In the field of organizational consulting, there are certain principles about achieving high performance that are considered common knowledge. I received my master’s degree in organizational development, and when I began my career as a consultant, I applied the principles and practices I’d learned in university and from mentors exactly as I was taught them. But over time, I found that I wasn’t getting the results I was expecting for my clients. It was difficult to let go of my strongly held beliefs about high performance, but if I was to be accountable to the outcomes I wanted, it meant I couldn’t be blindly loyal to the principles and practices I had been taught.
Below are three myths that are currently considered “common knowledge” that need to be challenged to get your organization unstuck and flowing more effectively.
Myth 1: Improving team relationships leads to high team performance.
It’s true that a highly dysfunctional team can improve its performance by improving interpersonally. However, if high performance was simply based on good relationships, athletic teams and music groups in which the members got along wouldn’t need to practice or rehearse to be winning teams or successful professionals.
If the leaders in an organization believe in the myth that team relationships are the root of high performance, they will focus on communication styles, consensus-building and relationship diagnosis. While there is value to all of these practices, they don’t impact the single biggest factor associated with high-performance teams: collective execution — the way team members consistently function with each other to produce agreed-upon desired outcomes.
Truth 1: Improving team habits for collective execution achieves high performance that drives business outcomes and improves team relationships.
An organization’s current results are directly associated with the sum total of all their habits of collective execution. This includes how a team shares information, solves problems, makes decisions, coordinates cross-functionally and ensures effective follow-through and accountability. If an organization desires different results, it must change its collective habits.
While improving relationships doesn’t necessarily improve business outcomes, improving collective habits informed by desired business outcomes does improve team relationships! Once a team clarifies and agrees to collective team habits, expectations become clear, team members become more included in a practical way, communication improves and support increases, naturally leading to improved accountability, trust and support between team members. This improves both performance and team relationships.
Myth 2: Continuous improvement will help an organization transform and get breakthrough results.
It’s critical for organizations to continually improve their performance and execution through process improvement.
However, when you need a paradigm shift in business results, performance or culture, continuous improvement won’t suffice. How much improvement would Blockbuster have needed to save their business? None. They needed a paradigm shift that they didn’t make.
Truth 2: Breakthrough results in business and culture change require a new, paradigm-shifting picture of success that represents new business models and new ways to execute.
A “picture of success” represents the new business model, new mindset and new foundational habits of execution necessary to achieve and sustain the desired change. Every leader’s role and mindset must shift away from siloed, autocratic and egoic posturing to becoming facilitators of change, inspiring leaders who foster innovation and creativity and mentors for future leaders.
Creating breakthrough results also means focusing more on the collective habits you will do differently rather than making sure you retain your old habits that have always worked for you. Your old habits got you to where you are. You must look ahead to where you’re going if you want true transformation and breakthrough results. Continuous improvement helps you get better at what you’re doing today, but no amount of improvement will be enough to survive a changing future.
Myth 3: Driving change from either the top or the bottom of the organization leads to the ownership that drives success.
Many years ago, common thought around change management was that major change needed to be role-modeled and reinforced by the top of the organization. Unfortunately, top-down change often doesn’t make its way to those who actually need to carry out the change. Visions and expectations simply don’t translate to effective execution.
Then, in an attempt to remove unnecessary bureaucracy and streamline standard practices, the “experts” transitioned to bottom-up change efforts — getting employees who are closest to the customer and more directly involved with processes and procedures to drive the change. While this approach can be highly effective for changing functional procedures, it doesn’t address the infrastructure dysfunction that crosses the entire organization. To make a dent in those larger-scope obstacles, it’s too micro for executives and too macro for a bottom-up approach.
Truth 3: Middle managers are the change-makers.
Middle managers are best positioned to lead transformational change in an organization. But to be effective at driving change, they must break down their silos, become a structured and unified team and become aligned with the direction of executives, looking out for what is best for the organization instead of what is best for their functional area. They must have clear agreements for how they will include each other in planning, coordinating, communicating and involving each other in surfacing and solving problems. They must even have a clear agreement for how they will share resources and make collective and individual decisions. Finally, they must communicate with one voice and have shared ownership for their collective impact to include and engage individual contributors in change efforts, developing future leaders and providing direction to executives for optimizing execution to achieve business results.
These three truths of high-performing teams are the game-changers that lead to achieving rapid breakthrough results. Ultimately, we must have the courage to let go of old beliefs, paradigms and practices that no longer work and replace them with methodologies that focus on achieving outcomes defined by a clear future picture of success.