Why Some Teams (And Families) Work Hard, Yet Don’t Succeed

Although I’ve never met him, Ichak Adizes has been highly influential in my thinking about leadership. My friend, Steve Moore, first introduced me to Adizes a decade ago. After joining the LifeChurch.tv team I was excited that our Directional Leadership Team incorporated Adizes’ ideas about organizations into our approach to leading the church.

Last week, Adizes hosted a live webinar to teach his “Success Formula” and a group of us from the LifeChurch.tv team watched it together. I think the principle it teaches is golden with huge implications for me as a leader and parent. I’m going to break down the formula, explain what it means, and then give two examples — one from home and the other from work — of how I’ve seen it play out.

Warning! The Success Formula looks way more technical than it actually is, but stay with me and you’ll quickly see that it is actually very practical.

Adizes Success Formula

The Formula Breakdown

The Success Formula has four parts. Take a minute to study the picture and understand each of the four parts.

Success: This represents a family or team that’s “in a groove” and accomplishing whatever it is they have set out to do. It’s a sports team winning games. It’s a family living out a sense of purpose. It’s a business making a profit. You get the point.

Fixed Energy (represented by the “f”): This represents the mental and emotional energy we all have within us. The key here is that we all have a fixed amount of energy. Our energy is powerful, but it is finite. When it runs out, it’s gone until it is replenished.

External Integration: This represents when each person in a family, team, or work group is contributing their full capability. Nobody is feeling left out and the group is making the most out of every opportunity. The group is “integrated” because each person feels a part and the group is working together effectively.

Internal Disintegration: This represents a family or group that is being pulled apart because each person is looking out for their own self interests. We all have our own motives, so it is inevidible that any group is going to naturally pull apart (that’s what internal disintegration means). What’s the solution to this problem? Mutual trust and respect. When I trust my team and family members, I don’t have to protect my own turf because I’m not afraid someone is going to trample on me. Trust and respect are the glue that hold a group together so they can resist the natural tendency to splinter apart.

Energy Flows to the Lowest Point

“Okay” you are thinking, “I get what the elements of the formula represent, but what does it mean?”. The formula means that if a group lacks trust and respect, the group will members will spend all of their energy protecting their own self-interests. This is simply unavoidable. Success is unattainable because there won’t be enough energy left over to work together. As a result the family or team will feel like, despite a lot of enery expended, they aren’t really getting anywhere.

Think of it this way: just as water always flows to the lowest possible point, our emotional and mental energy always flows to resolving “internal disintegration” first. If a family or team is lacking the trust and respect needed to stave off that natural “pulling apart” process it will always seem like there is a hole in the bottom of the tank that drains out all of the energy.

If, however, a family or team does trust and respect each other, each person will put their energy towards actually working together. Each person will feel comfortable contributing their own capabilities and leaning on the capabilities of others. Instead of each person guarding their own turf and interests, the group — together — will be ready to take on both planned and unexpected opportunities with full force. This is a group that feels like they are “in a groove” and succeeding.

As a leader, I may have the most talented team of people assembled and have the best plan to implement, but if my team lacks trust and respect, we’re sunk. As a parent, I may implement the best parenting advice ever given, but if trust and respect are lacking between me and my kids, my family will struggle. But if each person on my team and family trusts and respects each other, we can take on the world together.

A Great 2014 for LifeGroups and Missions at LifeChurch.tv

Last year was a record year of growth for LifeGroups and Missions (LGLM) at LifeChurch.tv and I think it was because of Adizes’ Success Principle. I’ve been leading LGLM for nearly six years now, and 2014 was the first year momentum was forcefully carrying us forward. We’ve had talented staff leading LifeGroups and Missions on each of our now twenty-two campuses for several years, but two things were different in 2014.

First, during 2013 we created a tool called the LifeGroups and Missions Approach to Ministry which defines with crystal clarity what we do (our strategy), how we do it (our team values), and how we measure success (our metrics). It took a few years of trial, error, and learning together to define those three areas. But the day we rolled out the tool as the “playbook” for LGLM created even more clarity and focus than expected. It was well-received. Our team breathed a collective sight of relief (ambiguity can be draining) followed by a renewed drive for results.

