The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps
Everything Else in Business
reviewed by John Van Aerde, MD
Patrick Lencioni’s previous bestsellers Death by Meeting and The Five Dysfunctions of a Team gave us tools to improve our meetings and to make our teams more successful during and after those meetings. His most recent book, The Advantage builds on those previous books by making a healthy executive team the basis of a healthy organization or department.
He begins with a review of his previous work, which he further expands into the larger context of organizational culture and changes. He defines an organization as healthy when it has integrity — not in an ethical or moral way, as defined so often today — but when the organization is whole, consistent and complete, when its management, operations, strategy and culture fit together and make sense.
According to Lencioni, any organization that really wants to maximize its success must concentrate on embodying two basic qualities: it must be smart and it must be healthy. Smart means that the decision sciences, like strategy, marketing, finance and technology, have been covered well. Although only half of the equation, being smart occupies almost all the energy, time and attention of many executives.
The other half, being healthy, is often neglected and many organizations underinvest in that second half. Signs of a healthy organization include minimal politics and confusion, high degrees of morale and productivity and very low turnover among good employees. Because people in healthy organizations, including leaders, learn from one another, identify critical issues and recover quickly from mistakes, healthy organizations inevitably become smarter over time.
The book has four main sections, one for each of the four disciplines an organization requires to become healthy. The first explores how to build a cohesive leadership team. In this section, Lencioni re-dissects the content of his most successful book, Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions of a Team, by addressing the five behaviours of highly successful teams:
This section is rich in tools and examples to facilitate success in each of these five functions. Top
The second discipline focuses on achieving clarity by asking six critical questions: why do we exist? (core purpose), how do we behave? (core values), what do we do? (business definition), how will we succeed? (strategy), what is most important right now? (top priorities), who must do what? (clear division of labour irrespective of role descriptions).
The third discipline, overcommunicate clarity, deals with how the answers to the six critical questions are communicated consistently to the rest of the organization — again and again. In this section, Lencioni also provides some tools and examples, but fewer than for the first two disciplines.
Finally, the fourth discipline of a healthy organization deals with reinforcing the clarity by embedding the answers to the six critical questions in the fabric of the organization. In this section, Lencioni explains how hiring, training, managing, compensating, rewarding, firing and evaluating performance of organizational members should reflect the answers to the six questions. For example, recruitment interviews often evolve around the “smart” skills, knowledge and expertise; they should also include organizational values and leadership skills.
For those of us who have read little in the domain of team development and organizational culture, this is a book to include in our library, as it is a compilation of many basic principles all combined in one volume. If you have read books on this topic before, you are perhaps better off investing in books that cover newer insights into team development and organizational culture. I score this book a seven out of ten.
John Van Aerde, MD, MA, PhD, FRCPC is currently president of the Canadian Society of Physician Executives. He is senior consultant for neonatology at Fraser Health, BC, clinical professor of pediatrics at the University of British Columbia, an associate faculty member at the School for Leadership Studies as Royal Roads University in Victoria, and on the faculty of the Physician Management Institute.
Lencioni P. The five dysfunctions of a team: a leadership fable. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2002.
Lencioni P. Death by meeting: a leadership fable… about solving the most painful problem in business. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2004.
Lencioni P. Overcoming the five dysfunctions of a team: a field guide for leaders, managers, and facilitators. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2005.