Here’s my high-level assessment of corporate and business teams:
- Many, perhaps most are dysfunctional or mediocre.
- Some are good.
- Few are excellent.
Unfortunately – this report card doesn’t directly correlate with business results.
I say “unfortunately” because pretty much every team talks about wanting to become more effective and some version of moving from “good to great” yadda, yadda, yadda. However, for most teams this desire lives as a “good idea”, not a “must do”.
If only great teams produced great results it would be easier for the dysfunctional and mediocre, and even good teams to confront and own the consequence of their inadequacy.
But, things don’t work that way and there are a lot of dysfunctional and mediocre teams who still achieve good, even great results.
Part of the problem is that we use a very narrow definition of what constitutes “Great results”. For the most part, it means – revenues, profitability and stock performance.
Contrary to what many executives say about people being their most important asset, there are simply too many examples of companies… well-known companies… who are obsessed with achieving great financial results while treating their people like crap.
There are only a few truly excellent teams because there are only a few truly excellent leaders who care not just about the bottom line, but also about the corporate culture, their people and the way team members interact and go about performing their work.
These leaders don’t tolerate or settle for less than excellence in all aspects of their organization, including in areas that don’t require it in order for the company to succeed, or areas that are not visible to everyone. They don’t cut corners because they relate to excellence as a value, an end, not a means, and the best and only way to do business. They also don’t use cost as an excuse for not driving excellence.
It is always easier to help teams who are dysfunctional to move from “good” to “great” when things are dysfunctional everyone is anxious and on board to turn things around, fix the problems and get the company out of a bad predicament.
But, helping the “good” teams move to “excellent” that is the hardest challenge, because when things are good people often settle and feel that good is “good enough”.
I was working with a technology company that was going through a decline in their corporate culture, business results and brand. When I started to work with them all the executives and managers were eager to turn things around. It wasn’t easy for them to face reality and own their predicament, but when they got over it everyone was on board for the intense remediation plan we put in place for the following year. The plan worked and after a year of quarterly meetings and task forces between them, the company started to turn around. In fact, at the end of that first year, they had achieved the best results in their history, their reputation in the market had improved dramatically and the overall the mood and spirit, at least at the managers and executive levels were at an all-time high. People felt great.
Everyone knew that the recovery plan was a two-year to three-year plan. Everyone signed up for that at the outset. However, the second year was very different from the first one from a commitment and energy standpoint.
The minute the results turned the corner and people felt good they started to get lax and complacent with the program. Meetings were delayed or cancelled, deadlines were not driven or met and overall the humble, self-reflective sentiments that I heard when we started the process turned into more arrogant rhetoric about how they were better than everyone else in the market.
One of the reasons most dysfunctional teams don’t sustain their peaks and breakthroughs when they reach these is because they get lax and complacent and they start losing ground again. I have seen it happen so many times.
“Good” is the enemy of “Excellence”, good makes people complacent, lazy and comfortable. Because there are so many dysfunctional and mediocre teams out there, the good ones stand out as better. Many justify their lack of drive for excellence by explaining that they are better than their competitors. Some are best in their industry.
But, “Better than good” is still a long way from “Excellent”. In addition, you could be better than everyone else around you and still not even close to what you could achieve.
So, you have to decide – is “good” good enough for you?