In a rapidly changing world, if we want our organizations to thrive, we must create models of teamwork that are more adaptable and nimble in their approach to solving problems. Since the early days of the Internet, the leadership at Integrity has known this to be true.
Many organizations—especially those that have been around a long time—and thus, are more steeped in bureaucracy, are coming to realize how much those layers actually hinder their ability to provide the best product, service, or outcome.
When the leaders of organizations as structured, regimented, and bureaucratic as the United States military begin to recognize the mismatch between a rapidly changing environment and historical models that have governed success––it is clear that in the business world, models of bureaucracy have already become obsolete.
In “Team of Teams,” General Stanley McChrystal unpacks this mismatch and articulates a better path forward. Drawing on examples such as the Navy SEALs, medicine, and the airline industry as models for tearing down bureaucratic systems and empowering all team members, McChrystal details his own learning through failure, exploring why it is imperative to develop teams designed for sustained organizational adaptability.
As Walter Isaacson writes, “Whether in business or in war, the ability to react quickly and adapt is critical, and it’s becoming even more so as technology and disruptive forces increase the pace of change. That requires new ways to communicate and work together. In today’s world, creativity is a collaborative endeavor. Innovation is a team effort.”
In the 21st Century, when the tools and processes change rapidly, a traditional command and control structure (as McChrystal describes it) is set up for failure.
It is no longer the job of leadership to dole out orders to those on the ground; rather, it is the job of leadership to cultivate the right environment for their team —to protect their team members and empower them to make the best decisions.
This philosophy is also articulated in Simon Sinek’s “Leaders Eat Last.” Sinek also studied the military as a window into how leadership functions in a high-stakes environment. He found that the teams that were the most successful were those guided by leaders that led with a servant leadership style. The leaders who viewed themselves as servants to their people—who fostered the most commitment and trust—had the best team performance.
The leaders who cultivated teams were more likely to thrive in complex environments. The team members knew that it was their leaders' job to absorb as much of the difficulty and trouble as possible while providing them with the tools and resources necessary to do the best work.
Cultivating a Team
The lessons from Integrity, Sinek, and McChrystal are fantastic philosophies in theory, but what does this look like in action?
What underpins these dynamics is intention. The intentional cultivation of a team that trusts one another, communicates well, and is bonded makes the difference.
Now, if you are like us and offer a hybrid working environment, how do you foster a healthy group dynamic when the team is not in person?
In the military, in a hospital, or on an airplane, the work is in-person, so your ability to know one another, and build connections, thus developing culture, is more readily available.
At Integrity, our leaders are intentional about getting us together in person so that we can interact in meaningful ways. Whether that is a group or company lunch, a chili cookoff, a pizza party (as you can tell, there is often lots of food involved), or a golf tournament. There is an effort, a couple of times a month, to bring our team together.
Vet for Soft-Skills
In a true holacracy, where an inverted management structure is in place, one of the most important decisions the leadership can make is who they hire. When you hire for the right skills and temperament, those forces come together to support a dynamic management system.
At Integrity, we hire for knowledge, of course, but in an environment that changes rapidly, hiring people who are quick studies and endlessly curious is more important. It is also essential to hire people with excellent soft skills. Sure, we want employees who are well-versed in technology, but having employees with strong interpersonal skills is key to building successful teams.
Not only do people with good soft skills interact more successfully with clients, but they interact more successfully with their fellow team members. Hiring employees who are direct in their communication but who also assume goodwill and strive to make their teammates’ lives easier makes working less painful and can even make work joyful.
The Leader Sets the Tone
When we think about this inverted power structure as leaders, the key questions to ask ourselves are: How do we foster a healthy environment? And what is my role in this system?
As hierarchical animals, even in an environment where we want to dismantle hierarchy, there is a behavioral response to hierarchy that is innate.
As human animals, we will naturally and biologically try to identify who the players are that hold the most power; we will look to the people we perceive as being in charge and respond to how they behave (because, at the end of the day, our livelihood is tied to their approval).
So, as a leader, how you behave sends cues to your team for how they should operate.
For example, if you espouse work-life balance but actually operate as a workaholic who never takes any PTO, your team will learn that they, too, should be workaholics if they want to be successful in your organization and, thus, not create work-life balance for themselves.
You incentivize the behavior you get. As leaders, it is also our job to celebrate the kind of work and interactions we want to see more of.
At Integrity, one of the core principles of our company is making other people's lives easier. We encourage this way of thinking and being by training our people to look for that behavior, draw attention to it, celebrate it, and reward it.
Once a month, we come together as a company to celebrate one another. To cheer on our successes, to learn from one another’s mistakes and growth, and literally hand out $100 bills or gift cards to employees who have been identified as making other people’s lives easier.
Coming from a bureaucracy where success often seemed to be measured by who was most successful in stymieing or thwarting progress, this idea is radical.
In any organization that is around for a period of time, structures will develop. Best practices will emerge, and the ways of doing things successfully will be shared. This is good. We want to learn and share with each other, and structures must be in place to do this.
However, we also have to recognize if and when those structures become unnecessary burdens that stymie, frustrate, and ultimately (whether we realize it or not—or say it explicitly or not) encourage employees to resign from testing new ideas out of fear that the frustration of the bureaucracy will be too great or that their efforts will be pointless because they will be smothered.
If you want to be an organization that lives at the edge of innovation and fosters successful team dynamics, consider shedding some of the layers of your bureaucracy and adopting some of the methods articulated by General McChrystal, Simon Sinek, Holacracy, and Integrity.
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