Focusing the strategy was critical, but it wasn’t enough. The second factor that set 2015 apart was a change in our annual LGLM team event. Each January, all LGLM staff from every campus get together for 2–3 days. I tend to be an operationally minded person, so the focus of the event is usually along those lines: sharing ideas, clearing up strategy, vision about future initiatives, and goal setting with a little bit of fun and relationship-building thrown into the mix.

But, thanks to Kayla Seigman, we took a different approach to the event in January of 2014. Kayla and I have been working together to lead LGLM for over five years now and in many ways she is the secret sauce of making it all happen. In late 2013, Kayla made a case to me that we should swing the focus of the annual event heavily towards relationships. She wanted to spend a much smaller amount of time doing operational stuff, and far more time just getting everyone talking, relating, and sharing — all of the things that build trust and respect. We did make that change and I’m glad we did. She was dead on correct and in retrospect I think it set the stage for a great year.

The Approach to Ministry tool removed ambiguity and created focus, and the annual event was a boost to trust and respect. Those steps removed enough “internal disintegration” within the team so our energy could be focused on “external integration” and in turn see some amazing results. We could just step back and watch it all happen. It takes more than a talented team and a great strategy. It takes trust and respect.

How Camping Vacations Have Shaped Our Family

I grew up camping with my family when I was a kid, so it was natural for me to introduce it to my family. We did put camping on hold when our kids were very young because they were miserable, which meant Christy and I were even more miserable. But when our youngest was five years old we resumed and for the last decade, other than a one year break to take a cruise, we’ve taken an extended camping trip every summer. We’ve been all over Colorado, western Wyoming, and the Black Hills area of South Dakota.

I wish I could say my motivation for camping trips was to create an amazing shared experience for our family, but it was much more self-serving. I love the outdoors and I’m a little cheap (OK, a lot cheap) and camping may be the most affordable way to take a long trip together! So I stumbled into it by accident. I’m so grateful that Christy and the kids fell in love with it too because our yearly camping vacation has done more for our family than I could have ever imagined. We re-connect with each other and forge shared experiences we’ll never forget. In a sense I think our camping trips have been the best tool to shape our family culture.

Looking back at over a decade of camping vacations, I can see how it has helped our family live out Adizes’ Success Principle, quite by accident. While camping, we’re forced out of our routine. In such a beautiful place like Colorado the scenery and wildlife sets the stage for personal connection as we hike, play games, shop in small mountain towns, drive around looking for wildlife, cook meals together, and talk around the campfire at night. Were in close quarters and can quickly feel grumply due to being rainsoaked or a poor night’s sleep, so it’s inevitable that we’re going to have a good fight or two on each trip that we have to sort out. Unexpected things always happen — equipment breaks, the weather doesn’t cooperate, we have a surprise wildlife encounter — which makes us solve problems and improvise together.

The other fifty weeks out of the year throw challenges at our family that could tear it apart. Life can just wear down a family. In retrospect, I do believe that the time we spend together camping each year puts into place a foundation of trust and respect that is strong enough to handle those challenges the rest of the year. As a result our family and each of our kids individually are thriving and bursting into an independent adulthood. We are not perfect by any means. Believe me, we have our problems that we’re working on. But we’re working on them together because we have each other’s back and those problems don’t come close to jeopardizing our sense of purpose.

Taking On the World

Adizes is a wise man and we’d all do well to take his Success Principle to heart. Whether it’s at work or home, we’re going to struggle to see true progress if trust and respect are lacking within. We must truly care about each other, share and appreciate feelings, find out what’s breaking down trust, and solve it. We must respect what others have to offer and how they complement us and stop worrying so much about getting our own two cents added. We must get everyone talking openly about what they think and feel. Seek to understand and seek to build a bridge of trust. If we do these things, we can take on the world together.