Book Club: Eric Coryell on Building Accountable Teams
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Olivia Fuller: Hi, and welcome to Book Club, a Sales Enablement PRO podcast. I’m Olivia Fuller. Sales enablement is a constantly evolving space, and we are here to help professionals stay up to date on the latest trends and best practices so they can be more effective in their jobs.
In the execution of cross-functional initiatives, sales enablement is often the glue that pulls the efforts of multiple teams together. Responsible for landing corporate initiatives in the field, sales enablement must often connect the dots between leadership’s core objectives and how the actions of reps will support those objectives. This means that cross team collaboration is critical to the success of sales enablement. Enablement can help enhance collaboration by instilling accountable behavior within teams. To help us understand the importance of accountability in teams and how to build it, I’m so excited to welcome Eric Coryell, the author of “Revolutionize Teamwork”. Eric, could you please take a moment and introduce yourself and a little bit about why accountability in teams is so important to you in your work.
Eric Coryell: Sure, glad to. My name is Eric Coryell. For me, accountability and team started with my first job out of college. I got a degree in economics, had no idea what to do with it and so I got a job as a buyer. I was a pretty decent buyer, but I was also pretty good at understanding what the boss wanted and saying the right things. I got promoted as a result and kept working my way up the organizational chart. Then as I got into a leadership role, being good meant you had to have teams that were good. And I discovered low and behold that the people who were working for me did the same thing that I did. They would say what I wanted them to say, and they knew how to play the game well, as opposed to what they really felt. At that point, I realized this isn’t going to get us to where we got to go. If we’re going to be an effective team and effective organization, I got to get them to say what they really feel and I got to get them to become accountable, not to me, but to the results and to each other.
So, that’s when I started to play with the idea of maybe there’s a different way around managing accountability. At the same time, this was back in the nineties, early nineties when we were all a relatively small company. Working with the big boys, the Baxter’s and the Abbotts, and they were so large and so dysfunctional, we discovered the only way that we are going to work effectively with them is if we became functional. We went to this idea of cross-functional teams, way before it was a thing. Low and behold, those teams were pretty much a mess. And I realized that some of the same things I was learning about leading my own team applied to those cross-functional teams. The more I played with it and try things and fail more often than I care to admit, started figuring out what was required to get teams to become accountable. Then with every job I had from that point forward, I worked really hard at leading my team as a team. Most importantly, putting them in position to be accountable to each other and not me and found that in the long term, they were higher performing teams than those that weren’t.
OF: Absolutely. That is a great introduction to your book, which centers on the importance of accountability. What does accountability really mean to you and why do you maintain that concept that’s often said of holding people accountable is actually a myth?
EC: Most people will say being accountable means you’re going to do what you say you’re going to do in the time frame you said you’d do it. And that’s just kind of how we walk around and say, that’s what it means to be accountable. Well, who’s always done what they said they’re going to do in the timeframe. They said they do it. I think it’s at the moment when someone doesn’t do what they say they’re going to do in the timeframe, they said they do it. You’re going to find out whether they’re going to act accountable or not. Some people when they fall short of expectations, make excuses, they point fingers, they procrastinate the height, and those are all non-accountable behaviors. Versus those that are accountable, what they do when they fall short of expectations, is they take ownership and then they start doing something different till they get it fixed. So, to me being accountable means if I’m not getting the desired results, I start doing something different. That’s kind of the way countability is inside of organizations.
But if someone does not act accountable, if they don’t get the desired results, then someone else needs to step in and start being accountable. In other words, doing something different until it gets the desired results. And that’s almost always the leader. It’s the leader’s job. If someone’s not performing or if results aren’t happening, the leader’s the one that needs to step in and address those issues and start doing something different until they get a result. So that’s what I was told as a leader, “Eric, you need to hold these people accountable.” Well, holding someone accountable, looks like this: you tell them what to do. You make sure they have everything they needed to get the job done. You incentivize them. You put measurements in place. You set goals. You give them feedback. If after all that they don’t get it done, you go in and you coach. Then you ask questions and you re-incentivize, and you beg, and you threaten, and you cry, and you pray, and you do whatever it is you do. If none of that works, if giving an ultimatum that doesn’t work, then you liberate them. That’s pretty much the process.
