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Who are your people actually working for?

It might not be you or your company – and it may not be your customers either!

A couple of years ago a woman who was on sick leave from her job with an international bank. We talked at length about the pressures in her workplace since the crash. Frequent reorganisations, driven senior management with a constant emphasis on targets, targets, targets and the disruptive effect of regular rounds of redundancies.

I asked her why anyone would stick with this sort of pressure. And her reply was simple. People may stay for the money. But they work for and do their best for their immediate team.

That sounds warm and comforting. But concentrating only on the needs of your own team has serious implications for any organisation. Working in silos undermines the cooperation that’s essential to the efficient delivery of client (and organisational) needs.

In John Adair’s seminal work ‘Training for Leadership’ he identified situational leadership as the need to deal with three interlocking elements of performance – task, team and individual – in different proportions at different times.

The trouble is that, once the team becomes inward-looking, their distorted perspective can affect the team leader just as much as everyone else. The individual needs of those within the group are obvious and easy to attend to. Similarly, team dynamics are quickly addressed. But the only task management that will take place is that which directly benefits the team.

And the harder the organisation puts pressure on to change things, the more critical they become of the team leader – the greater the risk of that leader identifying more and more with their own team. The team and its leader are being motivated by the wrong drivers and may be in conflict with the wider leadership, other departments and even members of their own team who see the bigger picture.

One solution might be to get rid of the leader and break the team up – or even more drastic, fire all of them and split their duties between other teams. But are there better ways to deal with the problem. Ways that add an organisational commitment to the loyalty of the team to each other.

The first step is to get the team leader to recognise their membership of another team – the leadership or management team – and understand the primary responsibilities they have to that group. This is not about divide and rule; it’s about getting them to look in the right direction.

And that direction is to see the purpose of the organisation and understand the importance of their part in delivering it. This might be easier in a hospital than in a bank, but people who work in a specific industry are already bought into what the business does in principle. It’s the particulars of that company’s culture, leadership or reward structure (amongst other things) that are undermining commitment.

Find what is valuable and important to the team leader personally. Ensure they understand how achieving these rewards (and we are not talking about pay here) is tied to performance and delivery. And then support them to go through the same process with their team members.

The outcome? EY’s 2017 report ‘How can purpose reveal a path through disruption?’ reveals that having a human-centric definition of purpose helps over 40% of the c1500 respondents to attract and retain staff as well as aiding the development of new and innovative products. Putting purpose at the heart of what you do has the potential to inspire, transform and support personal and organisational growth.

There are excellent ways of finding out what ‘floats the boat’ of your leaders and gets the team all rowing in the same direction. If you want to know more about this, please contact us at