If only we had a kick-ass patent. A unique drug compound. A world-conquering algorithm. Eleven secret herbs and spices.
Business models everywhere are in some level of decay. What were once bullet-proof assets are sliding in value, proprietary methods are readily copied, and brands are losing their magnetism. There’s only one avenue left.
It hasn’t mattered a great deal in much of commerce for the last 50 years. Strong balance sheets with rising asset values in patents, brands and proprietary production methods have kept the cash registers ringing with profit. They’ve kept the competition at bay and thus allowing “teamwork” to land in the nice, but not necessarily essential, bucket.
This is largely why teamwork has earned its reputation for being a “soft” endeavor. Considered less worthy than the “hard” pursuits of process reengineering, margin expansion and increasing return on investment.
If you can inspect the assets in your balance sheet and confirm that things like goodwill and brand intellectual property are soundly valued for today’s commercial context, then read no further.
If, however, you confront a decaying scene scarred by write downs, or pimped by inflated valuations, then human resources in the literal meaning of those two words is the final competitive weapon.
It is about relationships and connections.
It’s about the fitness of leaders to handle pressure, conflict and ambiguity.
Be assured, no part of this argument is soft. Rather, this is some of the hardest work we can possibly do.
When a leadership team sits together to work through the real stuff, like the health and quality of their relationships, they do something brave and profound. It is brave because it is risky. Most, if not everyone, in the circle, yes a circle, typically feels anxiety and this is a potent signal that the work ahead is meaningful. And it is profound because the team will never be as it was after the work is done.
Like physical exercise, business fitness improves after the workout – an approach that leaders need to embrace.
Put them in a room and put the real problems on the table in front of everyone. Switch off the screens, talk and listen. Discuss the undiscussable. Name the elephants. And know that it will get hot in that room while you do. Our goal is to increase the heat they can handle. Increase the weight they can lift.
Stop looking for the win-win outcome. If your leadership conversation is win-win, then you’re not discussing anything serious.
If you sense the merit in this but don’t feel equipped to pull it off, invite someone independent to facilitate the session. They can regulate the heat and focus the group on key issues when the fight/flight instincts arise.
When a team works like this it becomes more powerful as its leadership fitness goes up. Everybody can lift more. The team is stronger. The people in it know they can express vulnerability, disclose freely and experiment bravely. They feel a genuine cohesion and alignment that no amount of paintball can ever deliver.
The stronger team powerfully marshals their intellect and energy on the business challenges. They begin to undertake intelligent experiments, express stamina for setbacks, and apply discretionary effort for the wider good.
But ROI? What’s the ROI?
Leadership fitness means your leaders can work faster through their share of the volatility, complexity and ambiguity that we are all confronting right now.
If you want to move your enterprise faster, with less re-work, less meetings, less back-channel communication, then invest in the health of your team. In markets that are rapidly commoditizing, this is now how we create competitive advantage. It’s the final frontier.
Marcus Crow is co-founder of professional services firm 10,000 HOURS.