This is a forthcoming post about the struggle that I deal with to make organizations better. If we make your organization function and achieve high performance, we need more than window dressing, recreation, and placing Fish stickers on the wall. Bromides of – team excellence, Good-to-Great, Management By Objectives, etc.… That we have all heard and wondered, what does that mean? 


When seeing outcomes, you don’t want; we must examine the system that created that behavior. This will force you to face what you believe vs. the evidence.

Team Building and Leadership Expert Michael Cardus

Every job I have ever had I have found myself skeptically wondering if what I think I am doing and what I am actually doing match.

There are skeptics regarding Team Building, and I tend to agree with most. There are also many cheerleaders, and I agree with some of them. The more I read and study and apply my Team Building & Leadership trade, the more I see the good, the bad, and the ugly. It makes me say,

Sometimes I feel like team building is sweet frosting on a shit cake!

That statement needs some unpacking. I can say with certainty that Systems-Drive-Behavior. When teams are not functioning, people are not doing their best work, and changes in the Goals: Roles: Procedures and management system will improve the team’s productivity and individual effectiveness.

TeamBuilding, when thought of as a ‘quick-fix,’ the company has fun, but the expected changes don’t happen.

Just like the sweet frosting on the shit cake.

Changes to how people work Change peoples behavior Create Learning Team Building and Leadership

The sweet frosting is the Recreation, feel-good program (which can be accomplished).

The cake is the Organizational System that the team and people work in. The cake is the overwhelming power in the lives and work of the teams. We all know and have felt this.

It is easier to scrape the frosting and cover the cake than to scrap it and attempt to make a new one.

Making a new cake takes time and change that people say they are uncomfortable with. Yet, when you sit and speak with them, they hate eating this cake and are scared that a change to the cake might reveal that they (as an employee/ingredient in this cake) are also shit. Their skilled knowledge and abilities are part of why the company’s failing.

This is ingrained in the hierarchy, and people would rather keep their heads down and follow some new fad in personal development than explore the organizational system and improve it.

I find many teams and managers; people know that the system is shit; they don’t know how or don’t have the skills & knowledge to fix it, or they cannot stop because they are already so deep that they are asphyxiating in their doom loops.

You and the people who work with you want to do their best work; they want to eat great cake with sweet frosting.

No matter how often you scrape and add new frosting, the cake (the system you work in) will not change. The behaviors and problems are seen, unseen,  and felt continue.

How can team building be practical & effective?

Change to the cake.

It requires breaking a few eggs, beating some batter and determining your current condition, finding what is working well so you can amplify the good stuff (what is working well?) + finding things that are not working so you can dampen and minimize that bad stuff (what is not working well? what do we need to change? how will we know this is better?)

Creating a kick-ass organization, like baking a great cake, cannot be done by ‘winging it.’ You have to have a process and allow for change and correction as it is implemented.

Here are some ways to start this process:
  1. Determine and establish the necessary structure of organizational layering. Are there too many levels, too few, or just enough levels within your organization? The guesswork of how many managerial layers to have causes distrust and halts any innovation within the organization.
  2. Carry out a talent pool analysis. How can you capture the people working capabilities if you have no idea just what they are capable of? Once you determine what works within the role and what work is expected to be completed within that role. Succession planning, training & development all become clearer and tied to the business goals.
  3. Ensure role filling, from top to bottom, with individuals with capability that matches each role. Putting the right people with the right ability to handle complexity, that value the work, have the necessary skilled knowledge, and contain the needed wisdom and temperament to fill that role in those roles. Moving, de-selecting, and possibly terminating people who cannot be effective in that role is tough; Especially when they were promoted for the wrong reasons.
  4. Establish a compensation structure related to boundaries of the layer and level of work. Compensation that matches the felt ‘weight’ of the work shows respect, and a system for compensation is understood. Similar work that has similar periods and complexity are compensated similarly.
  5. Conduct development & coaching for everyone within the company to implement requisite managerial leadership practices. If we are to make the organization function, then certain things must be known and understood. One major area is that the Manager is to be held accountable for the work of the subordinates. For this to happen, clear roles, responsibilities, procedures, and accountability must be reinforced and equitable.

What Do You Think?

Does this analogy reflect your thinking? What ideas do you have to fix the cake’? What examples do you have of quick fixes ‘frosting’ that have been successful in the past? How would you go about improving your organization?

image by melloveschallah

Referenced: Requisite Organization; Elliott Jaques 1989. Page Pair 130