7 Steps Ahead, LLC
It's March 14. Happy Pi Day!

Organizational Psychology for Managers
sold out at Amazon.com two days after it was released! Fortunately, more copies are now available. Click here to order. For excerpts, click here. To read a review of the book, click here.

Are you hearing the hoof beats of the four horsemen of business failure?

How can you make sure you're in the right place at the right time?

When is efficiency ruining your productivity?

What does it take for a team to consistently use its strengths instead of its weaknesses?

Just how different are leaders and managers really?

Despite the old claim about frogs sitting in water until it boils, they actually are smart enough to jump out. Why don't people do the same?

Why is it so hard to deal with Jerks in the office?

If there's no "I" in team, how does the team see where it's going?

Here's what Bank of America has to say about how leaders impact high performance teams.

What can you do when you feel you don't fit into a new organizational culture?

Some comments from my recent talk on Making Change Work at the Computer Measurement Group International Conference in Las Vegas.

Trying to build a creative, innovative culture? Check out this short article from Investors Business Daily.

Job feeling stressful? Here's how to relax at work.

If you want a motivated workforce, check out this article from Fox Business.

Learn the secrets of Mastering Your Schedule on Time Tamer Talk Radio.

"The 36-Hour Course in Organizational Development" was listed by Amazon.com as one of the top 100 books on organizational behavior.



Publications and Announcements

Click here for the full list of publications

Are You Speaking to Me?
in Corp! Magazine

When the Solution is the Problem
in Corp! Magazine

The Paradox of Perfection
American Business Magazine

Flawed Execution? Don't Lose Your Head Over It
in Corp! Magazine

The Destroyer of Cultures
at ERE.Net

Help Star Performers Ramp Up The Whole Team
in Corp! Magazine

The Secret to Productive Staff Meetings   

in Medical Office Today 

 Don't Let Dracula Decisions Roam Your Business  

in Corp! Magazine 

The Blame of Phobos Grunt  

in Corp! Magazine 


 The Four Horsemen of Business Failure  

in MeasureIT

Of Cats and Unwanted Prizes 

in Corp! Magazine

Who Betrays One Master 

in the Journal of Corporate Recruiting Leadership


My Hovercraft is Full of Eels
in Corp! Magazine


Using the Force: What Every Exec Can Learn From Darth Vader
in the Worcester Business Journal

"Balance the Individual and the Team for Top Performance"
in Corp! Magazine

"Real Science Fiction"
in Corp! Magazine

"Shaky Ground"
in Lab Manager Magazine

Zen and the Art of Leadership
Talk presented at Infotec 2010

Recent Interviews

Tell About Mistakes and Failed Projects
in Investors Business Daily

A Bad Work Environment Can Make You Sick
on CareerBliss

How Much Does Motivation Matter? 

  in CSI International


Profiting from Your Performance Review  

in NASDAQ Careers News


 Motivating Small Business Employees to Work As Hard As You  

in the Phonebooth


 Relax at Work? Ha! 

in the Jewish Exponent


The Mobility Morass  

in Specialty Fabrics Review


HR Mistake of the Week: Why Hiring for Emotional Intelligence Gets You a BFF Instead of a Star Employee
in The Grindstone

Using Games to Build Your Team
on the Talking Work Podcast

How to Use Sports to Advance Leadership and Organizational Development
on the Full Potential Show with James Rick

Hiring Mistakes
with Todd Raphael,
Editor, Journal of Corporate Recruiting Leadership

Organizational Development on
The David Lush Show, WNIX 1330 AM

Innovation and Corporate Culture
on KKZZ Brainstormin' with Bill Frank

The Startup Business Coach

The CEO and Organizational Development


How to Motivate Your Employees
on Fox Business

Komen Reverses Planned Parenthood Move
in The Philadelphia Inquirer

The Art of Branding Your Career 

in Psychology Today

Prepping for Your Annual Review

in the NY Times


Making Pay Decisions Transparent 

in Human Resource Executive


Don't Like Your Job? Define One You Like 

in IT World


Computer Measurement Group Announces Keynote and Plenary Speakers for CMG'11 Taking Place December 5-9, 2011 at Gaylord National Hotel in D.C. Area  


 Career Focus: Engineering Management in Today's Engineer, a publication of the IEEE



4 Ways to Log Off on Time Off 


 About Creating Visions and Organizational Goals 


Researchers Find 'The Paradox of Meritocracy' 