That’s the act of holding people accountable, which I did for a number of years. Until one day I asked myself, at what point did I ever really hold them accountable? Well, you could argue I held them accountable and I let them go. But up until that point, who really had the accountability. What I realized was it’s the leader that’s setting expectations. It’s a leader, it’s an incentivizing and making sure that the job is going and giving feedback and coaching and begging and threatening. So, I’ve come to believe that that notion of holding someone accountable is really a myth. What I hear when someone says, “hold you accountable,” all I really hear them saying is I am taking the accountability from you and I now have it. I think that’s what we do inside organizations is we assign different levels of accountability, different people, right? So, you’re accountable to do this and you’re accountable for that. If an individual doesn’t meet that accountability, their boss has to step in and take it from them. If the boss doesn’t mean their accountability, their boss has to step in and take it from them and that’s kind of how we manage accountability inside organizations.
OF: Those are some great points. I hadn’t thought about it that way where people often think of accountability as after the fact, rather than being managed ongoing and holding yourself accountable in a way and understanding what those behaviors are as an individual contributor in a team setting. With that said, what makes a team accountable and why are accountable teams so rare?
EC: That’s a good question. Most typical, hierarchical structures have the leader that has the accountability. As a leader, I like that because I have control. But it’s also exhausting at the end of the day, I feel like all the world is on my shoulders and the team will only be as good as the leader holds everybody accountable. But there is another way to manage accountability and that’s to get the team to manage the accountability, such that if performance isn’t happening or if someone’s not getting the job done, the team starts to address those issues and it’s not always a leader. So that’s the notion of what an accountable team is. Accountable teams are different than most things, because in most teams, while we call them teams, especially inside a business environment, you have six people that report to me, I call it my sales team, expect them to act like a team.
But the inherent things are not in place there to actually make that team function like a team, and especially not act like an accountable team. So, to get a team to become functional, which is really the first step. There are certain things that need to be in place. You need to have a clear, defined purpose of what’s the team here to achieve. You need the measurements and metrics that tell you whether or not you’re achieving that, obviously you need competent people and capable processes. I’ve yet to see a functional team that tolerated incompetence. And you need capable processes. Good communication, no decisions you can and cannot make solidifying roles and responsibilities. The most important thing to get a team to function is their needs be a shared fate. And by that, I mean, what happens to one happens to all, and that’s really the driving force that will go to a group of people that actually function like a team and inside business structures more often than not the only shared fate that exists on a team is everyone’s having to survive the boss.
The conversations amongst everybody to be like, did you hear what you said today? What would you see what you did yesterday? And those will be the conversations that create the shared fate for most teams. It’s not a very healthy shared fate, but it’s usually all that exists. If you look at sports, there’s a shared fate we either win the game together or we lose the game together. There are certain environments that automatically almost create all those things. You have to take the time to create that you get these five things in place, however, and you will watch a group of people actually start to function like a team, but you can have a functional team and all the accountability can still rest with a leader. So, if you want a functional team to become accountable team, what makes teams truly accountable is if that team gets good and comfortable at dealing with their real issues together. And by that, I mean, the real issue is any issue that affects the team’s ability to achieve their purpose. Once we know what the team’s accountable for, if something’s getting in the way, a year real issue that if the team’s going to be accountable, they’re the ones that are going to have to start dealing with those issues.
Good news is most issues aren’t real, right. If someone’s got bad breath, we don’t need to bring the whole team together and talk about their bad breath. It’s not going to affect your ability to be successful. But if someone’s not equally invested in the team, that’s a real issue. Someone’s not behaving by the values and standards, which we agreed to, that’s a real issue. Probably the biggest one is if someone’s not performing, that’s a real issue. If someone’s not uploading into the deal, that’s going to affect the team’s ability to be successful. When I grew up in business, I was told, “Eric, you praise in public and criticize in private,” but if you paid attention, most performance reviews are done in private. Then you wonder why you don’t have teams. If you look at a sports team, performance reviews are held in front of everybody. It’s totally normal, but in business we preach and do just the opposite. And in fact, I think most teams, when we get together for meetings, we actually collude to avoid talking about our real issues.
