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The dirty dozen dysfunctions


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Clients often ask me to help them diagnose and solve organizational dysfunction. In my observations, here are the top 12 reasons for dysfunction:

  1. No healthy conflict. Most people worry about too much conflict, but my experience is that there’s too little “healthy” conflict. If executives cannot speak their mind and disagree — about issues, not people — much is lost. The good news is that there are ways to foster healthy conflict and eliminate the unhealthy variety.
  2. Lack of accountability. If you’ve ever taught a dog to get your paper from the driveway and not to chew your slippers, you know how to foster accountability. Have clear expectations and directions, reward good behavior and call out bad behavior. If you sit in your breakfast nook and wish with all of your might that Fido would get the paper, you’ll be disappointed.
  3. No clear vision and strategy. If you cannot describe where you’re going and how you’ll get there, you cannot align your troops. Smart, ambitious people who have no roadmap will try to figure out their own route, but they’ll go in different directions. People without ambition will sit in the middle of the road and go nowhere. You can’t afford either.
  4. Lack of trust. I once worked with an extremely talented executive, but he stabbed others in the back to suit his purposes. Eventually, no one trusted him. Building trust requires emotionally intelligent team members, but there are practices you can use as a CEO to foster trust.
  5. Overly controlling leadership. “How can I help?” I asked a business owner who called me a few years ago. “I can’t hire good people!” he responded. I’ve seen this numerous times: He couldn’t hire good people because he drove them away with his second guessing and controlling style. If you need to make all the decisions, admit it and do it, but realize that you’ll never build a large, healthy organization. And be prepared to work with weak people.
  6. Lack of clear responsibilities. Everyone deserves to know how they’ll be measured and how they can add value. The higher you go in an organization, the more ambiguous the jobs become, but, ironically, one of the responsibilities of those senior positions is to provide people with as much clarity as possible.
  7. Poor management practices. One way to highlight the distinction between leadership and management is to say that leadership is about dealing with change and management is about bringing order to complexity. As important as leadership is, organizations need management. And to manage, you must have well-executed systems and processes. Great ideas without management only results in chaos.
  8. Mixed messages from the top. When you exhort your people to build brilliant products but spend most of your time cutting costs, they’ll get the message (pinch pennies!). When you talk about the value of your team members but treat them like serfs with no autonomy, they’ll get the message (good work won’t be rewarded!). When you change priorities as often as you change underwear, they’ll get the message (this too shall pass!).
  9. Too many bad apples hanging on. The Jackson 5 had it wrong when they sang “One bad apple don’t spoil the whole bunch, girl!” I’ve never heard anyone say they’re too quick to fire people, but I’ve heard many times, “I should’ve done this much earlier.” One bad apple really can spoil the whole bunch if left in place long enough.
  10. No fun! I enjoy walking into a business for the first time and immediately getting a read on the culture. Are the workers smiling, talking with one another and moving quickly? Or are they sullen, eyes cast downward with a lack of energy and no human contact? The correlation between fun and financial success isn’t perfect, but I’ll bet on the fun organization (which can be described in several ways but must be meaningful to those who work there) most of the time.
  11. Misalignment between objectives and rewards. If you expect “A” but reward for “B,” you’ll likely get “B.” Notice that I didn’t say “pay” but rather “reward.” Rewards come in many forms—compensation, attention, titles, hero-status, etc. One dysfunction that I frequently see is firefighting behavior being rewarded when effective planning would have eliminated the need to fight a fire.
  12. Wrong person for the job. Albert Einstein might have been a brilliant scientist but I’ll bet he would have made a poor CFO! Not all skills transfer. Brilliance at ice-skating doesn’t translate to cage fighting.

How to use this list? Proactively. Build an organization void of these attributes and it will be much higher-functioning.

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Todd Ordal

Todd Ordal is president of Applied Strategy®. Todd helps CEOs achieve better financial results, become more effective leaders and sleep easier at night. He is a former CEO and has led teams as large as 7,000. Todd is the author of Never Kick a Cow Chip On A Hot Day: Real Lessons for Real CEOs and Those Who Want To Be (Morgan James Publishing, 2016). Connect with Todd on LinkedIn, Twitter, call 303-527-0417 or email todd@toddordal.com.

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