Nearly 30 years ago, Jon Katzenbach and Douglas Smith published The Wisdom of Teams, a book considered a definitive resource for driving high-performance in organizations. Their work and research introduced us to a now classic distinction between working groups and “real teams,” the latter they defined as small groups of people “with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, performance goals, and approach for which they are mutually accountable.”
Katzenbach and Smith’s model has served organizations well for decades, and we believe there’s room to evolve this thinking even further. At Conversant, our company vision includes a declaration that we are “setting a new standard for leadership.” That standard is largely informed by a model we call Connected Leadership, one that views authentic human connection as a strategic advantage.
Traditional models rely on hierarchical structures with smart minds at the top, responsible for making everyone else follow their instructions. While many leaders have produced significant value this way, results are rarely sustainable. Connected Leadership means putting the most connected people in charge – the people most skilled at connecting people to each other, to a common purpose, and to reality. These leaders inspire commitment and coordinate contribution in a way that leverages the natural gifts and energy within their teams.
Connected Leadership is, at its best, a culture of behavior – a mindset and operating system not limited to those with leadership titles but characteristic of Connected Teams. Through 30 years of research and experience, we’ve found that organizations and teams led by connection tend to be better at revealing innovative opportunities, adapting to challenges, and driving sustainable high-performance.
There are some common, observable signals that a team lacks authentic connection:
Anything here sound familiar? Connected Leadership is a choice, and there is a design for learning and implementing it that we’ve seen improve these breakdowns exponentially.
We wholeheartedly agree with Katzenbach and Smith that alignment and accountability are foundational to high-performing teams; a common purpose, targeted results, a set of operating commitments, and criteria by which decisions are made are not just wise, they’re essential.
However, these basics alone won’t guarantee or sustain success. The degree to which a team is authentically connected influences the quality of their alignment and the integrity of their commitments. Take this last year as an example: teams may be clear on their purpose and commitments, but what happens when the circumstances change? When a crisis hits, what can you rely on to keep performance high while goals are reassessed and processes are adapted? These times will even test the clarity of that shared purpose, so what holds everything together when that very foundation is shifting underneath you?
The conversations we find ourselves in every day influence our ability to get work done. Think about the meetings and interactions your team has been in recently. On average, do people leave:
You can also think about team culture more generally:
If ruts of frustration and resistance feel familiar, it’s time to not only revisit purposes, commitments, and accountability structures but to take a look at the quality of communication. Our approach at Conversant involves introducing principles for effective communication and practicing them within the context of real team challenges and priorities. While improving conversation quality and team trust, this also allows for:
This may sound like a big time investment, but our bootcamp-style program can be completed in 8-10 weeks (even virtually), with a commitment of roughly two hours per week. While we have a standard set of models and tools, we always design a program to fit what’s most critical and relevant to a client’s context and their goals, so that throughout the bootcamp teams see real, meaningful results. We’ve seen it over and over – raising the quality of conversation and connection on a team will without question improve performance and team agility.
If you’re interested in learning more about a bootcamp-style approach to improving team connection and performance, send us a note here and we’ll be in touch. Our book, The Vitality Imperative, also has great practical advice regarding Connected Leadership and organizational performance – you can read the first two chapters here. Subscribe to our newsletter or follow us on LinkedIn to get regular updates on what we think is practical and profoundly impactful to team and organizational performance.