We’ll work really hard to avoid those tough topics. We’ll talk about those issues in the meeting, after the meeting and the bars in the bathrooms and the hallways where it’s safe, you know, the one or two people we find safety on. I think most teams work really hard to avoid talking about their real issues. They do just the opposite, but accountable teams don’t. Accountable teams get in the habit if something’s getting in the way of them being successful, they don’t ignore it. They don’t talk behind each other’s back. They don’t sit around waiting for the leader of the boss, the coach, the parent, to solve their problems. Instead, they learn to talk to each other through those things, whatever they are. The second the team gets good at doing that, that’s when they start delivering high results. So that’s when you start to trust each other, you respect each other, you have each other’s back and it becomes more about the team than it does the individual. Well, the only way to get there is to get that team comfortable and good at dealing with their real issues. That’s the secret to getting teams to become accountable.
OF: Yes. I love the concept that you just mentioned of dealing with real issues together. I actually want to dig a little bit deeper into that, what are some of the challenges or obstacles that you think stand in the way of building accountable teams and then how can team leaders help to overcome those challenges?
EC: At the very heart of that issue is getting people to say what they really feel. I think most teams, the reason that doesn’t happen is I think on most teams, there’s what I call a psychological contract. By that I mean there’s an unwritten rule, it’s unspoken, but it’s a contract that exists on most teams. It says contract that keeps us from doing this, and the contract goes as follows. I will not talk about your performance. You just don’t talk about mine. I call it psychological. Very few people have ever had that conversation with a teammate. We don’t sit to our teammates and talk about you have to run me, but it is clearly a contract that exists on most teams. And I know it’s a contract because if I were to walk into a team and start critiquing someone’s performance in front of everybody that person’s going to feel portrayed, you just broke the deal.
Even though the deal has never spoken and they’re going to have no choice but declare thermonuclear war. And here we go, I mean, how dare you talk about me in front of everybody. I’m not going to talk about you. And so, I think it’s that contract that really keeps this from happening.
How to overcome that, I think two things need to happen. One is that shared fate, there has the shared fate is what creates the motivation for people to say what they truly feel because if my success is intertwined with your success, if my failures that are trying with your failure, I am highly motivated to have those conversations. But the second thing is trust. If I really trust your intent, if I know you’re sharing these things with me, just tell me, get better. If I know you’re sharing, as soon as we just help the team get better, I’m not so scared to do this. If I know you’re attentive, tell me, get better.
If I trust your intentions to help the team and get past my ego pretty darn quick. If there isn’t that trust, if I don’t trust your intent well, my little ego flares in a heartbeat, I get defensive and have all sorts of it. So, making this happen really requires that meaningful shared fate, that feeling of what happens to want to help install, but it also requires getting that level of trust. And once you have that, then you can break the psychological contract because now we can go on and sort of having these conversations and we realize that we’re dealing with these issues for the betterment of the team. We are dealing with these issues for the betterment of each other. If you don’t do that, however, it feels like an attack and I tend to get defensive and I tend to feel it the way to play it safe as to avoid talking about these things. When in reality, that’s the least safe thing.
OF: That is very interesting, that trust and safety are such core components to accountability and teams. A lot of that, as you’ve talked about, really comes down to the culture within teams. I think especially if a team is operating dysfunctional, it’s because they lack that culture of safety and trust. So, with that in mind, what are some actionable steps that professionals can take to really build a culture of accountability within their teams, and maybe overcome that dysfunction that’s really harming the culture of their team?
EC: I think to overcome it, some of the stuff you need to do is purely structural. And I kind of alluded to a lot of these things before. There has to be clarity of what we’re here to achieve. Honestly, next to me, your team, start the meeting out, have everybody pull out a blank sheet of paper and have them write down what they think the purpose of the team is. Rarely, I don’t know if I’ve ever had it happen where the answers matched. So, the starting point is starting to lay the strong foundation. The first step is what are we here to achieve? Second step is how do you put metrics in place that tell us whether or not we’re achieving them, because if we’re going to be accountable, we got to do something different.
