The Leadership Insider network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question: How do you keep your team motivated? is written by Chris Fussell, chief growth officer of McChrystal Group.
“Ship, shipmate, self.” I’ve always found this refrain from the Navy to be powerful. I spent my military career on the SEAL Teams; and while our community was a small part of the Navy, I’ve always had great respect for the ethos of the larger Navy that is embodied in this type of thinking. On any high-performing team I’ve been a part of, putting mission first, and team before self, was always key to collective success. The worst behaviors in organizations, in my experience, are those that get this approach backwards. When the collective mentality of any organization is self and self-preservation first, it’s a sure sign of pending doom.
In any bureaucracy, there’s a natural tendency to let the system become an excuse for inaction. But in today’s complex world, breaking through traditional barriers and creating a culture of cross-functional collaboration is absolutely critical. As we learned first hand in the Special Operations community, today’s world moves with levels of speed that traditional organizational structures are simply incapable of countering. Cross-silo collaboration is no longer a nice to have — it’s a necessity for survival.
Silos and bureaucracy are well oiled machines in corporate America, but they are ultimately perpetuated by individual behavior. If we start behaving differently, we can create change. In other words, shifting your focus onto the team — or the ship as a whole, not just your self, will have meaningful impact. But be sure to avoid these three behaviors that can be toxic to any high-performing team:
Perpetuating a siloed-mentality
We’ve all heard the stories about, or perhaps worked in, a highly-siloed organization. While at first glance these seem to be examples of extreme efficiency, that efficiency comes with a cost. While stable and predictable, these organizations are also incapable of adapting at a pace that matches the world around them. Individuals must work to overcome this behavior. When working on a complex project, it’s important to create and leverage a cross-organizational network and reach out to other teams to get perspectives. Hoarding information or refusing to collaborate with other teams fails to put the ship first, but it’s an unfortunately common practice in many companies today.
Using bureaucracy as an excuse
One of the worst behaviors in today’s environment is hiding behind the “system,” or even worse, actively using bureaucratic processes for self-advantage. You’ve likely seen this – the time your leadership avoided a decision by forming a committee for further review; the instance your project was approved, pending sign-off from 12 other divisions, etc. Instead of driving the ball forward, many leaders are incentivized to lurk in the shadows of processes in order to avoid personal risk. Anyone who’s ever worked in any kind of large organization can testify that the bureaucracy is maddening — but we often forget to check if we are part of the problem ourselves.
Placing self above the ship
Perhaps worst of all are those who place self above all else, those who don’t pitch in when a need arises, or refuse an assignment because they don’t see how it advances their career. The most effective leaders I’ve ever known have always been servant leaders, who knew the priorities of the organization, and would put those first and foremost in their prioritization of effort. I once had someone ask me…what’s the secret to getting through SEAL training? Of course, there is no one trick. But just like in any complex and challenging organization — the best thing you can do is to always be looking for a way that you can advance the mission, or help the teammate on your left of right. When you lose focus on those two elements, you’ll focus inward. Selfish behavior will take over, and you’ll lead from a point of ego, not from one of selfless contribution to the mission.