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The Peril of Reinforcing Bad Habits

The Peril of Reinforcing Bad Habits
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This excerpt from The Shift from Me to Team, which will be published this year, continues the discussion of Reinforcing Systems, and identifies an unexpected source for course correction.

MY REQUEST OF YOU: We would appreciate your feedback. Please share what you like and what could be improved. #leadership #team #CultureClarification #PeakPerformance #CoreIdentity #ReinforcingSystems #team #teamdevelopment #ShiftFromMeToTeam


Many organizations claim a team-oriented Purpose, but their Reinforcing Systems reward a Me orientation and pit team members against each other. This confuses and frustrates team members, and it hampers their ability to fully engage in their work. Confusing and counter-productive Reinforcing Systems may include these features:

  • Competitive commission-based incentive programs
  • Valuing the talent of team members over Organizational Culture Fit
  • Hiring team members for talent or friendship, irrespective of Culture and Behavior Fit
  • Rank comparing of team members

Organizations with Reinforcing Systems misaligned with their Values see their team struggle. Team members come to see terms like values, principles, and mission as talking points, used by leadership when it’s convenient and then ignored for expediency. Team members do not trust leaders who invoke Culture this way. Feelings of safety and security erode, and team members opt to look out for themselves. They do not speak up when the organization seems to be going astray. And the organization’s “A” players realize the garden they are in is no longer fertile ground for them to thrive, and they leave.

But help correcting your course may come from an unexpected source . . .

Leaders Need to Listen to Dissenters

It is easy for leaders to look at dissenters and outliers as problems. With caring as one of our required Guiding Principles, leaders must be respectful enough to hear people out. Leadership can become distanced from daily operations and too focused on metrics. It is easy for leadership to forget that how the team operates together determines the metrics.

It is common for team members—even the introverted—with values deeply aligned to the organization’s to be the canaries in the coal mine because “they just can’t take it anymore.”  The confusion is too much! Leaders need to respect dissenters and hear them out, because they often delineate how the organization has strayed from its Core Identity. For their own safety and security, dissenters need to be able to voice their concerns. Then, leadership can determine whether there has been a miscommunication, or if the organization has strayed, or if the dissenter may not be a good fit for the organization.

In our Culture Clarification interviews, we tell team members their responses are confidential and there will be no attribution. Too often, we hear, “I do not care if they know my feelings, this place must get better or they can fire me, but something has to change!”

Often, these outliers keep an organization from going off track. Respect the dissenters because they may be saying exactly what you need to hear.