed.

“Somehow, we have to allow Harold to save face in front of the company. I am just not sure how to do that.”