We need to know when we’re falling short. Competent people, capable process. Honestly, most teams already have that. But the next thing I got to do is I got to build this shared fate. I got to do the things that will start to get the team to feel like a team. So often as a leader, you’re responsible for this and you’re responsible for that. You’re responsible for that. I have an issue with that. I talked to you. I have an issue with it. I talked to you and then I wonder why you’re not acting like a team. I got to change the mindset of you guys are individuals with different accountabilities that are ultimately here to achieve the team’s purpose. I got to start to do the things that build the shared fate. I’m going to co-locate their desks. I’m going to get them to respond accountable for achieving a set of metrics together. I can do a compensation; common enemy create shared fate difficult challenge to create shared fate.
So, my job as a leader then is to dial up the shared fate. Those things to me are the structural foundation you need to put in place. They’re not hard to just take some time, energy and focus on the other side of the equation. I call it the behavioral changes that need to take place and ultimately to build trust. There’s some wonderful work out there. And trust Bernie Brown is extraordinary. All sorts of people who have done great work on trust. But I think on teams, probably the most important skill set is our ability to learn, to work through our issues together, whatever they are to learn, to talk them out, and that is the challenge. First of all, it was a psychological contract, but a lot of our behaviors, at least the behaviors I were taught actually destroys trust. So probably the most important skill set I get to teach teams is literally the importance that whenever anyone talks, everyone speaks only on their own behalf. And by that, I mean, when I’m speaking, I can only speak from my own frame of reference.
There are two rules that I teach that make that a reality. The first rule is I don’t allow group pronouns to be used in meetings. I don’t allow people to use the word we, they, our, anybody. Everybody gets that so our teams avoid their real issues. You’ll hear someone say all the time, someone will say, “well, you know what our problem is, our problem is we don’t follow a process.” Well, who is “we,” who is, “they?” I don’t want to point out the individual. That’s not doing it. I don’t want to address the real issue. So, I throw a pronoun at it and teens tend to then avoid their real issues. So, my rule is, I mean, outside of media, of course use those words, “We won. We lost,” that’s great. But when I’m working through an issue, no. If someone says we, I just played the interrupt, say just exactly, who’s we, who’s they. Yeah, because I can say I’m not fun to process. I don’t see any one of you following a process. Like I said, the two of you aren’t on a process, just can’t say we’re not following a process.
The second thing I do, and this sounds even crazier, but I don’t allow questions to be asked in meetings. Believe it or not. Questions are actually passive-aggressive and being a little bit extreme here, the only time I ever allow anyone else to questions, if they make a statement first. Because almost all communication breakdowns take place when someone starts with a question, because when I begin with a question, your mind will immediately start making assumptions around that question. Why are you asking that question? What answer do you want to hear? And the fact of the matter is the brain always thinks the statements. So, there’s always the thought what we tend to do is we take that thought, we twist it into a question for safety sake. You’ll hear someone asks a question like, don’t you think it’d be a good idea if we did this, as opposed to saying, I think this would be a good idea, but I’m afraid to say, I think this would be a good idea because I can get rejected.
If I ask it as a question, that’s the terrible idea I could say, “yeah. I thought so too. I was just checking.” Right? I don’t have to own it. But I promise you that that’s where things fall apart. Because when I ask the question, it gets misinterpreted. A great example took place two years ago, my wife and I put up Christmas decorations all throughout the house and super late at night, super tired, I’m in the kitchen. Almost done, she walks in, she asked me a question. She goes, “don’t you think it’d be a lot easier if you did it this way?” I’m tired to begin with then I think to myself, well, no, I know how to put Christmas lights out at Christmas and I had this complete meltdown. When in reality, she had a really good idea. She just expressed there was a question. I made some false assumptions around that question. Right? So, the rule is you can make a statement. You can ask the question. If the data got a question, this has got to come after the state.
So, the no issue would have said, “Hey, I’ve got an idea that may make your life easier,” statement. Now she can ask the question. Do you want to hear it? I can make a statement. I think this is a good idea then I guess the question, what do you guys think? I don’t know what you think. So, learning to get everyone to speak on their own behalf is the skillset that literally enables people to start working through issues without judgment because when I don’t speak on my own behalf, if I walk into a meeting and say something like, “Well, Olivia, we don’t think you’re doing a very good job.” What do you hear when I say that? You hear the wheel who’s we, you would talk about, we have my back. Oh my gosh. And trust is instantly destroyed, which is a very different thing than if I say, “Hey, I don’t see you doing a good job and that’s okay.”
