Corporate Relationships – One Happy Family?
Corporate Relationships – One Happy Family?

Corporate Relationships – One Happy Family?

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Corporate Relationships – One Happy Family?

Too often in business the people component, and in particular relationships is missing from design, delivery and change in organisations. We have plenty of checklists for teams and process, but not thinking and relationship. In this article I explore management models for teams, alignment, communication, productivity and also some models from psychodynamics, family therapy and resources useful to understand relationships and their affect on the whole system.


Adair’s best-known work is the Action Centred Leadership ACL model. In simple terms three elements – Achieving the Task, Developing the Team and Developing Individuals – are mutually dependent, as well as being separately essential to the overall leadership role.

The secret to success (and of leadership) is aligning the interests of the individual and team to the task for the organisation. Clearly where there is a common interest, consensus and commitment then there is likely to be achievement.

ACL’s approach to Motivating Teams

*1 Be motivated yourself
*2 Select motivated people
*3 Treat each person as an individual
*4 Set realistic but challenging targets
*5 Understand that progress itself motivates
*6 Create a motivating environment
*7 Provide relevant rewards
*8 Recognise success

This is simply said, more difficult to achieve because people’s past, present or future ambitions may not align or they may have similar goals but different values and processes for getting there.

The ACL model is a great tool and prescription, but reality is more complicated than this suggests.


Peter Hawkins came up with a framework to explain the key things a high performing team does, and how by focusing on these a team can consciously raise their performance. Hawkins suggests that high performing teams do five basic things. He called this ‘The 5Cs model of High Performing Teams’.

*Commission: Why are we here and who cares?
*Clarifying: So what exactly is this team? Creating shared identity and shared purpose.
*Co-creation: How are we going to work together to make this happen?
*Connecting: Spreading enthusiasm and message beyond the island of the team.
*Core Learning: How doe we grow and learn collectively?

So from Action Centred Leadership we have an approach to Motivating Teams and from Peter Hawkins a framework for high performance. So what could possibly go wrong?


The book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable by Patrick Lencioni suggests the following reasons why things sometimes go wrong.

*Absence of Trust: The fear of being vulnerable prevents team members from building trust with each other.
*Fear of Conflict: The desire to preserve artificial harmony stifles productive ideological conflict within the team.
*Lack of Commitment:The lack of clarity and/or buy-in prevents team members from making decisions they stick to.
*Avoidance of Accountability: The need to avoid interpersonal discomfort prevents team members from holding each other accountable for their behaviors and performance.
*Inattention to Results: The pursuit of individual goals and personal status erodes the team’s focus on collective success.


Halina Brunning argues that organisations are places where people act out their stories: Leaders give people a role as well as responsibilities, and an opportunity perform their part. In coaching it is important to understand the Person, Role and System (because each effects the other). You should consider..

*The clients personality;
*The clients life story;
*The clients skills, competencies, abilities and talents;
*Their aspirations, progression and future aim;
*Their workplace and environment in which they perform;
*Their current organisational role.

It is really important to understand the factual and emotional weight behind the motivations, challenges, decisions and behaviours of people during transition. This helps us manage ourselves and others.

This tells us that people are important part of the process. It isn’t simply a case of Hearts and Minds (appealing to personal wants, needs, interests) it is about understanding how people perceive their role, responsibilities and the affect that has on organisational culture, process, output and outcome.


In positive psychology, a flow state, also known colloquially as being in the zone, is the mental state in which a person performing some activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by the complete absorption in what one does, and a resulting transformation in one’s sense of time.

Schaffer (2013) proposed seven flow conditions:

*Knowing what to do
*Knowing how to do it
*Knowing how well you are doing
*Knowing where to go (if navigation is involved)
*High perceived challenges
*High perceived skills
*Freedom from distractions

This is surely what we are seeking to achieve as individuals and within a team, for the organisation?


In her book Leadersmithing: Revealing the Trade Secrets of Leadership, Eve Poole notes some key questions that may be able to pinpoint problems in perception, behaviour, process or progress.

