How to Achieve a Healthy Balance of Intimacy and Accountability in the Workplace


Intimacy builds the trust that we consistently see in strong teams.

We all know the drama that can flare when friends work together as coworkers or in employee/supervisor relationships. We also know the tension that can poison the office when employees and their managers do not see eye to eye. Members of high-performing teams have established trust, a heightened awareness of other members’ strengths and weaknesses, and a commitment to watch each others’ backs. Yet those bonds can impede employee performance if one member is favored or supported over the others.

Accountability means that expectations are clear and effort is required.

You need your employees and managers to be responsible to the project, team, and organization to optimize employee performance. Consider the employee who does what her job requires and nothing more. She knows and meets all the expectations, yet because her concern is with only her individual contributions, her coworkers -- even her manager -- do not see her as a valuable team player. The reasons for her behavior aside, she is so focused on meeting exact expectations that she overlooks the opportunity to positively influence team results and dynamics. As a result she receives satisfactory (not exceptional) performance reviews, but continues to be baffled as to why her teammates “don’t like her.”

Likewise, when teammates are achieving high synergy, productivity and efficiency, they are top performers who get along along and enjoy being together. They see a vision and are feeling in sync with organizational and individual goals.  They jump in and help each other out, understand each other's strengths and are willing to make each other's jobs easier. When a vibrant organization is growing this surge of participation and energy can be long-term. There can be lulls between projects, however good leadership knows how to keep the positive energy flowing.

What is the right balance, and how do you achieve it?

Naturally, the solution lies between employees as friends and employees as automatons. We suggest the following to instill a culture of accountability among people who not only care about each other, but also care about the outcomes they can achieve together toward clear outcomes that go beyond the ego of any one person. The right balance requires individual understanding and acceptance and clear lines of authority and accountability.

What the Right Balance Looks Like

We call the right balance "synergy." Synergy can be recognized by seeing projects being completed on time; team understanding of organizational goals and objectives; experiencing low to no stress among team members; witnessing an aura of fun and positive attitudes; high willingness for collaboration and problem solving; increased productivity and efficiency; fewer workplace accidents; higher profit; longer employee retention; and resistance to distractions and petty behaviors that break down trust among the team.

Steps for Achieving Balanced Synergy

Sound too good to be true? It is unrealistic to expect this state on an ongoing basis. Everyone needs time to recharge and to recommit to new inititiaves that are meaningful both individually and organizationally. However, when it matters most, winning organizations have a routine for preparing for and engaging in synergy - and leadership knows how to tap into it as needed.

  1. First, synergy starts with clear expectations, guidelines and action plans for the next strategic destination. These goals are clearly developed and articulated by leadership. There is no nebulous talking about success. The target is clear, and the team understands the assignments and roles required to achieve their part of the quest.
  2. Synergy is achieved by aligning employees to the right job tasks in terms of their natural problem solving talents, learned skills, social style, world view, and values. If you like action movies where the special forces team sweeps in to an assignment and conquers the enemy, then you will like the thrill of experiencing synergy by a top performing team. If you notice, the top talent is engaged for the perfect part of the mission. Each member does their part and leads action to the engagement of the next expert.

    To achieve this high performance, obviously experts are required. Chances are you have them in your organization, however you likely haven't assessed their talents, skills, and abilities well enough to know how and when to engage them. Also, be cautious of making assumptions. Use assessment tools to understand the people in your organization.

  3. Calibrate team performance to achieve specific results. Closely monitor results along the way and adapt team members and activities as required. Marketplace players and customer needs are constantly changing. This requires your team to continuously adapt to the external demands and problem-solving opportunities that exist for growth.  We believe that organizations struggle in tough times because they have no routine for adapting to changing needs. They become complacent, and they don't think about guiding the way to an evolved future until they realize they have hit a wall. High performing teams are always engaged in innovation and critical thinking exercises because they are matched to jobs; they understand the goals; and they are riveted by the challenge to win at solving customer problems.
  4. Expose team members to new resources such as new internal and external experts to collaborate with them and solve specific problems. Problem-solving requires a complex set of skills that needs to be kept active. The collaborative envionment that we are suggesting leads to intimacy between team members. When this intimacy is not kept active and focused on organizational outcomes, dysfunction occurs. Likewise, this intimacy can become stale to a particular mode of operation for a team to solve problems that in fact cannot work for solving every problem. As a leader you need a palette of resources that is vibrant and available to help you paint your vision for success. It is you who holds the brush and it is you who chooses the colors/resources with which you paint. Your authority in shifting skills and talents for the mission at hand is what your team relies on you to do to help them achieve collective success. Often leaders' views of themselves, their possibilities, and their resources are far to narrow for the aspirations they hold. Thus, frustration and a feeling of standing in dead water can overtake the culture. By engaging resources that keep the team challenged, vibrant and alive, you keep people focused on intended outcomes and the big picture for success.

How Synergy is Measured

Aside from the indicators mentioned above, there is only one scientific way to measure synergy. The Kolbe LEAN Reports developed by the team of Kathy Kolbe are what we use to measure synergy. In any situation it is possible predict how a team will and won't solve problems. In today's times, it is especially crucial to know when to engage the innovators and promoters and when to engage the analysts and planners. One wrong move can waste months and years of effort and disuade top performers from being a part of the team. These times are crucial. There is no time to waste and there really is no excuse for not achieving your goals and initiatives if you have the right players working together in natural, informed, cohesive, and collaborative ways which you have orchestrated for the scenarios you see ahead. The closeness that is achieved is invigorating and often the best kind of "family" that can exist. Yet too, accountability, clear expectations, and measurements are not only appreciated by your team, they are the fuel that keeps energy flowing through the river of your organization.

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