“If you could get all the people in an organization rowing in the same direction, you could dominate any industry, in any market, against any competition, at any time.”

Based on what most of my career taught me, I would have told you that healthy teams were as rare as the unicorns that many leaders are hoping to find.  I have come to believe that organizational health is not only possible, it is the greatest determination of long-term success. Having seen teams fight for and find that elusive prize, I now believe you can get most of a team rowing in the same direction.

But that is not the case for most.  In fact, there is an often quoted study from the Gallup folks that says:

  • 30% of employees are actively engaged (rowing forward)
  • 52% of employees are not engaged (along for the ride)
  • 18% of employees are actively disengaged (rowing in the opposite direction)

For every three employees rowing the company forward, the average company has two rowing against that momentum! 

Ever tried to row a canoe with more than two people with oars in the water?  Not only is gaining momentum a problem but even going in a straight line is difficult.  We wrote about this drag on productivity last year.

Patrick Lencioni’s groundbreaking work on organizational health not only identified that organizational health is the greatest determination of long-term success, but that there are Five Dysfunctions of a Team:

  1. Absence of trust
  2. Fear of conflict
  3. Lack of commitment
  4. Avoidance of accountability
  5. Inattention to results

Let’s tackle that first one.  This is all about feeling comfortable with being vulnerable.  It starts with it being modeled by senior leadership and then spreads like wildfire once it gets started in an organization. 

(If you or your organization struggles with the idea of vulnerability, I would join the other 32 million folks who have watched Brene Brown’s incredible TEDx talk on the subject.)

We’ve been taught all our lives that winning is the only worthwhile destination.  We fought for the best grades, to get into the right colleges, and then to get the plumb jobs.  Not being the best was not tolerated.  Failure was never an option.  No wonder no one seems to be comfortable asking for help or admitting their vulnerabilities. 

The problem is that trust is at the root of all collaboration.  It is not only the source matter of beautiful and comprehensive solutions, but the health that keeps all those rowers pulling in the same direction.  It is where real success and momentum are found.

It is not likely any more comfortable for you as it is for your team, but it can be learned.  It is a barren field that can be cultivated.  It starts with your vulnerability and willingness to ask for help.  To share the simple reality that you don’t have it all figured out and no one else does either.  It requires you being more interested in getting the best solution and making others feel successful than being right.

It is rare.

It is free.

It is a key to your company’s success this year.


  • Do you always have the right answer or the final say?
  • Are you comfortable showing vulnerability?
  • Is your company a place where people really trust one another?  Where they can admit that they need help?
  • What is it costing you in engagement and momentum to be living with this absence of trust?