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From 'Business as usual' to becoming a great team

In tough times like the ones we're experiencing now, we are supposed to work as a great team to prevail. Unfortunately, most leadership teams in most organisations are still working in "business as usual" mode. This will lead to poor outcomes in the near future. Why we do what we do? Here are five possible causes:

  • unclear vision;
  • lack of unity at the top;
  • silo mentality;
  • lack of urgency;
  • misplaced Thai values.

Let's look at solutions for each cause.

Unclear vision.

The leader has to identify what the outcome after a crisis will be.

Anne Mulcahy, the former chairwoman and CEO of Xerox Corp, who was largely responsible for orchestrating its turnaround from 2001-05, said: "Even while Rome was burning, people wanted to know what the city of the future would look like." When the end seemed nigh at her company, the question employees and investors wanted her to answer most was: "What will Xerox look like after it comes through this period of survival and turnaround?"

So in 2001, to help them focus on a new shared vision of the future, her team wrote a fictional Wall Street Journal article, dated 2005 and detailing exactly what Xerox looked like.

Xerox came a long way toward making its vision a reality. "Looking back on the article now, I'd say we've already accomplished about 80% of the things we set out to do," she said in 2005.

Lack of unity at the top.

Work on team spirit before starting a task. A great vision with a not-so-great team won't mean much. Great leaders needs ensure the alignment of their top team first before they try to sell their vision to the wider organisation.

I was inspired by a story from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. In the chapter dealing with Habit 6, Synergize, he shared a story of how to develop a great team:

"After World War II, the United States commissioned David Lilienthal to head the new Atomic Energy Commission. He brought together a group of people who were highly influential celebrities in their own right -- disciples, as it were, of their own frames of reference.

"This very diverse group of individuals had an extremely heavy agenda, and they were impatient to get at it. In addition, the press was pushing them.

"But Lilienthal took several weeks to create a high Emotional Bank Account (Trust). He had these people get to know each other -- their interests, their hopes, their goals, their concerns, their backgrounds, their frame of reference, their paradigm. He facilitated the kind of human interaction that creates great bonding between people, and he was heavily criticised for taking the time to it because it wasn't 'efficient'.

"But the net result was that this group became closely knit together, very open with each other, very creative, and synergistic. The respect among the members of the commission was so high that if there was disagreement, instead of opposition and defence, there was a genuine effort to understand.

"The attitude was. 'If a person of your intelligence and competence and commitment disagrees with me, there must be something to your disagreement that I don't understand and I need to understand it. You have a perspective, a frame of reference I need to look at.'

"Non-protective interaction developed, and an unusual culture was born."

Once a leadership team is able to develop team norms like the one fostered by David Lilienthal, then you can move on to creating solutions for the remaining issues below.

Silo mentality:

  • Rotate department heads. This will help everyone to leave their comfort zone and start to learn how to work with others better. Further, they might come up with innovation from a fresh perspective.
  • Establish cross-functional teams and assign them to lead key task forces.
  • Lack of urgency:
  • The leader needs to do more communication, complete with facts and figures on the current situation, and also what could go wrong if the organisation cannot be turned around.
  • All department heads also need to do a lot more communication using the same information as the leader.
  • Misplaced Thai values:
  • Create awareness. The values that Thai people prize in daily life -- saving face, compromise, seniority, kreng-jai (consideration for others) -- tend to take on negative connotations in a business setting and prevent effective teamwork. It's hard for most of us to unlearn them. Hence, a leader has to make everyone aware that these values still exist. We have to be aware not to deploy them inappropriately.
  • Feedback. Whenever we have evidence that one of our peers is acting on these values in a way that is affecting the performance of the team, we need to give feedback to that person. It must be straightforward, but delivered with politeness and respect.

Kriengsak Niratpattanasai provides executive coaching in leadership and diversity management under the brand TheCoach. He can be reached at Daily inspirational quotations can be found on his Facebook fan page: Previous articles are archived at