We can talk about that, but the second I throw a “we” at it, all sorts of things start to fall apart. You start to feel like, even terminal back trust gets destroyed. So, the secret is getting everyone to speak for themselves. I don’t allow someone to walk into a meeting and say, Johnny and I were talking, come speak for Johnny and myself. Almost every district of meeting is laced through the weeds, intervention starts with them. We think you’ve got a problem. These are full of it. It happens because we talk about these real issues outside the meeting, before it comes to the meeting, and then we bring them together in a wasteland. So that’s why it’s so important everyone speaks for themselves. And the last piece of the puzzle is learning how to have the conversations in a constructive way, every real issue, every issue that that’s going to get in the way of any team being successful is always the conversation about the gap that exists between expectation and reality.
So, I expect these results, I’m seeing these results. I expect this behavior, I’m seeing that behavior. Every real issue has its source in that gap. The problem is the tendency for us as humans is to put it off, put it off, put it off to find the I’m sitting on so much frustration with my expectation and the time I come to have the conversation it’s “Let’s just start over.” So, teaching groups, how to learn to stop, slow down. Let’s talk about what our expectations are. Make sure we’re on the same page. What does performance look like? Let’s talk about reality. What are you seeing? What I’m seeing? And then the third source is, is talking about the impact of the gap that exists. We may agree there’s a gap, but we do disagree on the impact.
A quick illustration. It goes back a year ago. My daughter was home at the time, and her room forever has been a mess. And it finally occurred to me, I’ve never really set the expectation that you keep your room clean. So, I sat down with her. I’m like, “Shannon, you’re old enough now where I expect you to keep your room clean at all points in time.” So, we are now on the same page in terms of expectations. Well, the next thing you know, we’re having the reality conversation because she starts telling me that it is clean. I’m like, no, that’s a mess. That’s a federal disaster. In fact, this is what a clean room looks like. So, I finally got to the point where she agreed it wasn’t clean, but now we’re having the third conversation, which is the impact of the gap because her next counter conversation, comments to me was well, so what, I keep the door closed. I don’t want my friends in the room. She literally goes, it’s safe. I mean, if I trip up, I fall into a bunch of clothes. Why is it a big deal?
My room was clean. So, I’m like, why is it a big deal? My first thought was, well, I had to. So, you should, I’m not winning that argument. And then it occurred to me like you’re nine months away from going off to college, and if your roommate’s a neat freak and you can’t keep her room clean, that’s a problem. And quite frankly, my job as an adult is to send you off into the world as a semi-functional adult. And part of it is somewhat functional is being able to keep her room clean. So, she’s like, fine, what do I need to do to prove? Keep her room clean? I’m like, well, keep it clean for 30 days straight. Sure enough, she did. Then the room’s a mess again. But the point was is we had to work our way through each of those issues. And I will tell you every real issue has its source.
So, as I get to work with teams, I can get any team through any issue. And as long as everyone speaks for themselves and as long as they take whatever that issue is and learn to break it down into those components. And with that, you can take on virtually anything. As teams start to take on these issues, whether it’s performance or investment or behavior, then trust gets built. The more you do it, the easier it becomes. It becomes second nature, but learning those skillsets is not natural. I was always told, ask questions, don’t make statements, don’t use I, all that kind of stuff. But what I’ve come to realize if you want to create an accountable team, it’s much the opposite.
OF: You mentioned something important there about performance expectations and really making sure that those are very clear, and everyone knows what good is supposed to look like. So, in terms of metrics for accountable behavior, what are some of the criteria for those metrics that teams should adopt?
EC: You make a good point. One of the big things is I go into a team and ask every individual what they’re accountable for, and they’re almost going to only talk about their own world. I’m accountable for sales in the North territory. I’m accountable for the sales in the South and the East or the West or whatever it is, right. If a team is going to be accountable, what needs to be clear is what is the team accountable for? So, by that saying, okay, look, you guys, you, as a team are accountable to generate X number of new customers, total sales margins of the job code, whatever that is. And I’m going to hold you accountable as a team to those metrics. So, if one of you is not upholding the deal, you need to start talking to each other and start dealing with those issues. That’s really the essence of an accountable team, but you’re not going to be able to do that unless you have really clear metrics. So, the metrics first and foremost have to tie exactly back to that purpose.
