Tough Teams

I have been working with a few executives who are faced with leading very challenging, and in one case, very dysfunctional teams. It is obviously hard on the executives who are driving toward execution and results. Teams are critical to success – regardless of what we are trying to accomplish: school reformation,  30% year over year growth, or putting on a charity event. When they are not ‘norming and performing’ – the entire operation is in jeopardy.

Many of you know, I have a real affinity for Adam Bryant’s Corner Office articles in the Sunday New York Times. A few weeks ago, Adam interviewed George S. Barrett, chairman and chief executive of Cardinal Health, a health care services company. The interview is well worth reading.

One answer from George Barrett which really resonated with me was in response to a question about how to determine ‘who stays on the bus.’ His answer was interesting and one that we can all use:

“It was about watching them, and watching the organization respond to them. I’ll give you an example. We’re sitting with a large group of folks, about 40 to 50 managers, and people are standing up to raise certain issues.

And I watched this one executive. People were watching and riveted to him, really listening and engaged. And then this other executive spoke, and I watched him address the group, and I watched everyone’s eyes. And their eyes went back down to their tables. They couldn’t even meet eyes with him. It was a clear signal that said, “You’ve lost us.”

So sometimes you don’t know what the messages are that you’re going to get, but you have to look for them. They come from your peripheral vision. And that was one of those cases where I just knew it the second it happened.”

The takeaway is this: the answer lies in the peripheral. The gray areas. The fringes. The margins. That is where the truth is revealed. We need to pay attention – the answers are right before us.