I was working with a senior international business leader recently and his sense was that we are almost on another ‘tipping point’ in business – he keeps hiring great people, but most of his efforts to create synergies and really get the best of his people seem to fail. He sees that we should be able to turn great people into great teams and drive great results, but for some reason we just can’t get there. He envisions a new ‘world’ where people can get on and really unleash their potential to drive performance.
He was expressing that there must be a ‘better way’ to lead people, and to get results. He was also expressing a ‘frustration’ that the way forward was not apparent to him, and that everything he did just didn’t seem to change anything.
From what I experience in so many organisations, I can see what he means. So often groups of great people are thrust together and called ‘teams’ that almost bring out the ‘worst’ in each other. They find ways not to collaborate. They act defensively and avoid commitment or creativity. Each person is it in for themselves, and ‘team’ only exists in the title of the group. Or else people come to work wanting to do great things, and feel that the system ‘beats them down’ to the lowest common denominator of performance – self interest.
Does this sound familiar?
Whilst this was happening in his organisation, this leader was able to recognise that each person was a high quality, high performing individual when they arrived.
What would happen, I asked him, if they would collaborate? If they would share ideas and be innovative and creative? If they would take responsibility for themselves and others?
His answer: “I would finally be running a business”.
When we consider high performing organisations, they have high performing cultures which have within them the processes and structures that allow the individuals within them to perform and collaborate at their best.
However, when our organisations set up processes and structures which enhance fear, disempowerment and complexity, or bring in incentive schemes which actively work against the greater mission of the organisation (but serve its individual units), then individuals are not encouraged to fully and openly participate.
My experience is that employees love the opportunity to give their best and be recognised and rewarded for it. However, too often organisations have developed control and command structures and fear based motivation concepts that form the culture of the business. These are ingrained into the culture of the business and may be almost invisible.
Because there is what organisations say, and what they really do. The actions talk louder than words.
The leader in question saw how this was true in his business. Then we set about changing what was actually happening in the business. This was based on some very simple steps to creating the cultural situation where such collaboration and creativity are the norm. Here are some take aways that you can consider immediately:
- Create an environment where each of the sub-groups of your business each, in their own way, serve the company’s greater mission. Defining the company’s purpose, and allowing groups and sub-teams to define their purpose and orient it to the bigger organisational purpose creates great engagement and alignment.
- Have thoughtful engagement with all employees which reinforces the values and purpose of the organisation. Make employees feel valued, trusted and offer them some level of certainty (as much as you can). Engaging the employees makes it safe for them to engage the customers, and each other, and makes collaboration more possible.
- Enact policies that support these elements. Remove as many ‘old policies’ of control and disempowerment as you can, and consider how any new process or policy serves your true organisational purpose. Often it is what you stop that releases the energy of the organisation to move forward.
When you consider your circumstances, what are you doing as a leader which helps to really unlock the potential of your employees? How are you helping them to unlock the potential of each other, through collaboration and engagement?
What is the one thing you can do right now to foster collaboration, creativity and innovation in your business?