Rich Roll is one of the fittest men on the planet. He has been interviewed by CNN and featured in numerous fitness magazines. Roll has been a top finisher in the Ultraman World Championships which is a three-day/320-mile double ironman distance triathlon. The event is invitation only for 35 select participants from around the world.? The first day is a 6.2 mile ocean swim followed by a 90-mile cross country cycling race.? The second day is a 170-mile cycling race, and the third day finishes up with a 52-mile double marathon. I am exhausted just thinking about that type of incredible endurance feat.? While he had been a competitive swimmer in college, this attorney and father of four had hung up his ?Speedo?s? after college and was almost fifty pounds overweight by his 40th birthday.? Roll overhauled his diet and got back on track with his fitness program, and within two years, he was competing at an international level for endurance athletes.? What he has done through intentional planning and hard work is to achieve a level of optimum health that is allowing him to compete internationally well into his 40?s.
Similarly, organizations of different types and sizes can achieve a level of optimum health. This does not mean that we need organizations full of ultra-athletes.? Rather, we want organizations that operate in a healthy, complete, and consistent way. Best-selling author Patrick Lencioni emphatically stated in his book The Advantage, ?The single greatest advantage any company can achieve is organizational health. Yet it is ignored by most leaders even though it is simple, free, and available to anyone who wants it.?? Most organizations fail to embrace organizational health, and the typical reasons include that it is too ?touchy feely,? the concepts are too simple, or the tyranny of the urgent feeds our adrenaline addiction. Lencioni describes a healthy organization as one with minimum ?politics? and confusion, employees with high morale and productivity, and low employee turnover.? Wouldn?t that be a great place to work?? As obvious and important as that is, we tend to spend all of our time and energy on the technical aspects of the organization (e.g. strategy, marketing, etc.) and very little time in making sure that we have a healthy company.? I have summarized below a few of the ways to help make the transformation from being a ?couch potato? organization to one that has optimum organizational health.
You don?t need to go to the ropes courses to build trust (although team building exercises can be helpful); instead, there are some simple things you can do to increase the trust in your organization.? One of the major symptoms of unhealthy organizations is that the management group does not feel free to share their opinions.? When managers are simply ?yes men and women,? the organization is not benefitting from the collective wisdom of the group. Teams that always have complete consensus are potentially toxic because people are certainly withholding their true opinions.? The intelligence of the organization is hindered as employees all try to CYA (cover their assets) instead of contributing their best thoughts and ideas. The leader of the organization sets the tone here and should insist on candid discussion and promote vigorous debate. Remember healthy conflict is to be encouraged, not discouraged.? Team members need to understand the boundaries for conflict and be willing to commit to the path ultimately decided by the leader.?? Another way to help strengthen the trust in the team is to utilize personality tests like DISC?, Myers Briggs Type Indicator? or The Birkman?.? These allow team members to better understand both themselves and their colleagues.? Many misunderstandings can be avoided once communication and personality styles are better understood.
Healthy organizations have clarity and alignment around the main things and know how to ?keep the main things the main thing.?? This is easier said than done and requires asking some simple but challenging questions. I recommend having the organization?s management team periodically independently respond to the following questions:? (1) What is our reason for being as an organization ? why do we exist? (2) What are our true core values that guide our behavior? (3) What business are we in? (4) Where are we going as a company ? what is our strategy for success? (5) What are the most important things that need to be done in the organization in the next 30-90 days?? (6) Who needs to do what to accomplish the most important things? (7) What are the key metrics for measuring the success of the organization?? Answering these questions independently will ensure that ?group think? does not set in and that everyone does original thinking about the answers. The team can then gather and debate their answers and synergize their responses.? I am an advocate for having a concise 1-2 page summary of the results of this process which serves as the guide for the organization and an accountability tool for team meetings.? Answering these types of questions requires time and a change of perspective from ?thinking in the business to thinking on the business.? In our world of constant emailing and texting, it is important to unplug and get away to periodically think on our organizations to create clarity.
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate!
Healthy organizations know how to communicate well. Their leaders repeatedly communicate key themes. They know that repetition counts and that they need to communicate with clarity what is really important.? I have found that whether coaching sports, raising kids, or leading in an organization, the key is to keep the messages simple and repeat them often.? Effective leaders use different mediums and tools to constantly reinforce messages.? Ambiguity and confusion are the hallmarks of dysfunctional organizations.? The anti-dote is communication!? Too often leaders fail to communicate enough because they are too busy or incorrectly believe that they are being too repetitive. Healthy organizations not only have effective top down communication that cascades through the organization, but they also have effective lateral and bottom up communication.? Smart organizations know that the information gathered by front line employees is invaluable and needs to circulate within the company.? Innovative companies will create regular opportunities to make sure upper management is spending time with front line employees to foster open communication.? Leaders can also promote good communication by being accessible and utilize techniques like ?management by walking around.?? There is nothing worse for leaders than to get stuck behind their computer all day.? Focus and alignment occur when organizations have clarity on what matters most and communicate effectively throughout the organization.
While being an Ultra athlete is not in the cards for me, I do know that I can be a part of making sure that organizations I am part of achieve optimal health. There is no reason to settle for working in dysfunctional situations. By recognizing the important of being ?healthy? in our business and utilizing some of the simple ways to become healthier, we are on our way to building healthy organizations!