How to save a team, an organisation (or a nation?)

At Holos we do a lot of work with teams and organisations that are in trouble.  While there may be direct causes for the challenges they are facing the underlying cause is always cultural.

A culture that is carelessly (or maliciously) curated can quickly become divided.

A horizontally divided culture, divided by lines of hierarchy increases it’s systemic risk because those closest to the action become less likely to raise concerns and those furthest from the action become less likely to listen.  Most of the corporate failures you could name  are due to horizontally divided culture.

A vertically divided culture is one where cliques form pursuing different objectives and different futures.  The British political system (and Britain itself) is currently vertically divided.  The failures caused by vertical division are usually less sudden, but no less cataclysmic that those caused by horizontal division.

These divisions can happen at at any scale – team, business, corporation or nation.  And at any level of granularity from schisms to factions.  Where both horizontal and vertical division exists cliques and individualism with be the defining features.

In responding to these crises the first thing to remember is that when a group of us humans get together we will always and quickly form a culture.  That culture will be disproportionately defined by the dominant characters in the group – the leaders, formal or informal.

If a group has an intention to achieve anything in particular they will need to align around that future in order to achieve it.  If they want to achieve it with any sort of efficiency they will need to agree some sort of operating protocol for how they behave and take decisions.

At Holos we refer to these two foundational organisational conditions as “Cause” and “Code”.

Cause combines the elements of:

  • Vision – that which we truly want to achieve (a vision is not the same as an objective.  An objective is something we know how to achieve, a vision is beyond what we know how to achieve.)
  • Purpose – the deep and underlying “why” achieving our vision is important to us as a team.
  • Mission – the tools, equipment, skills, financial resources, scale and general wherewithal we need to have or get in order to achieve the vision and deliver on the purpose.

Code is the granular articulation of the “target culture” or habits of behaviour that the team agrees to and aspires to.  The Code is the standard of behaviour that every member holds themselves and each other accountable to.

A good Code is articulated to a significant level of granularity, describing the agreed behavioural standards.  A Code might include any relevant area of behaviour, for example standards of:

  • Punctuality
  • Decision making
  • Communication
  • Meeting management
  • Discipline

A good example of a Code is the Netflix Culture Deck.

NB: In a team within a wider organisation the team Cause and Code will usually need to be in service to and complimentary to the wider organisational Cause and Code.

In working with an organisation or team that is in crisis or is just failing to reach it’s potential, we will first seek to diagnose the cultural issues that are at play.  To understand the type of division at play and the qualities of the leadership.

Typically we then work with both the leadership and the team to articulate a shared Cause and Code and to upgrade the leadership so that they can more effectively curate the culture going forwards.

In order for this work to make a difference team members and especially leaders need to change their habits of behaviour.  Once the ground work is done we work in an “applied” way with the team and the leadership to help them turn their aspirations into habits.

As we all know holding ourselves to our own behavioural aspirations can be challenging, especially in adversity or when we are not feeling good.  We work closely with teams to make the embodiment of new habits as easy as possible and to iterate the code.

Aligning the culture releases previously unimaginable creativity and energy, much of which was previously being wasted in division.  This creativity and energy now has a clear outlet in the pursuit of the Cause.

If we want what was once the United Kingdom to achieve any semblance of it’s former energy and creativity we need some sort of vision that most of us can align around.  Perhaps a vision of a society that is inclusive, safe and enriching for all of it’s participants?

Holos helps make change easy. We help organisations develop their leaders, map out and deliver the changes required to achieve sustained success even in a highly disrupted environment.

At Holos we have been studying change leadership and leadership training in the crucible of reality for years. We know what great leadership looks like and we know the journey to achieve it. We have developed a suite of diagnostic tools to understand where companies and teams are on this journey and how to take them from there to sustained success.

Holos has a wealth of specialist leadership and culture coaches and consultants with decades of experience working with a huge variety of leaders. Holos can help you or your organisation to upgrade it’s leadership to flourish even in a challenging business environment.

Please share your ideas, comment and discuss here – click on the blog title and scroll to the bottom to find the comment box.

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Neil Crofts

+447803 774239


About Neil Crofts

Writer, coach and consultant on authentic business and authentic leadership. Neil has inspired and motivated hundreds organisations and thousands of individuals to their highest potential. Neil has written three published books and numerous e-books. Neil is a coach, facilitator and consultant helping people and businesses find their authentic purpose and use it to inspire and motivate them to be everything that they can be. Neil has raced cars, been self-employed, run a company and sold it, been employed by large companies, experienced growth and contraction at the heart of the dotcom boom, tried changing companies from the inside and from the outside as European Head of Strategy at internet consultancy/rock band Razorfish. Neil has been independent for over 10 years and delivered his Authentic Leadership message to a diverse range of business audiences including people at BP, Shell, Microsoft, Kraft Foods, MSN, Jamie Oliver, South Gloucestershire Council, National Blood Transfusion Service, KaosPilots Business School, Fashion company By Malene Birger, German technology company Eleven.
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2 Responses to How to save a team, an organisation (or a nation?)

  1. Paul Norris says:

    Always grateful for the terrific work you did with us on my Microsoft global leadership team; we built deep roots and performance was truly inspirational. Our work on “empires and why they fail” was seminal. Thanks again.

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