Change agent or manager?

That depends on how you inspire and engage your team. The average leader has 15 minutes a week to set the tone. Are you ready?

Knowledge is a placebo for change. And that is a key
reason so little changes. In search of change, we devour
 data. TED talks are a learner’s high. Leaders across the business world deal out millions of books every year, hoping for change. Inspiring quotes hang on office walls. Knowledge is liberating.

Graph Explaining Learning

But we often mistake the endorphin rush of learning for the substance of change. As powerful as it is, knowledge can give a false sense of security—if it was said or read, then change is imminent. It’s easy to confuse information with transformation.

That is why so few make the shift from where they stand to what they can be. New knowledge, even epiphanies, can ignite the intention of change. But it’s not change.

You Are Here

When you make the leap from team member to manager, change now means us. Degree of difficulty levels up. Every team has its unique personality, history, routines and ideals. Some good. Some not-so-good.

Social analytics research from MIT shows that every team has a distinct level of collective intelligence. Team IQ gets its unique score from how socially intelligent team habits are. A team’s social intelligence matters more than talent, vision, motivation, roles, recognition and resources. Combined.

Level Up

If you could invisibly observe a team for 30 days, you would see them work at one of five levels. Maybe you’ll recognize your team:

1

Level 1 is corrosive. The blunt way of describing level one is that people hate their jobs and each other. It’s also the accurate way of saying it. Because only two percent of teams work at level one, this is probably not your team. We hope.

Subtractors
2

Level 2 are “job-holders” who check boxes and go home. Engagement and ambition are low. People may have a connection with one or two people in their group, but that’s it.

Job Holders
3

Level 3 is a collection of soloists. In the natural give and take of communication, there’s more take than give. These teams try to collaborate, but competing agendas and superstar mentality interfere with high creative output and productivity. Although people are talented and have high professional IQ, level three team intelligence is average.

Soloists
4

Level 4 teams are islands. Island teams work well on their own, but don’t get outside their own territory or network well. In most level four cases, the team’s social intelligence ends as soon as they engage with another team—maybe engineering doesn’t jell with design, or sales and marketing want to outmaneuver each other, and that friction limits their relevance.

Islands

Level 5

Level five has the biggest upside. Because social intelligence is high, individual talent and IQ have a much higher use rate. Think symphony, not spotlight.

Productivity and creative output are 30% higher at level five than level four because level five replaces what’s typical at the other levels with traits like high idea flow, deep human interaction, strategic relevance, purpose and water-cooler honesty. In other words, human dynamics are fluent.

As opposed to managers who lead teams at levels one through four, level five leaders focus on the factors that drive the metrics—traits of high team intelligence—rather than the metrics alone. They crush their numbers because they know the intelligence quotient that matters most.

symphony

Productivity and creative output are 30% higher at level five than level four because level five replaces what's typical at other levels.

Expectations Meet Reality

Here’s the catch: there’s a 98% chance your team isn’t level five. In fact, there’s a 73% chance you’re at level three or lower. Given that only two percent of teams live at level five, there’s work to do.

Your job is to lead your team to hit, or beat, the numbers, whatever numbers mean in your job. Every manager feels that pressure. Some can’t let it go even when they go home.

The culture you engineer—the level to which your team rises—is the decisive indicator of whether you hit your metrics, and if your leadership works. The unshakeable reality is that metrics follow culture.

Infographic explaining the different percetages of people

Center Stage

As manager, you are 70% of the reason your team engages to hit metrics. Or not. On that note, Gallup found that the wrong candidate for manager is chosen 82% of the time, leading to a dismal 30% team engagement average.

So, not surprisingly, the team is watching you. Closely. So is your manager. Not skeptically, but they are intensely curious:

1

Will you produce great players who produce great metrics?

2

Given who you are and what you know, can you lift the team?

3

Will you expect people to change? Do they know it?

4

Do they know you’re willing to change? Do they trust you will?

What your team gets out of this stage of their careers hinges on the tone you set. And they form strong opinions.

Managers feel deeply responsible to develop their team culture, and that no one else owns their team’s development: not HR, not the training department, not even the people on their team. Nearly every manager intuitively knows that healthy culture is indispensable to hitting their metrics.

Given that’s how managers feel, what percent would you expect to have a specific plan for change? Less than 10% actually have one. But there are good reasons for the low number. It’s not ambivalence, addiction to the status quo or naivety.

"A" for Effort

Ideally, every team leader would have time and expertise to take performance to level five. And it’s not like they don’t try.

To build a path to level 5, or even the next level, managers turn to the sources they know: books on their shelf, articles, Google searches, blog posts and maybe a piece from a podcast they recently heard. Tapping those sources, managers spend 30-–90 minutes prepping for a 10-minute development discussion to open their meetings. Truth is, it’s more random than planned.

There’s a lot of sifting, reading and analyzing to make the content relevant. Hoping to get more, managers occasionally send people to training: heavy doses of content at once, mixed with a little role play. (Which, ironically, people are trying to do while they’re out of role.) Weeks later, people don’t remember what they learned—less than 10 percent to be precise.

Research is embarrassingly clear that what we’re doing to teach people and change teams is pretty much the opposite of what science tells us.

Research is embarrassingly clear that what we’re doing to teach people and change teams is pretty much the opposite of what science tells us.

Change Agents

Smart human beings aren’t sheep looking for shepherds. Talented teams aren’t inspired by playing “follow the leader.” They expect leaders who create healthy cultures, and move them to do brilliant work. That requires team leaders to be agents of change, not just managers of metrics or directors of details.

But being a change agent isn’t easy.

Managers are short on time and low on funds to teach and develop their teams. TED-talk-hunting, quick quotes, time-consuming classrooms or isolated, (and let’s be honest, hauntingly bad) online training aren’t the answers. It’s simply the best that managers can do with the time and money they have.

For every 15,000 weekly minutes of work pursuing the metrics, the average team of eight spends 15 minutes developing a culture that drives those metrics.

If 15 minutes every week is all there is to build a stronger team, it’s time to make it count.

15 minutes infographic

For every 15,000 weekly minutes of work pursuing the metrics, the average team of eight spends 15 minutes developing a culture that drives those metrics.

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References

  • 1. Social analytics research from MIT shows See Alex “Sandy” Pentland’s The New Science of Building Great Teams (Harvard Business Review, April 2012).
  • 2a. …you would see them work at one of five levels See Dave Logan’s, John King’s and Halee Fischer-Wright’s Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization (NY: Harper Business, June 2007).
  • 2b. …you would see them work at one of five levels. Steven Smith’s and David Marcum’s Element C 8,000-person survey on culture and confidence.
  • 3. Productivity and creative output are 3 30% higher See Alex “Sandy” Pentland’s Beyond the Echo Chamber (Harvard Business Review, November 2013).
  • 4. Here’s the catch: there’s a 98% chance your team isn’t level five. See Dave Logan’s, John King’s and Halee Fischer-Wright’s Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization (NY: Harper Business, June 2007) and Steven Smith’s and David Marcum’s Element C 8,000-person survey on culture and confidence.
  • 5. Managers feel deeply responsible to develop their team culture. See Zag 500-person manager survey.
  • 6. Less than 10% actually have one. See Zag 500-person manager survey, including 50 in-depth interviews with managers.
  • 7. For every 15,000 weekly minutes of work pursuing the metrics. See Zag 500-person manager survey, including 50 in-depth interviews with managers.