What breeds a lack of accountability at work? Cowardly leadership

Organizational behaviour expert Keith Ferrazzi on what makes great teams tick

Many of the current workforce trends—automation, virtual offices and the gig economy—seem antithetical to creating a “team” at the office. In fact, in the context of these seismic changes, many don’t understand what it takes to foster teamwork at all. But Keith Ferrazzi has a few ideas. As author of the bestselling books Never Eat Alone and Who’s Got Your Backand founder and CEO of research and consulting firm Ferrazzi Greenlight, he has become an internationally renowned expert on what it takes to build and motivate successful teams.

In anticipation of Ferrazzi’s presentation at CEO Global Network’s GREAT CEOs Speaker Series on October 18th in Mississauga, Ont., Canadian Business spoke with Ferrazzi about candour, why “family” shouldn’t be a dirty word in business and “co-elevation” mattering more than anything.

So much of your work centres around what makes for an effective team. Is there a single thing that characterizes a great team in 2018, and beyond?

I think the biggest opportunity is extracting value from the interdependencies of the team members. So, that means moving from self-sufficiency—what you could call, in the worst cases, silos—to what we call co-elevation, wherein the team is committed to the mission and each other.

The primary attributes [of that] have to do with accepting a single set of shared goals that each individual is committed to. Not just I’m waiting for this person to succeed or fail, and then it’s my turn. It’s about actually owning each other’s goals. If you do that, then you’re going to have significantly more collaborative problem-solving in meetings. You’re going to be committed to peer-to-peer accountability and peer-to-peer coaching, for developmental purposes. And you’re going to be committed to high-degree of candour.

We find that to achieve all of those things, people have to be invested in each other as people, and in each other’s success.

This represents a different mindset to the way most people think of “work.” What is driving this shift?

In the past five or ten years, based on disruptive technologies, based on the advent of  new ventures, there is incredible pressure on companies to transform in an accelerated fashion. With that pressure, they can’t continue business as usual. You’re not going to get breakthrough execution by individuals just doing their own jobs. Individuals need to come together, utilize the best of each of their strengths, hold each other accountable, and lift each other—all of those elements are crucial to get higher-level of execution. People have an easier time changing for their tribe than they do changing for themselves. And the accountability of the tribe forces a higher degree of executional success.

How do you foster this in a workforce increasingly composed of contingent employees, “gig-economy” contractors and virtual teams?

We have to redefine what a team is. A team has nothing to do with who reports to whom. I’ve coached Peter Diamandis, leader of the X Prize and founder of Singularity University.  When I first asked him ‘how is your team?’ his instant reaction was to talk about people who reported to him. But very quickly, we shifted that conversation so that it was about ‘who are the individuals essential to you achieving success?’ That is your team. And Peter has outsourced his marketing department. He has significant donors he leans on to be active members of his executive.

When a great leader awakens to the realization that they are leading a network today, not some archaic silos of individuals who report to them, that’s when a leader will begin to thrive in today’s interdependent environment.

Your entire approach seems to necessitate a high degree of familiarity among employees—something some critics dislike, believing that likening a workforce to a “family” is damaging in the business context.

I hear all the time that familiarity breeds a lack of accountability. I fundamentally disagree. To me, a lack of accountability is the earmark of a poor leader, and it has nothing to do with familiarity.

You would not withhold truth or candour or criticism from your best friends or your children if you felt they needed to hear it. What breeds a lack of accountability is the cowardice of leadership. People who don’t speak the truth in service of each other are cowards, and lack high-performing relationships.

You take a look at [JPMorgan Chase CEO] Jamie Dimon, one of the great financial executives of our time. He personally believes in—and his culture is all about—deep personal connections at the executive level. Which is fully independent of his embracing an immensely candid and positively confrontational way among that team.

It’s all based on co-elevation. I’m not some Pollyanna-ish tree-hugging Los Angelean on this. I’m an individual who has personally helped usher the transformation of some of the most important organizations in the world.

Keith Ferrazzi is speaking on The Future of Work – Leading Without Authority on October 18 at the Mississauga Convention Centre as part of the 2018 GREAT CEOs Speaker Series.