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Posted: July 22, 2011

When 1+1+1 = less than 3

Is the whole of your team greater or less than the sum of its parts?

Todd Ordal

A colleague recently lamented the fact that he served on a board that was chock full of talented members, but the board was dysfunctional and didn't achieve what it should. I believe this often applies to management teams as well. Here are four reasons that 1+1+1 can sometimes equal something much less than three:

1. Unaligned priorities. Do you remember playing tug-of-war as a kid? If the teams were evenly matched, neither side could progress. Organizations that have no agreement about objectives won't progress either. If agreement exists around the objective, then there's a fighting chance for progress, and the arguments are about "how" vs. "what." For priorities to align in an organization, there must be a clear vision or you'll have talented people using energy in opposite directions. I once worked with a firm whose chief technology officer - in the absence of a clear vision and strategy at his firm - wasted millions of dollars and destroyed his credibility by working on things that no one cared about.

2. No reinforcing mechanisms. If there's a clear direction, there must be clear communication and reinforcing mechanisms to keep everyone focused on the prize. Reinforcing mechanisms need to clearly reward correct behavior and discourage incorrect behavior. They should also tap into people's rational self-interest.

3. Weak strategic leadership. Leaders must know how to develop consensus, hold people accountable and execute on strategy. They're the keepers of the vision and strategy. They must be strong - not bombastic and overly controlling - and they must be correct more often than not. Sometimes strong leaders take organizations in the wrong direction, but they admit mistakes and course correct.

4. Lack of teamwork. A strong leader helps foster healthy teamwork. Healthy conflict, trust, commitment and accountability must exist. If your organization's vision and strategy are clear and reinforced, you'll naturally attract people who are attached to the vision and eliminate those who aren't interested. This makes fostering teamwork much easier. Some of the skills and behaviors required for successful teamwork do not come naturally and specific intervention is required.

Talent is necessary, but not sufficient, for success. An organization full of talented people who are working at cross purposes will achieve nothing. Only when there's talent, true alignment, teamwork and good strategy can 1+1+1 = something much greater than 3!

Is your organization leveraging talent or sucking up energy?
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Todd Ordal is President of Applied Strategy LLC. Todd helps CEOs achieve better financial results, become more effective leaders and sleep easier at night. He speaks, writes, consults and advises on issues of strategy and leadership. Todd is a former CEO and has led teams as large as 7,000. Follow Todd on Twitter here. You can also find Todd at,  303-527-0417 or

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Readers Respond

I agree, George. Sounds like you are in a healthy organization with members who understand effective team behavior. Cheers Todd By Todd Ordal on 2011 07 22
I was just elected to a non-profit board that seems to make tremendous progress. I think it is due to the fact our board chair is a small business owner, and the CEO came from her own company. To add to your information, there needs to be accountability. This applies to both non-profit and for profit companies, as goals/objectives need to be met.Everyone needs to know that they will be judged on their accomplishments towards those goals. By George Tyler on 2011 07 22
Hi John, Thanks for the comment. The Meyers-Briggs assessment is alive and well. In fact I use it in my practice when I'm coaching executives. It is one of the most valid and reliable assessments in the personality area and can provide great insight. You're also right that this can be a piece to foster teamwork--though there are other necessary components. Cheers Todd By Todd Ordal on 2011 07 22
There used to be a testing procedure called Meyers/Briggs that assessed personality types and suggested that you need several of the different types on a board to be successful. I think that's the same idea that you're putting out. It's too bad that Meyers/Briggs disappeared because I think it worked. By John on 2011 07 22

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