• Dr. Zarmina Penner

My work brings me to many different kinds of organizations. While each organization I experience is functional in a unique way, dysfunctional aspects are similar across the board. One such dysfunctionality in organizations is readily tolerating bad behavior.

Tolerating bad behavior happens in many ways:

  • Not noticing

  • Noticing, but looking away

  • Noticing, but not knowing what to do about it,

  • Noticing, but thinking such behavior is normal.

  • Or thinking there is nothing one can do about it. Basically, giving up.

However, an essential aspect of leadership is regulating behavior.

Goals setting and tracking, behavior regulation, and the development of employee potential are the three core aspects of good leadership. Without the contrast between good and bad behavior, it is difficult to lead.

Organizational values indirectly describe expected, i.e., good behavior in a particular setting. Organizational values are usually more or less abstract concepts featured in company posters or formal settings. Rarely do leaders use them as actionable guidelines for judging and regulating behavior daily.

If team members call out bad behavior of their peers to their leaders, it makes them appear disloyal, unsocial, and weak. So, they mostly refrain from doing so and "do as if" it is not there. By the way, "doing as if" in organizations is worth a separate discussion.

For the small number of people in organizations who actively take advantage of the lack of behavior regulation, it is an optimal breeding ground. Bad behavior of a few usually has a significant impact on many.

Disrespect is the root cause. Disrespect undermines everything.  We move forward with our behavior. Without respect we move in the wrong direction.

You may easily recognize the following bad behaviors:

  • Not listening, talking too much, interrupting others

  • Not acknowledging the contribution of others

  • Not delivering on a promise

  • Excluding people that should be involved

  • Keeping key information back

  • Being late to meetings

  • Rude remarks and putdowns

  • (Your example)

Sounds normal? Let me assure you, it is not.

Bad behavior and its impact on productivity, time, motivation, and health is a huge hidden cost in organizations.

Bad behavior can be eliminated. Here is what you can do:

1)   Invest in conflict management skills and toughen up.

2)   Note the behavior you see around you now as clearly as possible. Maybe even quantify.

3)   Clarify what kind of behavior you want and the corresponding team values.

4)   Communicate what you expect and involve your team in setting up standard rules.

5)   Give feedback about bad and good behavior. Let them know you notice.

6)   Listen if your team is describing events that went wrong and analyze for disrespect.

7) Understand that bad behavior can be covert. Trust your gut and get to the root of things.

8) Don't let up. Don't let it pass. Don't look away.

9) Watch yourself. Ask for feedback. Contribute to good behavior yourself. 

10) Track your experience and results; pat yourself on the back and share with other leaders.

Good luck.

  • Dr. Zarmina Penner

Once aligned, organizations thrive.

Alignment means each part of a system depends on other parts and respects their output. “One hand knows what the other hand is doing.” Agreement, alliance, and cooperation are the norm in aligned organizations, rather than the exception.

Misalignment is the primary cause of organizational dysfunctionalities. Misalignment is elusive and challenging to spot because it is gradual, subtle, and can appear normal. However, you can spot its symptoms quite quickly.

Here are the three most prominent symptoms of misaligned organizations:

1.    Laborious Roll-outs

Roll-outs of senior management decisions run into a barrier after barrier. Digitalization is, for example, notoriously hard to implement. IT systems do not care for organizational politics or any other organizational issues. IT systems unapologetically point to what is not yet aligned.

2.    Ineffective Meetings

There is a system-wide and open aversion toward meetings. There have been many failed attempts to make meetings more productive. People go from meeting to meeting and worry about wasting time and their ever-growing to-do lists.

3.    Low Spirits

There is an overall sense of dissatisfaction, frustration, and overload.

Meetings in my eyes are the place where we come together and ideally collaborate and share brainpower to solve complex problems. No one person can do it alone. So, there is no way we can eliminate meetings. We need them. In meetings, we experience misalignment in action first hand.

Without alignment, organizations can have the most impressive brainpower on board, a solid knowledge base, and many years of experience in the field and still be treading water in survival mode. 

