Have you been as concerned as I have been about the way our Congress seems to operate?  Does all the bickering, posturing, stalemates, log-jams, and wasted time and resources due to lack of consensus make you want to yell, “Get a facilitator!” to fix Congress?

I’m personally looking forward to a time when every President has a cadre of facilitators they use to make faster decisions with greater levels of buy-in and commitment. I believe, however, that the issue with the stalemates in Washington is structural. Let me explain by way of an example.

My company is run by a leadership team consisting of myself and the heads of each of our four major areas: training and facilitation, sales and client relationship management, marketing, and operations. For many years, one of my concerns with our leadership team was that I was the only person holding the other members of the team accountable. In our leadership team meetings, I was the only one asking the tough questions, I was the only one who seemed to be taking the integrated perspective. It was as if my other leaders felt responsible for their own areas, and as long as they were doing fine, it was my job to get the best out of the other leaders.

We made one small adjustment, and everything changed.

See, as part of our leadership team compensation, each member of the team received a quarterly bonus based on the profitability of the company in the prior quarter. We changed this.  Instead, now each quarter, each leadership team member has to identify the three activities they will personally achieve in the quarter that significantly contribute to the company’s success.

Now, here is where it got fun.  Leadership team members who achieve their three targets receive 75% of their quarterly bonus.  To receive the other 25%, ALL leadership team members have to achieve their targets.

You probably can imagine what happened. Suddenly, leadership team members want to know what other members were setting as their goals and how they plan to achieve them. The leaders asked that, along with identifying the target, each team member to also indicate monthly progress milestones, so we could all be clear that progress was being made.  They wanted to change our monthly meetings so that meetings would start with a review of the milestones. And, get this – they begin asking each other how they could help achieve targets that were falling behind. In fact, when one team member cost all the other leadership members 25% of their bonus two quarters in a row, the others essentially voted him off the island!

Just this one change in the process resulted in increased shared accountability.

See, while before we called ourselves a leadership team, we weren’t operating that way.  Each team member had his/her own department that, indeed, was operating as a team.  However, our leadership team was not operating as a “team of teams” instead we were operating as a “group of teams”. We lacked commitment to a shared goal that we were all consciously contributing too.  Of course, we all wanted the company to excel, but for the most part, the focus of each individual was on his/her team’s performance – not on our shared measures of success.

Once we changed the bonus program to focus on joint accountability, everything changed.

I think it is possible to brainstorm ways to get this same kind of result in Washington.

When it comes down to it, many members of Congress have a common goal: re-election and moving up the seniority chain so that they can do more for their constituency. While we expect members of Congress to behave as a team, unfortunately the institution is structurally designed to behave just as they do. Structurally, members of Congress are rewarded based on how well they satisfy the needs of their individual constituencies – not based on identifying and achieving a common set of goals and objectives for the American people.

What if we changed this?  As one idea, what if Congress and the administrative are rewarded based on how well they satisfied the needs of America, as opposed to their individual constituencies?

Suppose, by a constitutional amendment, every two years Congress and the Administration had to agree upon a few modest, high-level goals for the country (e.g., reduce unemployment to X%, reduce the national debt by X%, and so on), vetted by an independent accountability panel. If they achieve the outcomes, the Congress and the Administration are eligible for re-election when their terms expired (within the limits of existing reelection policies).

However, if they do not achieve the agreed upon outcomes, by constitutional amendment, they are not eligible for re-election at the end of their terms. They all win or they all lose, but they do it together as a team.

I suspect it would be a new day in Washington.

  • Finger pointing would take a back seat to making sure obstacles to progress were removed.
  • Our elected officials would finally be incented to align with the needs of the American people rather than their selfish needs of looking good for the electorate back home, regardless of the outcome for the country.
  • They would no longer be able to focus on convincing their electorate that the lack of progress was someone else’s fault. They could focus their energies on creating solutions rather than on pointing the finger.

This may not be the best idea, and it may not be even a good idea. But, I do think the idea takes the conversation in the direction of addressing the structural problem that strongly supports the behavior and the culture we are seeing today.

Creating a common vision, common goals, common measures of success, common accountability – these are the best ways I know to get a team behaving like a team!  Is your team structurally sound? Does your team have a common set of goals, common measures of success, and common accountability?  If not, let our team of facilitators show you how. Contact our team to help you achieve higher levels of success.