*1 I know what is expected of me at work.
*2 I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right.
*3 At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.
*4 In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work
*5 My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person
*6 There is someone at work who encourages my development.
*7 At work, my opinions seem to count.
*8 The mission or purpose of my organization makes me feel my job is important.
*9 My associates or fellow employees are committed to doing quality work.
*10 I have a best friend at work.
*11 In the last six months, someone at work has talked to me about my progress.
*12 This last year, I have had opportunities at work to learn and grow.

How people individually or collectively respond to these questions will inform us if we are Motivating Teams and High Performing or if there are signs of Dysfunctions, or even Person, Role and System issues.


So how do we set-up the environment (the right conditions) and the best rewards and incentives (the right consequences) to help progress and tackle Dysfunctions, Disruption, Dispute.

Aaron Beck had the idea that our thoughts and beliefs shape our feelings and our feelings then direct the way we behave; our behaviour then influences the way other people treat us and that in turn backs up our thoughts and beliefs.

Beck suggests a lot of behavioural problems stem from “faulty thinking” – core beliefs that are negative and irrational. For example, if a person thinks that people don’t like them, they will feel bitter and upset. If they feel this way, they will act defensively and be aloof and cold. If they behave this way, people won’t like them.

We can see that the model above for behavioural problems could be adapted for team or system problems by taking a systematic approach through the steps of data, diagnosis, decision and do phases.

Don’t be put off that one box says Emotional Consequences, most behavioural logic is motivated by Emotional Consequences so it is not irrational to solve problems this way. Indeed this simple feedback loop is not dissimilar to how a thermostat notes and corrects room temperature.

The OODA loop is the cycle observe–orient–decide–act, developed by military strategist and United States Air Force Colonel John Boyd. Boyd applied the concept to the combat operations process, often at the operational level during military campaigns. It is now also often applied to understand commercial operations and learning processes. The approach explains how agility can overcome raw power in dealing with human opponents.

We can calibrate the ‘thermostat’ using Operant Conditioning to set the rules or boundaries toward a preferred outcome. This is just a sophisticated way of saying we set rewards and incentive around SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Bound) goals.

When our behavior is rewarded, we are encouraged to repeat or continue that behavior, and when our behavior is punished, we are discouraged from repeating or continuing that behavior. We form an association between the behavior we exhibited and the consequence, whether good or bad. When we are encouraged and rewarded for a behavior, that behavior is reinforced; when we are punished for a behavior, that behavior tends to die out (McLeod, 2018).

Operant conditioning outlines four ways of influencing behavior based on the consequence and the desired result:

Positive punishment: something is “added” to the mix that makes the behavior less likely to continue or reoccur (i.e., an unpleasant consequence is introduced to the subject to discourage their behavior).

Positive reinforcement: something is added to the mix that makes the behavior more likely to continue or reoccur (i.e., a pleasant consequence is introduced to the subject to encourage their behavior).

Negative punishment: something is “taken away” from the mix that makes the behavior less likely to continue or reoccur (i.e., something pleasant is removed from the subject to discourage their behavior).

Negative reinforcement: something is taken away from the mix that makes the behavior more likely to continue or reoccur (i.e., something unpleasant is removed from the subject to encourage their behavior).

By this point we know about how to Motivate Teams, we know what makes High Performning Teams and we know about productivity and Flow. We also have some questions that can help pinpoint problems and a means to categorise Dysfunction and tackle it with observation, thinking, rewards and incentives.

This is a lot of theory, how do we make this happen in reality?


We generally learn by observation and copying others, retaining the information, and then later replicating the behaviors that were observed.

Observational learning is sometimes called shaping, modeling, and vicarious reinforcement. It plays an important role in the socialization process, a sense of belonging and acceptance. In organisations a role model is an individual who displays certain behaviors or has achieved certain success that other people look up to and wish to (or try to) emulate.