Organizations do try to align, very often as a matter of fact. The most common solution seems to be serial organizational re-structuring and the shifting of leadership positions.

So, why is organizational alignment seemingly so tricky?

I believe this is a side effect of specialization.

We tend to prefer details over the big picture. We tend to value details more than the big picture. We tend to listen more to specialists than to generalists.

Misalignment, however, is the manifestation of a myriad of connected problems spread across the organization. It is primarily a big-picture issue in which the details also don’t match.

We need both generalists and specialists to collaborate, listen to each other’s perspectives, build upon each other’s knowledge, and sort out the misalignment together. Together, we move from the generalist’s big picture to the specialist’s details and back. It is not enough to resolve problems on the detail level. Better time management does not make ineffective meetings effective.

For this to happen, we need leaders with top-notch facilitation skills, wisdom, and deep understanding of human nature to move the organization step by step toward alignment.

Correcting misalignment is a journey, depending on the size of the organization it can take anywhere between 6 months to 2-3 years. It is not for faint-hearted leaders nor for those who are on their career fast track and move around continually.

My experience is that all organizations are principally capable of correcting their special misalignment if they truly put their minds and hearts to it. Brainpower, talent, and capabilities are rarely the issue.

In my practice, I find that problems and solutions tend to lie right next to each other if you recognize and connect the dots. Listen to all the conversations around you carefully. They will be full of clues.

So, how can we align organizations practically and pragmatically?

The first requirement is a reliable and determined leader at the helm with a sense of mission, a strong vision, and excellent listening skills.

The second requirement is aligning the values of those in charge; in other words, defining what is most valuable to the organization? Then the follow-up question is: How can this organization do good while doing well?

Note: Money is not a value; it is a by-product of aligning the organization and its offering to the needs of its customers. If money is a high priority on the value scale, the organization loses depth and can get stuck in a continuous survival loop, monthly on repeat.

The third requirement is a two-pronged approach towards alignment:

1)   Combing through and aligning the hard facts, e.g., organizational structure, roles and mandates required, available and missing capabilities and resources, decision-making procedures, and performance management systems.

2)   Appreciating and aligning soft factors, e.g., acceptable and non-acceptable behavior, personal development and skills improvement strategies and cultural values.

Organizations are made up of people, I therefore often revert to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to double-check, if we have covered all bases in the alignment process:

1)   Physiological needs: Is the organizational environment uplifting and conducive for “reaching a positive state of agreement, alliance, and cooperation”?

2)   Safety needs: Do the members of the organization feel safe and can relax into their work?

3)   Belongingness needs: Do the members of the organization have a sense of belonging with their team, their unit, and their organization?

4)   Esteem needs: Do the members of the organization feel seen, heard, appreciated, and respected?

5)   Self-actualization needs: Do the members of the organization know the path they can take to develop themselves in line with their organization’s needs?

As I mentioned before, correcting misalignment and creating an aligned organization is a journey. It takes time, patience, perseverance, and well-paced systematic effort.Therefore, continuity is vital.

In a nutshell: Organizational alignment is possible and truly worthwhile and rewarding. Achieving alignment is the senior leader’s primary task. No doubt about it.

  • Dr. Zarmina Penner

In organizations, good teams are rare even if it may appear otherwise

More often than not, you find groups of people assigned to goals. Groups, not teams. To be in a good team is the aspiration of any person in any organizational context. We all have a profound human need to belong. The fondest memories of people working in organizations are about being part of a good team and achieving incredible goals together, under time pressure. The higher the pressure, the better.

What makes a good team, you might ask. In my eyes, these are the five distinguishing criteria of a good team:

1- Respect: Sincere respect is the creator of trust. Respect for the other translates automatically into good listening skills.

2- Loyalty: Loyalty is the caretaker of team trust levels.

3- Clarity: Clarity implies structural alignment and builds a holding space for teamwork.

4- Solutions: Solutions are evidence of a team that is working well, especially if they are win-win.

5- Resilience: Resilience suggests robust emotional management and translates into flexible thinking and action.