So, at the end of the day, I got to look at those metrics and say, you know what, if they’re hit on those metrics, the team brings their accountability. So, having done this for longer than I care to admit, a few things that I’ve learned. First of all, I’ve ever seen a team successfully be accountable for more than like five metrics. So, my first rule is you should be able to clearly determine whether or not you’re achieving the team’s accountability with three to five metrics, in some cases, but no more than five. Using some metrics or some metrics. So, we’re going to measure activities and things that lead to the overall metric. So, you want to make sure that metrics you’re truly focusing on are tied directly to the purpose state. So very often I’ll color code the purpose statement in a certain section of the purpose statement, I’ll color code to the actual metrics so we can tie a one-to-one correlation between those things. That was probably the first thing. It’s got to tie directly.
The second thing is you can’t have too many and this isn’t a little bit more subtle, but you got to make sure the team has influence over those metrics. Because if you’re going to ask a team to be accountable for something, you have to have very little influence over it. As soon as the metric starts going itself, they’re going to do this and it’s not our fault. So, one exercise I very often do is one, three, three of a metrics. I’ll get together with the team and say to create a little T chart. What’s in your control? What’s outside of your control? And that happens a lot in the sales arena, right? So, what’s outside of our control. Well with competition does commodity prices, and they’ll start studying all these things that are out of their control. Well, what’s in your control. Like, okay then why am I paying you? But what is in your control, our efforts, how we approach the customers, the sales system we use, et cetera, et cetera. So, once we get that up there, then we have to look back and say, is that enough of this metric truly inside of our control, where we can be accountable to it. If so, much of it is outside of our control, then I’m going to say it’s a bad metric. I just had this happen to me two weeks ago. So, it’s fresh in my mind, but working with a manufacturing team and one of their metrics has been cycle time.
From the time a job gets released to the floor, at the time it’s off the door and they’ve been struggling with it for about a year, the root cause kept coming back and they had outsourced the parts they couldn’t control the players league. And when the player fell behind, they started to struggle. So, it was a bad metric from that perspective because they really didn’t have, they swapped out planters and they continue to be a problem. So, what they did to make that metric inside their control, as they started measuring the time it went to the floor to the time it went to the platers, stop the clock. Started the clock, when it came back to finish. Now they were in control of all those things. So, they had to tweak the measurement so that it was something that they were inside of control of. I think the third component is you have to make sure that they have a high degree of influence around those metrics. And then the fourth thing, is that it needs to be measurable on a timely basis.
If it’s a metric that you can only gather data around, like an employee survey, something like that. Once a year, it’s really hard to be accountable to that. So, you really want to pick a metric that has a regular cadence to feedback. We got to find ways to generate that feedback. So even if it’s customer satisfaction feedback, we’re going to cycle it over a period of time, as opposed to just hitting everybody once a year. So, we’re going to get out and get data, and then we can use that data to get better. I’d say those are probably the four most important things to have good metrics.
OF: Those are fantastic tips. I want to go back to something that you mentioned right at the start of this conversation, which was around cross-functional teamwork. Sales enablement professionals are often responsible for leading a lot of cross-functional projects. I’m curious to hear from you, how can accountability be built in that cross-functional team dynamic, where the team might not necessarily be working together daily, but they still need to come together to meet very specific organizational goals?
EC: You’re going to get me on my soap box here. More and more organizations are going to that model. If you think about the hierarchical model, the hierarchical business model actually starts in the early nineteen-hundreds. When companies started to grow in size, we have to figure out how to organize them. We adopted the military model. It was the Romans, right. And the military of general’s officers, soldiers, thinking, telling, doing, and we would specialize. So, we’d have a sales department, operations purchasing, whatever it was, but that’s not the way business flows in a slow-moving world. Back in world war one, we’ll work to that model, we could send all the information up to the top. They would make the decisions come down from on high until everybody went to the front line. People would do it.