Because a role model sets an example that others try to follow, a role model is often a key influencer or leader. According to research, there are a number of factors that increase the likelihood that a behavior will be imitated. We are more likely to imitate:

*People we perceive as warm and nurturing
*People who receive rewards for their behavior
*People who are in an authoritative position in our lives
*People who are similar to us in age, sex, and interests
*People we admire or who are of a higher social status
*When we have been rewarded for imitating the behavior in the past
*When we lack confidence in our own knowledge or abilities
*When the situation is confusing, ambiguous, or unfamiliar

Understanding the influencers and their impact is a key part of stakeholder management. Stakeholder management is the process by which you organise, monitor and improve your relationships with your stakeholders. It involves systematically identifying stakeholder; analysing their needs and expectations; and planning and implementing various tasks to engage with them.

Stakeholder management may be simply noting who has power and influence and managing accordingly (including methods to move people from one square to another where necessary)

Stakeholder management may be simply be understanding who needs to be responsible, accountable, consulted, and informed and involving appropriately.

Stakeholder management may be even be as simple as noting peoples learning and communication preferences and using this to inform the frequency, format, content, detail of communication.


However I want to examine the importance of relationships and influence and will use the family tree approach from genograms to indicate how we can map strong, weak, supportive or disruptive relationships. Maintaining a map of relationships and influence can be very useful to communications and culture.


When we understand that organisations are complex systems we realise that behaviour is not as simple as A + B = C as either Action Centred Leadership or Peter Hawkins ‘ 5Cs model of High Performing Teams’ might suggest.

There are complex inter-relationships, politics and perceptions as well as competing agendas, ambitions and interests. Life can be as complex as a Harry Potter plot and people will quickly identify with characters and situations as well as cast others according to their own narrative.

These are the stories we tell ourselves every day, or our colleagues and partners at the end of a busy day or stressful week.

A system is simply an assemblage or combination of things or parts forming a complex whole.

One its most important characteristic is that it is composed of hierarchy of sub-systems (cliques, groups, teams, rivals) That is the parts forming the major system and so on.

Features of Systems Approach:

*(i) A system consists of interacting elements. It is set of inter-related and inter-dependent parts arranged in a manner that produces a unified whole.
*(ii) The various sub-systems should be studied in their inter-relationships rather, than in isolation from each other.
*(iii) An organisational system has a boundary that determines which parts are internal and which are external.
*(iv) A system does not exist in a vacuum. It receives information, material and energy from other systems as inputs. These inputs undergo a transformation process within a system and leave the system as output to other systems.
*(v) An organisation is a dynamic system as it is responsive to its environment. It is vulnerable to change in its environment.

In the systems approach, attention is paid towards the overall effectiveness of the system rather than the effectiveness of the sub-systems. The interdependence of the sub-systems is taken into account. The general systems approach to management is mainly concerned with formal organisations and the concepts are relating to technique of sociology, psychology and philosophy. The specific management system includes the analysis of organisational structure, information, planning and control mechanism and job design, etc.

This is the heart of culture and what we know about systems is that changing just one element can have an effect on the whole system. This suggests that working with just a few key influences, identified on the genogram map can have a very significant impact on the whole organisation and everyone within it.

Price’s Law says that 50% of work at a company is done by a small number of people. Specifically, it says that 50% of work is done by the square root of the number of employees. This suggests 50% of the work is done by 10 people in a firm of 100. This suggests 50% of the work is done by 14 people in a firm of 200.

This therefore suggests that we don’t have to engage many people to make a profound difference, just the few that count, and a genogram map can help identify them.


My thoughts: As noted above when we understand that organisations are complex systems we realise that behaviour is not as simple as A + B = C as either Action Centred Leadership or Peter Hawkins ‘ 5Cs model of High Performing Teams’ might suggest. Understanding people and relationships is key to understanding influence, behaviour, allegiance and trust.

Tip: Look at each of the models above and consider who this may help you, your teams or your organisation.

My tools: I have templates which can help you reflect, ask questions and ponder answers. If you would like these just email me. If you are interested in the themes raised in this article, and would like to know more about coaching, mentoring get in touch.



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