If you recognize all of the above in your team, then congratulations, no need to read any further. You are most probably already a good leader.

So why are good teams rare?

To create a good team, you will need a good leader in the most real sense.

A good leader understands the notion of working through people. A good leader can serve others and operate in a partnership of equals while remaining in the leading role. A good leader sees team members as they are, not skewed with false assumptions. A good leader allows good work to happen by getting out of the way. A good leader is above suspicion of any kind.

In a good leader, the surface reflects human depth. As a good leader, you can turn any group of people into a good team.

Concerning leadership, there are three stages of leadership maturity:

Stage 1- Novice: The leader that stands in front of people and describes from a distance in detail what needs to happen, assigns tasks, and corrects “homework.”

Stage 2- Expert: The leader that stands beside people, works with them, hands over some responsibilities, and helps out hands-on with expertise, experience, and leadership when required. 

Stage 3- Master: The leader that stands behind people, has their backs covered and lets them do their work with clear guidelines, professional and emotional support.

As leaders, we need to move quickly onwards from Stage 1, and not get stuck in an unproductive micromanaging leadership style. Stage 2 can be addictive, especially when we still require recognition and appreciation to feel good or maybe if we love working on content too much.

Stage 3 leaders are expert facilitators, communicators, and role models for what they preach. Sometimes it will be necessary for the leader to move back to Stage 2, but for a short space of time, for example, when resources are missing in the team.

You might say, we do have good leaders around, also Stage 3 ones, so why are good teams still rare?

If there are not enough good teams around, then that is an indication that something is still missing. 

Maybe this type of good leadership is still only skin deep. If we are observant and quick to learn, we can smoothly go through the motions and position and present ourselves as good leaders. We might even have sufficient business success to back us up.

Trouble is people always sense the truth. We are experts in assessing human nature. It is a survival skill.

Therefore, so-called teams remain permanently on the brink of becoming good teams. Going through the motions is just not good enough. Trust and authenticity go hand in hand.

In my work, I find that good teams are essential for sustainable business success. Frankly, they are indispensable. They are also the right level of granularity for implementing absolutely anything, including the business plan.

It is the team as a whole, not single individuals, that creates impact. For sure each individual contributes to the whole, but the force of a well-aligned team is exponentially stronger. Things move quicker forward with less effort required.

I sense that I am preaching to the choir here, therefore let me share the following because I think we all need to develop ourselves continuously wherever we stand. We also badly need more of the good and even better kind of leaders. Actually, we need heroes.

Going past the surface and practicing self-reflection and self-development day in and day out can be quite arduous, to be frank. There might even be pushback in your external environment when you demonstrate good leadership, especially if politicking, envy, and any other bad habits are prevalent. However, the fruits are plenty, especially in terms of life quality, inner freedom and true appreciation of those around you.

Here are six aspects of going past the surface that can give structure to the adventure:

1) Personality: Know your personality type, your talents, and potential weak points and use what you have well and appreciate your self. Use your talents and unique creativity.

2) Character: Know your style of behavior and balance it out. If you are a taker, give more. If you are a giver, take more. Be kind.

3) The Vision of your next best self: Define the leader you want to become in two years. Which leaders do you admire? Observe them and emulate aspects you admire. 

4) Values: Define your values. Aim high and use them for all decisions. Put them somewhere where you can see them every day. Use them.

5) Mission: Find out what motivates you, makes you happy, and satisfies you. Revolve whatever you do around it.

6) Feelings: Consider your feelings as your allies. Don’t push them away. Use them consistently as valuable biosensors. Know what events trigger an unproductive mood in you and don’t let your feelings become emotions that hold you captive. Don't project your unresolved personal issue onto others. Emotional mismanagement is one of the biggest stumbling blocks. Become resilient, stay conscious and cool.

Becoming a good leader is an inside job. External circumstances are practically irrelevant for becoming a leader who can create, develop, and lead a good team to success, in any organization. This conclusion is not banal, nor is it cliché. I know this for sure.


Team development

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