OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf team members aren’t doing what you need them to do, how do you address that issue?

As a team leader (with formal authority) or an influencer (with informal authority), your job is to get work done through others.

If goals and tasks are not being delivered, you need to get people back on track. Let’s look at two different approaches.

There are two levels of partnership one can drive for – compliance or alliance.

The lowest level of partnership is compliance. Compliance means that team members do what you want them to do primarily when you’re closely monitoring their performance and activity.

Compliance means team members are required to participate. They are engaged in activity, not solutions. They do the bare minimum that tasks or projects demand.

The highest and most desired level of partnership is alliance. Alliance means that team members understand what is required and why such activities are beneficial to them, their customer, and the company.

Alliance means team members participate willingly in efforts to exceed standards and improve service and efficiency. They are engaged in solutions, not activity. They exceed what tasks or projects demand.

How do you know if you’re gaining only compliance? You might experience team members:

  • Wait and watch. They are usually not proactive, they are reactive.
  • Miss milestones. They don’t have a lot of skin in the game – making or missing targets or deadlines isn’t a great concern. They let YOU carry that weight.
  • Demonstrate activity when you’re observing. Less activity occurs when you are not observing.

How do you know if you’re gaining alliance? You might experience team members:

  • Applying discretionary energy to their goals and tasks, willingly.
  • Engaging in discussion with you and peers to deepen their understanding of the opportunity, to understand any parameters that must be considered, or to brainstorm more creative and efficient ways to deliver to standard. Sometimes those discussions will be LONG and LOUD.
  • Proactively bring thought-out recommendations for enhancing product and service delivery.

Gain alliance by enabling team members and then holding them accountable.

Enabling team members means you educate them on more than just the elements of the task or project. You help them understand the “why’s”- the strategy, the context, even how the customer will be using the product or service your team is delivering.

Enabling team members means you delegate authority and responsibility to talented, engaged players. They earn the right to act independently by demonstrating their expertise, teamwork, and contributions over time.

Enabling team members means you trust them to be great stewards of your team’s resources and reputation – inside and outside the organization.

Then, hold team members accountable. Every leader’s job is to ensure that agreed-to standards are met or exceeded – within budget, within timeframes, and at the quality standard the customer desires.

What level of partnership do you see most often in your organization? Is it passive compliance or active alliance? What is the impact of each, in your experience? What other ways have you learned to gain alliance? Note your thoughts about this post/podcast in the comments section below.

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S. Chris Edmonds

S. Chris Edmonds

Chris helps leaders create purposeful, positive, productive work cultures. He's a speaker, author, and executive consultant. He blogs, podcasts, and video casts. He is the author of The Culture Engine and six other books.
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Reader Interactions


  1. AvatarJuan Arroyo says

    Very often I see compliance. Mainly driven by a firedrill mentality and a “go figure it out” expectation. Since my profession is filled with “smart” people (actuaries), everyone assumes we don’t need much explanation and that we can figure it out independently.
    Alliance (engagement) takes effort and time committment and few people are willing to make the investment in a reactive culture.
    I generally gain alliance by connecting with the person first, addressing the concerns, and then setup the project/task gauging what style of direction they’ll need. The idea is to individualize my instructions to the person doing the task.
    An insightful post. I will have to spend more time thinking about it.

    • S. Chris EdmondsS. Chris Edmonds says

      Thanks for your thoughts & insights, Juan. I totally agree that the “go figure it out” mentality inhibits commitment, engagement, and independent performance.

      I’m grateful you’ll continue pondering these ideas.



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