A commonly overlooked element of a highly functional team is shared fate. If you lose while I win, I can’t expect you to support my position. The objective may be clear (“Take that hill!”), but if I have a pile of money at the peak and you have a bag of rocks that you must carry back down, we each have a much different view of the hill. It’s a stairway to heaven for me and a pain in the ass for you. If we both see a path to a brighter future, we’ll get there a lot faster!

A misunderstanding of the value of shared fate typically occurs in three situations: (1) a vision for the company that gets ownership a bigger boat and does little, if anything, for the crew, (2) misaligned compensation that causes friction between two or more groups (not only internally but also between company and customers), and (3) a merger, acquisition or sale that creates winners and losers (or at least “nonparticipants.”)

Let’s start with the “vision thing.” If you don’t have a compelling picture of the future that helps you align the troops, you’re missing a valuable tool. If you have a picture of the future (stated or implied) that makes you rich and does nothing for others, I guarantee you don’t have a committed team. In fact, your team might do its best to subvert your desire. 

I don’t care if you call it a vision, a mission, a purpose or shooting the moon — to inspire your people to do great things, align their desire by having a clear, compelling picture of the future. Everything else follows. Compelling, by the way, for the troops — not just ownership!

Nowhere in the organization do you see more misalignment than between the sales organization and operations. Countless times, I’ve heard executives and even CEOs — who can solve the problem quickly! — bitch about how the salespeople won’t do the right thing. A bit of exploration typically uncovers two reasons: either they have incapable management, or they are compensated to do the “wrong” thing (occasionally both!). No shared fate!

Ownership has privileges, and I’m very supportive of that. When you put your capital on the line, you call the shots. However, owners who take a sale’s or merger’s spoils — usually with poor communication — and are perplexed about why the crew isn’t happy have their heads in a dark, smelly cave. You can’t preach “team” for years and then disband the team, take your ball, roll up the court and go home without pissing off your people. Get real!

Shared fate when you’re on a sinking ship might produce some fast friends (though a short-term relationship!) but no group benefit. However, when used as a positive element, shared fate can be a force multiplier for your efforts. 

If you’re underwhelmed by your results and the degree of organizational effectiveness, answer this question: Do you all share the same fate?