Organizational Leadership: There Are Alternatives to Fiscal Cliffs

Posted by Matthew Thomas

As much as many of us like to complain about the dysfunction of the United States government, with the Congress in particular, many organizations are locked in tangled, stuck budgetary positions across all sectors of the economy, for similar reasons.

Organizational Leadership, Dysfunction, TeamAs Patrick Lencioni offers in The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, at root in much of the “Fiscal Cliff” conflict is an Absence of Trust. In this case, there are several interlocking mistrust scenarios, reinforced by the desire to be invulnerable:

  • The electoral constituents (the people) don’t trust the people they elect (Representatives, Senators and Presidents)
  • The elected officials don’t trust each other
  • The two major parties don’t trust each other
  • Congress and the White House don’t trust each other
  • The press and pundits don’t trust the elected officials and vice versa

Lencioni places an Inattention to Results at the top of his triangle of dysfunctions, reinforced by a desire for individual status rooted in personal ego. This inattention to results stems from a kind of internal lens on reality that makes the conversation in Congress not appear to relate to what is going on outside of Congress. On the inside, it is all about how the individual status and ego interact; outside, individual members of Congress rally their base to support the status and ego conversations going on inside.

Add to this Lencioni’s other dysfunctions of Avoidance of Accountability that allow the low standards of can-kicking to remain in place, the Lack of Commitment to solving problems stemming from the ambiguity as to what the answers really are, and a Conflict style that reinforces the status quo, the verdict is clear: the Fiscal Cliff is a function of the dysfunction of the United States government, in which all American citizens participate to one extent or another (since the United States is a government of the people, by the people, and hopefully still for the people).

The same is true of many organizations facing fiscal difficulties: financial pressures expose long-standing dysfunctions long hidden under other issues. Nevertheless, financial health is directly related to the health and functionality of both governing structures and the health of constituents’, customers’ and stakeholders’ interests and approaches to conflict.

This is why Design Group International’s Financial Health Assessment includes a serious look at organizational structure and governance. Though the numbers may look good now, if the organization’s process is fraught with hidden conflicts, disagreements and dysfunctions, there will still be trouble down the road – and often not as far down the road as anyone would prefer to think. Financial health is more than just numbers!


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Topics: Matthew Thomas, Design Group International, Fiscal Cliff, Organizational Leadership, trust, Patrick Lencioni