Book Review: The Advantage

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In Pat Lencioni’s latest book, The Advantage; Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything in Business, he has included all of his expertise and possibly the kitchen sink, too.

Clearly a book written for the business world, there are many a nugget that can (and ought) to be applied to our personal lives as well. Tweak the language as needed.

Asking us to rate the health of our enterprise, he defines organizational health as:

Minimal politics and confusion


High degrees of morale and productivity


Very low turnover among good employees

Simply put, largely happy campers in a low-drama environment contributing and growing, and not defecting.

Often seen as fluff or another team-bonding ropes course, he argues organizational health as foundational. “More than a side dish or flavor enhancer for the real meat and potatoes of business, it is the very plate on which the meat and potatoes sit,” says Lencioni.

Got health?

The impact of organizational health impacts far more than the walls of the company, says Lencioni, extending to customers and vendors, and spouses, partners and children. “It sends people to work in the morning with clarity, hope and anticipation, and brings them home at night with a greater sense of accomplishment, contribution and self-esteem. The impact of this is as important as it is impossible to measure.”

That reminds me of one of Seth Godin’s many quotes, “The easier something is to quantify, the less it’s worth.”

There is a very real cost to marriages, children and the overall health of the family when people have a diminished sense of hope at work, says Lencioni. Just ask anyone who is miserable at work, or married (current or past) to someone who is.

Pulling from his wildly popular leadership fable The Five Dysfunctions of a Team (2002), he revisits that work here. Later published as a brass tacks field guide for managers and facilitators in 2005, Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions of a Team outlines the five foundations of a healthy and productive team. I can’t say enough about this book, especially the work he does around building vulnerability-based trust. It can be transformational.

Lencioni’s five foundations of a healthy team are:

Trust – members trust one another on a fundamental, emotional level and are comfortable with being vulnerable with each other.

Conflict – willing to engage in passionate dialogue, and willing to disagree with and challenge one another in the spirit of finding the best answers.

Commitment – able to get genuine buy-in around important decisions because all ideas and opinions have been voiced and considered.

Accountability – hold one another accountable (peer to peer) for adherence to agreed upon decisions and standards of performance.

Results – the collective results that define team success trump individual needs and agendas…department priority, career aspirations and/or egos are not in play.

Editorial sidebar: Given that we are all occasional co-conspirators in the dance of artificial harmony – some more than others – it is important to be aware that holding others accountable is one of those simple but not easy edicts.

Lencioni posits that there are four key ingredients to optimizing organizational health:

Build a Cohesive Leadership Team


Create Clarity


Over-Communicate Clarity


Reinforce Clarity

The six critical questions to create clarity cannot be answered in isolation, says Lencioni. They must be answered together, and this is a half-day’s worth of work (at least). Given that leaders will be over-communicating the clarity and spending time reinforcing that clarity, this is an uber-imperative piece to nail.

  • Why do we exist? An organization’s core purpose – why it exists – has to be completely idealistic. How do we contribute to a better world? In what small way are you making the world a better place for a specific group of people?
  • How do we behave? Values are critical because they define a company’s personality. Every activity you undertake, every person you hire, every policy you enact must reflect your core values.
  • What do we do? What’s the unsexy, one-sentence definition that your grandmother can understand?
  • How will we succeed? Identify three strategic anchors that will be used to inform every decision the organization makes and provide the filter/lens through which decisions must be evaluated to ensure consistency.
  • What is most important, right now? If everything is important, nothing is. Getting past organizational ADD and silos are big challenges, so leaders must have a single top priority in a given timeframe. What must be true X months from now for us to be able to look back and say with any credibility that we had a good period?
  • Who must do what? Be very clear on the division of labor, as it causes more problems than you think. Functional descriptions are usually a pretty good indicator of general responsibilities, but there can be duplication and/or omission.

The end goal of answering these six questions is a single-page document outlining your clarity. Referred to as a playbook, it will be held by everyone and constantly reviewed and referenced. Think overkill here and I think you’ll have the message he’s sending.

He says you have to get used to the idea of saying the same thing over and over and over again. “That’s why great leaders see themselves as Chief Reminding Officers as much as anything else,” says Lencioni. And given the power of gossip, he encourages folks to spread “true rumors.”

Noting you can teach skill but not attitude, his purpose of reinforcing clarity is to crystalize and institutionalize the organization’s culture. “Hiring without a clear and strict criteria for cultural fit greatly hampers the potential for success for any organization,” posits Lencioni.

“Keeping a relatively strong performer who is not a cultural fit sends a loud and clear message to employees that the organization isn’t all that serious about what it says it believes.”

Spring cleaning, anyone?

Questions to ponder:

  • How skilled/comfortable are you at being transparent, honest and emotionally naked with your fellow team members, family members or partner?
  • Where in your life are you tolerating or promoting artificial harmony?
  • Which one of the six clarity questions asked above is most vexing?
  • How would you describe the culture that exists in your company, team, family or relationship?
  • What’s one small step you can take today to clarify or reinforce said culture?

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