Stoke the organizational mindset


“I’m part of the leadership team at a successful company that literally started from nothing 25 years ago and now has multiple locations and tens of millions of dollars in sales each year. Our problem is that the founders don’t have a clear plan for perpetuating the company. There’s been increased tension and conflict within the leadership team as a result. What can we do to make the transition a smooth one?”


The situation that the reader outlines is a very common one in Wisconsin. There are some brutal realities we need to confront, looking ahead. For the past decade, we have been a job loss state, a brain drain state (exodus of college graduates), and an aging workforce (Wisconsin has a high percentage of baby boomers in its workforce). Sustainability emerges, therefore, as a very important consideration for any organization, not just the reader’s.

In this column, I will highlight the importance of using a model of organization development as a guide to address the core issues of Purpose, Partnership and Process (i.e., the “Three Ps”) in order to pursue a planned program of organizational sustainability.

It is important to think about organizations as dynamic entities that live and thrive, just like the people that comprise them. Organizations, like people, have life cycles. In the reader’s case, in the span of 25 years, an organization has been born, grown up and thrived. What have been the critical hurdles and barriers that were effectively addressed along the way? What hurdles and barriers lie ahead?

While the founders at the reader’s company appear to be more concerned with getting out than forging ahead, it seems to me that once the core issue of the founders’ exit plan is addressed (and it needs to be addressed sooner than later), focused attention needs to be given to the plan for moving forward. The organization development model accompanying this column is the place for the leadership team to focus its efforts, as follows:

  • Purpose
    As the “architects” of the organization, what is the leadership team’s shared understanding of why the organization exists? Are the vision, mission, and values, as articulated by the founders, still relevant as the organization pursues its next iteration? Importantly, to what extent is the leadership team functioning as a truly cohesive and effective team that engenders trust and confidence from organization members?
  • Partnership
    The reader mentions conflict within the leadership team. To what extent has this conflict created “noise” that has become apparent to the rest of the organization? What can the leadership team do to resolve these conflicts and operate, moving forward, with a “united front” characterized by “one voice?” Importantly, leaders need to recognize that left unchecked, small fissures at the top of the organizational hierarchy ripple and become gaping crevasses across the organization.
  • Process
    Clearly, the information shared by the reader describes a leadership team that is not operating with peak effectiveness. Team effectiveness, especially for top leadership teams, is driven by intrapersonal, interpersonal, and team effectiveness. Conflict within the leadership team suggests that problems exist at all levels of team functioning. So, moving forward, the individuals comprising the leadership team will want to reflect on what they can to do improve individual, peer-to-peer and aggregate performance.

In the final analysis, the leaders need to address an obvious truth consistent with today’s business marketplace: no organization, no matter how successful it has been in the past, has a right to exist moving forward. The right to exist has to be earned and maintained each and every day in each and every transaction with the organization’s “gold,” its customers, clients, or constituents.

Jim Collins, the well-regarded author of “Built to Last,” “Good to Great,” “How the Mighty Fall,” and “Great by Choice,” has documented that sustained organizational excellence is driven by disciplined people, disciplined thought and disciplined action. The reader references 25 years of organizational success. Perhaps moving ahead will require looking back to study lessons learned during this period of time. What success stories of people, thought and action can be identified? How can these be built upon and extended, looking ahead?

Ultimately, the prescription for this company is for the leadership team to spend some focused time and effort defining its game plan for moving forward, engaging in the kind of reflection and analysis highlighted in the previous paragraph. Using the organization’s strategic and/or annual plan as a starting point, the leadership team needs to define its plan for leading the organization, for today and for tomorrow.

If the team is not able to do so on its own, then it might be desirable to engage a professional resource to help the team define its plan of action and facilitate gains in individual and team effectiveness.

Daniel A. Schroeder, Ph.D. is president of Brookfield-based Organization Development Consultants Inc. ( He can be reached at (262) 827-1901 or

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