Your Team Won’t Excel (and Your Company Won’t Thrive) Unless There’s Full Commitment

The CEO of a financial services company in metro-New York created a team to explore and recommend a strategy for growing the firm. She assembled a cross-functional group of six highly capable people.

The team worked very well together. Research and open and collaborative discussion led the team to choose between two strategic directions. Four team members concluded that the best course of action was to build on the company’s existing expertise and core products, and expand geographically. They saw great opportunity in serving “like customers” in new markets.

Two team members judged that the best course of action was to leverage the company’s strong brand equity and product performance in existing metro-New York markets and expand their portfolio of product offerings. They saw great opportunity in serving “new needs with new but-related products” in their current market area.

The team leader led the group through an inclusive and careful assessment and determined that the first strategy was the team’s best choice. The team presented “geographic expansion” as their final recommendation.

By most measures, the team was productive and successful. Using the framework of Patrick Lencioni’s Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team™ the team built trust, engaged in healthy conflict, had been accountable to each other, and produced a strong result. 

All Team Members Must Be Committed

However, one of Lencioni’s five behaviors, commitment, was lacking. The two advocates of “new products/existing markets” never really accepted — never fully committed to — the team’s final recommendation. It seemed like no big deal — at first. 

“Commitment is clear, explicit buy-in from each team member of the recommendations and decisions made by the team,” said Maren Perry, president of Arden Coaching. “Commitment consists of the team choosing the best course of action possible and then getting behind the decision whole-heartedly.”

“Teams — and the companies they serve — can only succeed long-term when everyone on the team accepts the decision and stands behind it — even if a team member may have initially been opposed, or proposed a different idea.”

Lack of Commitment Leads to Dysfunctional Teams — and Worse

Whenever the opportunity presented itself, the two “dissenting” team members would remind co-workers about their recommendation and their rationale. 

As the geographic expansion strategy encountered challenges or difficulties (and what new strategy doesn’t have its ups and downs!), the two team members would raise their rejected alternative and talk about how their recommendation would have been the better choice.

It took energy and focus away from making the selected strategy work. It created factions where there should have been none. It made meetings painful because attendees knew that the path-not-taken would be brought up and discussed…again.

Over time the lack of commitment on the part of every team member hurt the company’s culture, resulted in unnecessary internal conflict, and wasted resources.

Building Commitment

When team behaviors are built on vulnerability-based trust and healthy conflict, every team member will enjoy the opportunity to propose ideas, express their view point, ask questions, debate alternatives, and recommend solutions.

Perry says that, “High-performing teams get people to ‘weigh-in to buy-in.’ If team members have a genuine opportunity to weigh-in they are much more likely to buy-in to team decisions — fully supporting the recommendation or decision selected.” 

For interesting reading on the neuroscience of commitment, read Arden Coaching’s article, “Moving Your Team from Resistance to Commitment.” 

“If a team member simply can’t buy-in, they need to leave the team — and perhaps the company,” adds Perry. “A person can’t be on a team and can’t be a productive (or very happy) employee if they’re not committed to what everyone else has committed to. It may sound harsh, but it’s really best for all parties.”

Make the importance of commitment clear when a team is first organized and starts its work. Make sure everyone understands what it means. Setting expectations early will set the stage for long-term success.

(For more about high performance teams, read Arden Coaching’s five-part series about employing Patrick Lencioni’s Five Behaviors model to build high performance teams)

To learn more about developing your team’s performance and executive coaching, contact us at [email protected] or 646.844.2233.