Today’s world is so much faster. We need the decisions to be made closer to the customer. We need that cross-functional perspective in that we can’t just work in these silos and make the best decisions. Every organization I know is wrestling with that. The cross-functional team idea is, the first step at doing that, the problem with cross-functional teams we realized that over to best service the customer, we need someone from sales, and we need someone from purchasing and maybe an estimator and project manager. We’re going to pull these people out of their apartments, put them together and say, be accountable to each other. The problem is at the end of the day, if I’m the inside salesperson, I’m reporting to my inside sales manager or the purchasing person, I’m reporting to the purchasing manager for the project manager, I’m reporting to you. So, while we are supposed to be accountable to each other, at the end of the day, is even being on there to look to my source of separation, which is my boss, which isn’t on the team. That’s where these cross-functional teams start to break down and I’ll call it a matrix organization. So, in order to get that to work, it takes a leap of faith.
The leap of faith is very much what we’ve been talking about today. That is to get the team to become truly accountable. But that requires then that I am now accountable to my teammates and not to my boss. So, my performance review is no longer going to come from my boss. My performance review is not going to come from my team. I may still have a boss, but the boss is now a coach. The purchasing manager is making sure that all the purchasing people are using the best software, their personal development, all that kind of stuff. But those purchasing, those buyers are reporting to me. They are now reporting to the team. And that’s the only way the long term is to make this work. That you don’t need the managers. They’re still there, but they’re in a different role. It’s much more like coaching.
Coaches don’t get to play the game, but I’m here to put the players in positions so they can be successful. I’m going to create a good playbook. I’m going to train. I’m going to do all those things necessary, so they go play the game and be successful. And that’s a different mindset for leaders. I think as a leader, it’s hard because they got to let go of control. And that’s probably one of the biggest single challenges in making this happen is getting the leaders comfortable, letting go of control, but there have to be just like a coach in a sport and they can’t go out and play the game. They’ll all tell me during the game, it’s pretty helpless feeling when I run out there and tell them what to do or do it for them. But I can’t, it’s no different at work. You create these cross-functional teams. All you can do is put them in a position to be successful and trust that they’re going to be successful.
Well, if they’re not, the team has got to step up and take the accountability. So, you got to do these things we’ve talked about, but the purpose of metrics and all those things in place. And then if a team isn’t hitting those metrics, the team has got to get together and start resolving those issues. And they have to know how to have those informal conversations and work through those things. Ultimately, if a team can’t do that, the leader’s got to step back in and take it from them, but it’s not a natural act. In order to make this work, you got to kind of go all the way in and get these teams to become accountable to each other, as opposed to doing half and half where you’re a team, but then you report to different people. That’s a leap of faith and it’s not easy to do, but then it’s really what’s required to get those cross-functional teams to work.
OF: That’s very interesting that you mentioned that it takes really a mindset shift, especially from the manager’s perspective and really being more of a coach rather than solely managing performance. So, I just want to ask one final question, and this has been a great conversation by the way, but I want to go back to something that you mentioned as really being the core ingredient of accountable teams, and that’s the concept of shared fate. So, let’s dig a little bit deeper into that. How do you create a shared fate and why is that so integral to the success or even the failure of a team?
EC: You really touched on what’s most important. I’ll tell people, you know, not every group of people should be a team. You’ve got to decide, do I really want them to be a team? If you do, you need to build that shared fate, the stronger you need that team to be, the greater the shared fate you need it to be. So, let me illustrate it. This will happen in sales environments to where all the sales manager calls me up where for my sales team, I’m like why? And they’re like, well, teams outperform individuals. Not always but keep talking. Well, I got four salespeople. I got Johnny, he’s got the North and Beth has got the South and Mary’s got the East and Frank’s got the West. I’m like, okay, well, how do you think? Well, they get a base pay, but they all get a pretty big commission check based upon the sales. They generate the respective geographies.
Like, you want them to be a better team. Well, yeah, simple. Take their commissions. Add them up. Divide by four, pan the same. Oh, I can’t do that. Mary’s my rockstar. Johnny’s brand new, Mary’s would be giving money to Johnny and that’s not fair. Do you want Mary helping Johnny or no? If you do, and then you need it. We do create a team and you need to create a shared fate. You may decide, you know what? I just want Marie to work with the Falcon giant, to worry about the North and go, in which case I’m going to say, don’t sweat the team thing, but if you want them to act like a team, if you want them to help each other, if you want them to be invested in each other, then the very first thing is you have to create a meaningful, shared fight.