in Human Resource Executive 


Game Changer 

in SHRM India


How to Stay Motivated on the Road to ITIL Expert  

in ITSM Watch


To Be a Leader, You Must Be a Follower 

in Oregon Business


 Incentivizing Employees
in Advance for Medical Laboratory Professionals

Tips for Making, Keeping Business Resolutions
at Fox Small Business

The Evolution of Leadership

Getting Results: Performance vs. Putting in the Hours

How to Self-Promote Without Being Obnoxious
on CNN

Hiring Headaches
in the IndUS Business Journal

Identifying Your Future Leaders
in IndustryWeek Magazine

Natural Born Project Managers: Myth or Reality at Project Manager Planet


How to Survive a Bad Team Leader
at Yahoo! Careers

Books and CDs

Contact Us

 Unity of Crisis

Marvel Comic's Avengers are a pretty impressive bunch. Thor, Captain America, Ironman, and the Hulk make a fearsome combination: Captain America is practically indestructible, Thor flies around throwing lightning, Ironman, aka Tony Stark, is like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs rolled into one, and the Hulk is, well, the Hulk. When it comes to fighting off alien invasions, these guys have power to spare. That's a good thing, because impressive as they are individually, as a team they aren't so hot. Their inability to coordinate well would have been a total disaster if they hadn't had such tremendous power and a friendly script writer in the basement to back them up. In fact, after watching them in action, it's easy to understand why Samuel L. Jackson's character, Nick Fury, is bald.


But wait! Sure, the Avengers have their issues, but they do pull together and beat off the invasion. They may have been at each other's throats earlier in the movie, but aren't they a team by the end? What's the problem?


Fundamentally, the problem is that the Avengers are not really ever a team; rather, they are a group of people, more or less, who are able to agree that working together is less awful than the alternative. That, as the poet said, is not exactly a ringing endorsement! Even without Loki's mind games, they were already barely civil to one another. He merely accentuated what was already happening, pushing them into open conflict.


The Avengers, of course, are fiction. Sadly, this unity of crisis is not. A common problem in business settings are teams whose members barely interact until the pressure of the oncoming deadline forces them to work together at least enough to get something out the door. At one company, this non-interaction took the form of endless debates and decisions that were revisited every week or two. At another company, the team ended up dominated by a couple of loud members, while the rest simply tried not to be noticed. In neither situation was there productive debate, problem solving, or effective decision making; unlike the Avengers, the motions they went through were not particularly dramatic or exciting. On the bright side, again unlike in the movie, no flying aircraft carriers were harmed.


When I'm speaking on organizational development, it's at about this point that someone interrupts to tell me that they are communicating: they are sending email. Don't get me wrong; email is a wonderful tool. However, it's not some sort of magic cure-all. When I actually sit down with groups to look at their communications patterns, we quickly find out that while emails may be sent to everyone in the group, they are really only for the benefit of the team lead. Quite often, the email chain quickly becomes an echo chamber or an electronic trail useful only to prove a point or hurt a competitor when reviews come around.


The challenge every team faces is helping its members learn to communicate. It seems so simple: after all, everyone is speaking the same language. As we see in the Avengers, though, that is not entirely true. While the words all may sound the same, each person is bringing their own perspectives, assumptions, and beliefs to the table. Moreover, each person is bringing their own assumptions about what the goals are and the best way to accomplish them. Also, not unlike the Avengers, there is often a certain amount of friction between different team members. While most business teams do not explode into physical violence, the verbal equivalent does occur. Unlike the Avengers, when that happens many teams simply fall apart. Although the Avengers avoid that fate, it was close. While that experience may be exciting in a movie, I find that most business leaders would rather skip the drama.


So what can be done to create real unity, instead of a unity of crisis? To begin with, it takes time. Sorry, but just like baking a cake, if you simply turn up the temperature of the oven, all you get is a mess. Teams are the same: if you rush, you still spend the same amount of time but with less to show for it.


Assuming that you use your time well, it is particularly important for the team lead to set the tone: invite questions and discussions, but also be willing to end debate and move on. At first, team members will be happy to have the leader end the debate; eventually, though, they'll start to push back. That's good news: your team is coming together and starting to really engage. Now you can start really dissecting the goals of the team, and really figure out the best ways of doing things. Start letting the team members make more of the decisions, although you may have to ratify whatever they come up with for the decision to be accepted. Encourage questions and debate, but do your best to keep your own opinions to yourself: the process of learning to argue well isn't easy and if the team members realize you have a preference, the tendency is for the team to coalesce around that preference. Alternately, the team may simply resist your choice just because it's coming from you. Better to not go there.


A unity of crisis can be very useful for a one off event, such as saving the world from an alien invasion. But for more mundane, ongoing, projects, real unity is a far better outcome.




Like to dramatically improve performance in your organization? Contact us for a free initial consultation.  


Stephen R Balzac

About 7 Steps Ahead 
Stephen R. Balzac, "The Business Sensei," is a consultant, author, professional speaker, and president of 7 Steps Ahead, specializing in helping businesses get unstuck and transform problems into opportunities.

Steve has over twenty years of experience in the high tech industry and is the former Director of Operations for Silicon Genetics, in Redwood City, CA.

Steve is the author of The 36-Hour Course on Organizational Development, published by McGraw-Hill and a contributing author to Ethics and Game Design: Teaching Values Through Play. Steve's latest book, "Organizational Psychology for Managers," was released by Springer in the fall of 2013. He writes the monthly business column, "Balzac on Business."

He is the president of the Society of Professional Consultants (SPC) and served as a member of the board of the New England Society for Applied Psychology. No stranger to the challenges of achieving peak performance under competitive and stressful conditions, he holds a fifth degree black belt in jujitsu and is a former nationally ranked competitive fencer.