This article is a follow-up to a previous article I published on Forbes.com in which I promised to write about three powerful, but hidden, forces responsible for almost all performance and profits in organizations.
Prior to writing my first book on developing the conscious leadership mindset, I spent a decade attempting to write another leadership book that I just couldn’t seem to get out.
During the many detours and dead ends, I came upon a discovery that profoundly changed how I viewed organizational design and leadership. It has reaped enormous benefits for the companies I consult and the individuals I train in the leadership field.
What are we really leading? Initially, I thought the obvious: We are looking to lead people and ultimately organizations. When we look more closely at what we are actually trying to lead, it becomes apparent that we are leading three force fields. I call these “The Organizational Trinity” (OT), and they are:
- Tribal dynamics
- Knowledge networks
Depending on our ability to orchestrate them, these forces are constantly either synchronized with one another or colliding with one another. The net result of their interplay, positive or negative, directly impacts performance and profits.
The Organizational Trinity
By familiarizing yourself with the basics of the OT you will intuitively begin understanding how to lead through them. These are not foreign concepts to us. We just haven’t realized how profoundly they impact our ability to lead.
1. Tribal Dynamics
Tribal dynamics are the most powerful of the three forces because they determine how people interact and engage one another and leadership. They are also hardwired in our DNA.
Organizations are essentially a tribe of tribes. The most basic are departmental tribes and job classification tribes. But every organization has layer upon layer of tribes that form around professional needs and personal interests.
Tribal dynamics that impact productivity include such things as:
• Level of consciousness (Are they wise or egotistical?)
• Selections for tribal leaders (often not their assigned managers)
• Primary goals, needs and intrinsic motivations
• Level of self-accountability and professionalism
• Ability to work in harmony or conflict with leadership and other “tribes”
Our opportunity as leaders is to understand and learn how to work with tribal dynamics to create an environment that is healthy and empowered.
2. Knowledge Networks
Every tribe is a human network. Every human network is a knowledge network that has a collective genius that far exceeds the capabilities of any one individual.
Unfortunately, top-down leadership restricts and even discourages networking and the sharing of knowledge. This severely limits employee engagement, as evidenced by employers struggling with a staggering 80% of employees being disengaged at work worldwide.
Limited employee engagement limits knowledge sharing, which limits performance which limits profits.
Proof of the superiority of network design models over hierarchical models to maximize the throughput and power of processing and sharing information is found in computer networks. Just as computers become exponentially more productive when tied into a network, the same is true when individuals are placed into teams assembled as knowledge networks.
Leaders who apply even simple network design theory when building teams will quickly experience an increase in performance and morale from their teams plus the added benefit of decreasing their workload and stress levels.
Culture, at its core, defines the level of consciousness of the tribe. Every tribe has its own unique culture. While many cultures share similarities, no two cultures are exactly alike.
Our challenge as leaders is to understand the tendencies and nuances of the many cultures we lead and then work to create conditions that keep these cultures healthy and engaged.
Regardless of your industry, you will encounter many company cultures with which you must interact. These range from the culture between the front office and those on the front lines, between salespeople and engineers, between finance and operations, etc.
I have found five key ingredients that build healthy cultures.
- Don’t take a top-down approach. Take a networking approach. Include the people who actually make up the culture in the conversation as equals. If they create it, they sustain it.
- Initiate and support the effort from the top but help them build it from the “bottom” up. They take the lead. You provide guidance, facilitate progress and mediate disputes.
- Begin with “A.I.R.” (authenticity, integrity and respect). I have found establishing A.I.R. as fundamental cultural principles they can use to build upon provides an excellent starting point for the culture conversation.
- Establish agreed-upon “criminal offenses” and the appropriate consequences for breaking cultural expectations. Cultures without boundaries de-evolve. Discuss and align upon any consequences with the team. It is their culture, so their input is important.
- Operationalize and live the example, acknowledge right actions and be consistent with coaching. Being a steward of the culture is not always convenient for the leader, but it is always critical to the performance of the team.
It is my hope that by recognizing and learning a bit about the existence of these three powerful forces that are hidden by the org chart that you will be able to use them as powerful levers to assist you and your teams to maximize performance, engagement, morale and profits while minimizing your collective workloads and stresses.