The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business, by Patrick Lencioni (Jossey-Bass, 2012, 240 pp., $28).

There is nothing timid about Patrick Lencioni’s claim for The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business. The outcome for those that have the discipline, commitment, and tenacity to follow his guide, he asserts, is “an environment in which success is almost impossible to prevent.”

Lencioni, known for his fable-based books The Five Dysfunctions of a Team and Death by Meeting, here offers a practical handbook for improving performance through organizational health. He maintains that most leaders spend the vast preponderance of their time in the comfortable zone of the business sciences: technology, finance, marketing, and strategy.  

Being smart in those areas is a minimum but insufficient standard for success, he says. Rather, long-term advantages belong to those who practice the four disciplines required to build organizational health: establishing a cohesive leadership team; creating clarity through unambiguous answers to six critical questions; communicating those answers to all levels clearly and repeatedly; and putting into effect processes that reinforce that clarity. The marks of the resulting healthy organization are minimal confusion, high morale and productivity, and low turnover.

Establishing a cohesive team is Discipline 1, and it requires rigor and courage, and humility. In order to become comfortable with conflict, the leadership team must establish trust, cultivating an environment in which there is willingness to disagree. Yet once a decision is made, each member must support it, rise above departmental interests, and be accountable to other team members for results. The healthy organization thereby avoids silos and taps into all of the knowledge, experience, and intellectual capital at its disposal.

Answering six critical questions is the work of Discipline 2. For anyone who cares about an organization, this can be an invigorating project, for what employee or group would not benefit from knowing the answers to these questions: Why do we exist? How do we behave? What do we do? How will we succeed? What is most important right now? Who must do what? 

Disciplines 3 and 4 grow directly out of Discipline 2. Leaders emerge from the six-question exercise with clear and concise answers, then “overcommunicate clarity” throughout the organization. They reinforce this clarity by putting in place processes (for hiring, rewarding, setting goals, etc.) that support the answers to the questions posed in Discipline 2. Through it all, the person in charge of the organization must demonstrate unequivocal commitment and work tirelessly to drive these activities.

The Advantage’s commonsense paradigm, supported by exercises and examples for moving through the disciplines, give it great credibility and appeal. I enjoyed his irreverent takes on conventional ideas regarding inclusivity, mission statements, the value of meetings, intolerance, and consensus. On the other hand, I found his conversational style less appealing, and I could have done without his habit of punctuating already convincing statements with “Really,” “Trust me,” or “That’s right.”

Can Lencioni’s model deliver on his bold claim? Even he acknowledges that the impact is impossible to measure. Nevertheless, I found myself drawn to apply these disciplines to every group I work with. They are applicable across all types of organization, and for leaders of theological schools, relatively more comfortable in the world of the qualitative and the building of human capital, they have great potential to make both the organization and the individuals within it more productive, successful, and fulfilled. 

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