Is Your Team Being Held Hostage?

It's the most common thing I hear when I talk to CEOs and Founders. It’s the same thing I hear from the managers I talk with—from Senior VPs to first-time team leaders and every kind of leader in between. It’s the same thing I told myself over the years.

It’s the thing leaders fall back on when there's a problem in the company culture. It’s one of those things that’s true, but that is not the most important truth at that moment.

You see that your team is not working well together. You feel the tension between managers and their teams. Goals not being hit. You hear the rumblings and gossip.

You see people playing politics and kicking the can in meetings. You see—even though you try to ignore it—people managing around others instead of working with them.

You see someone behaving in a way that you know needs to change. You see people communicate over email, on the phone, or talk with each other in a way that doesn’t reflect your values or the kind of place you want to create. But here’s what you say:

“But they’re really good at their job.”

The problem is … it’s not true.

It might be true that they’re good at some of the technical elements of their job—coming up with marketing ideas, writing code, making sales calls, being polite with customers, etc.

But what’s not true is that having one of those skill sets makes them good at their job. Or a valuable member of the team. It doesn’t. In fact, it’s usually the opposite.

What I see in the organizations I work with is people spending their day managing around one or two people on their team. I see them compromise their values and play it safe out of fear of looking bad in the eyes of their boss. They look the other way on how people with certain high-value skills treat others. They swallow their personal frustration with how that person treats them as their boss.

Most managers come to believe that gossip, politics, and bureaucracy are the way things are. And they make a decision to put their head down and try their best to get things done in spite of that dysfunction. 

The way to create a life-changing place to work is to turn that around.

It starts by changing the agreement. The job of the manager is to root those toxic dynamics out and take action.

By accepting the truth of something that you already know but can be hard to admit. That if all a member of your team has going for them is a technical skill then they’re not good at their job.

They’re terrible at it.

Because being good at your job means being good at being part of a team.

And being a member of a team—especially in the modern office—is all about relationships.

Or, better said, it’s all about relationality.

It’s in the ability to own how you impact other people. To speak up when others impact you.

It’s about learning to name your emotions instead of wearing them on your sleeve and acting them out.

It’s not some fantasy notion of authenticity, getting to say whatever you want whenever you want.

It’s learning how to stand for what’s true for you and learn from someone who knows things and has experience that you don’t yet.

And here’s the most important part: It’s not your employees’ responsibility to figure all this out.

It’s yours.

It’s your job—it’s the job of every manager in the organization all the way up to the CEO—to show people where the boundaries are.

Where does my job end and the next person’s job begin?

What goals am I responsible for hitting on my own and what goals are shared?

What do I do when I feel like someone else isn’t pulling their weight?

How do I take in feedback from my manager when she tells me that I’m not pulling mine?

It comes down to one skill. It’s a skill represented by a word that’s been used so many times that it’s lost its meaning. We have to bring it back.

The word is accountability.

And it’s the key to transforming your team and your company culture.

But not only your culture. It’s the key to connecting professional and personal growth for each member of your team.

Getting accountability going in your culture is the key to changing lives. Including yours.

It’s about learning how to become the leader your team is waiting for.

Accountability is not about nitpicking mistakes or shaming people. Accountability is creating opportunities for growth.

You do that by setting clear boundaries.

By modeling a standard of behavior for how you want things done.

And by creating consequences for people when they agree to make a change and don’t follow through.

Accountability is the strength to go all-in with the people on your team. To be willing to be one person in their life—maybe the only person they have—who can reflect something to them that will help them reach their dreams.

Have you ever had someone like that in your life?

Can you imagine where you would be today if you hadn’t?

Jonathan Raymond