I just finished reading Patrick Lencioni’s The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business.  This book was published in April 2014, so it’s relatively new. I became a fan of Lencioni’s work several years back when I read his earlier book published in 2002, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.  (Anyone who has ever been on a dysfunctional team can relate to and benefit from that book as well.) The Advantage builds on the concepts from Five Dysfunctions, but takes the lessons from team to organization quite adeptly.

While The Advantage outlines lots of useful theories and tips for executives, teams, and organizations, I’d like to highlight 2 areas that I found the most applicable: 1) Lencioni’s definition of a healthy organization, and 2) the 6 critical questions.

1) Lencioni’s definition of a healthy organization

Lencioni’s definition of a healthy organization is as follows:

“At its core, organizational health is about integrity, but not in the ethical or moral way that integrity is defined so often today. An organization has integrity–is healthy–when it is whole, consistent and complete, that is, when its management, operations, strategy, and culture fit together and make sense.” (p. 5)

While this may seem simple, we all know of too many organizations who are not whole, consistent, and complete. This lack of integrity ultimately affects the organization’s performance at every level.  Put even more simply, Lencioni argues that “any organization that really wants to maximize its success must come to embody two basic qualities: it must be smart, and it must be healthy.” (p. 5)

“Smart” and “healthy” are two words that make sense as a pair. Many executives (especially those of us with MBAs) are trained to optimize “smart.”  Lencioni puts operational units in the “smart” category.

Smart: Strategy, Marketing, Finance, Technology

By contrast, he defines areas related to culture, leadership and performance in the “healthy” category.

Healthy: Minimal Politics, Minimal Confusion, High Morale, High Productivity, Low Turnover (p. 6)

Still not conviced that organizational health trumps everything else in business?  Lencioni explains it another way arguing, “And so a good way to look at organizational health–and one that executives seem to respond to readily–is to see it as a multiplier of intelligence.  The healthier the organization is, the more of its intelligence it is able to tap and use.” (p. 11)

2) Six Critical Questions

At the heart of The Advantage are what Lencioni calls the Six Critical Questions. Here’s how he explains how these questions are meant to lead to greater organizational health: “What leaders must do to give employees the clarity they need is agree on the answers to six simple but critical questions and thereby eliminate even small discrepancies in their thinking. None of these questions is novel per se. What is new is the realization that none of them can be addressed in isolation; they must be answered together. Failing to achieve alignment around any one of them can prevent an organization from attaining the level of clarity necessary to become healthy.”

Lencioni’s Six Critical Questions

1. Why do we exist?

2. How do we behave?

3. What do we do?

4. How will we succeed?

5. What is most important, right now?

6. Who must do what?

While I have used quite a few different strategic planning models from a SWOT model to Michael Porter’s Five Forces to David La Piana’s Nonprofit Strategy Revolution, this one is refreshingly simple yet comprehensive.

As I was reading, here are some notes I jotted down about each question . . .

1. Why do we exist?  (core purpose; never changes)

2. How do we behave?  (values; never change)

3. What do we do? (line of business; changes infrequently)

4. How will we succeed?  (strategic anchors; change adaptively as circumstances change)

5. What is most important, right now? (thematic goal; rallying cry for specified time period)

6. Who must do what? (job descriptions)

I’d love to lead an organization through a strategic planning process using these simple, yet powerful questions. In theory, Lencioni has boiled down the most important questions that can lead an organization to greater clarity and alignment which is the outcome of any good strategic planning process.  I’d love to see this in practice though.  Let me know if you think Lencioni’s model would help your organization find greater alignment and clarity!

Is your organization ready for a change?

Stephanie Blackburn Freeth is the creator of The Strategy Tango.


The Strategy Tango is designed to move through seven tried and true planning steps while also accommodating the unique needs of your organization in each moment.


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