That’s what’s going to start to create those conversations and do the things necessary to get them to act like a team. Now, I also have to give them the ability to influence each other. Mary’s got to be able to go talk to Johnny and coach them up and help them out because I can’t just say you’re going to share in the commission, but you have no influence over that person. So, the key becomes, how do you build that shared faith? High performing teams need high levels of shared fate. A classic illustration is the military. I actually have a good friend. He’s a former Marine, accidentally Coleman ex-Marine. Once that was a mistake, and I asked them because we were talking about bootcamp. I’m like, well, what happens in bootcamp? And he said well, Eric it’s different depending upon where you go, but it’s all to the same effect. I’m like, Oh, yeah. What’s that? He goes, well, I figured it out the second day. Like, well, what happened was all the Sergeant came in the barracks, woke us all up in the morning, dragged us all out to the beach and told all of us that we’d be going from here to over there as fast as we possibly could along the Mark obstacle course.
It turned out to be a 90-minute physical gauntlet. We slammed at the point, we almost drowned. We ran forever. We climb these walls. We crawled under barbed wire and then we had to run around and around this obstacle course in the forest until they finally blew the whistle, and we got the finish and I finished first. I’m like, that’s awesome. He’s like, Nope. I’m like, why? He goes, well, they lined us up on the order of our finish and the Sergeant got two witches in front of my face and tore me apart. I’m like, why you won? But I also happen to pass up all my teammates who were struggling in the forest and I kept going and I figured out really quick it didn’t matter when I finished it, it only mattered when everybody else finished. And that’s what they did during basic training was they made your life increasingly miserable, so you figured out it was about the team and not you. And if you didn’t, they got you out because in the heat of the battle, you better have each other’s back or people’s lives are at stake.
Everything they did was to build shared fate. We all lost our hair. We all wear the same clothes. We all eat the same food. Point being the stronger you need a team to be the stronger, the shared fate you need to create. So, in those environments where it’s high stress, high pressure, I have to do everything I can to build, share, and faith. Other things may not require that same level of shared fate, but there are lots of ways to do it. I really think it stems from how does the leader treat their team? As a leader, I would find a sales issue. I texted my sales manager or HR, should I talk to HR manager and then wonder why they weren’t acting like a team. It wasn’t till I started saying as a team, you are accountable for the sustainable profitable growth of this organization. And I expect you as a team to deliver on that. And I started talking to them in that way. Did they actually start acting like a team? Because now all of a sudden, the HR manager was equally owning the sales metric and she’d run over to the sales manager and say, here’s what I’m seeing.
I got these ideas, and they started investing in each other. You can build that shared fate in a variety of ways. You can do it by making it hard to get on the team. When we come out of COVID and go back to the office, if you really want to build shared fate, take your entire team and say for the next day weeks, we’re all going to work together of this conference room, bring your laptop. That creates a sense of shared fate. There’ll be amazing, what that does, a common enemy creates shared fate, a passion around. She means something meaningful to us. Create shared fate. You can do a compensation. There are all sorts of ways to do it. In fact, a very good example, I always tell people, go home, watch “Miracle on Ice”, watch “Remember the Titans”, watch “Saving Private Ryan”. They’re all stories of these teams that did extraordinary stuff because the leader knew how to build a shared fate, whatever that was. That’s why that’s so important because without that shared fate, you’re really not going to have a team.
My definition of a team is a group of individuals with a shared fate, the stronger you need that team to be, the greater the shared fate you have to build. If you’re not able to create one, then I would probably say, don’t sweat the team thing. Go get a group of individuals, go do some great stuff, but don’t worry about the team thing. Just know that the accountability is always going to be on your shoulders, which isn’t the worst thing, right? You have lots of control, but the downside is it puts a lot of pressure on you because the team’s only going to be as good as you are. If you wanted the team to perform to a higher level, then you’re going to have to learn to let go and put them in a position of becoming that team by doing all the things we were really talking about.
OF: Well, those are some fantastic and very powerful examples. Thank you so much for sharing those. And thank you again for taking the time, Eric, to talk to our audience and share a little bit of your expertise in how to build accountable teams.
EC: Well, it’s my pleasure. Thanks for having me.
OF: To our audience, thanks for listening. For more insights, tips, and expertise from sales enablement leaders, visit salesenablement.pro. If there’s something you’d like to share or a topic you’d like to learn more about, please let us know. We’d love to hear.