Flat Army

Summary Written by Alyssa Burkus
"Treat your people and your team members like tools, numbers or subordinates, and you can merrily look forward to an organizational culture replete with apathy, disengagement and insubordination."

- Flat Army, page 261

The Big Idea

It's About Building Culture, Not Engagement

"Employee engagement and business results are what we’re measuring, but organizational culture – through Flat Army – is what we’re building."- Flat Army, page 262

It was such a relief to read these words. Too often, our conversations are focused on creating employee engagement, and while this is an important measurement, I agree with Pontefract that our efforts should be focused on building the culture that organizations need, and employees crave. There is also compelling evidence that you’ll see significant business results when you do.

As a leader in an organization, you need to look at the qualities of your leadership skills and style, and identify the outcomes you need. If you don’t have a sense of what this should be, Pontefract offers ideas for team assessments and other ways to begin looking at your leadership qualities in new ways.

Let’s distill it further into a couple of key lessons.

Insight #1

Do All You Can To Connect, Collaborate And Get In The Mix

"[The] goal is not a larger team; it is making that team – whatever the size – the best it can be. It is the leader’s responsibility to assist team members to hit their professional or career goals."- Flat Army, page 125

Pontefract emphasizes the need for leaders to focus on collaboration and help create new relationships and connections throughout the organization. While this idea is not a new one, he provides models for how leaders can build these skills, including detailed competencies for each level of leadership growth, creating a process that leaders can use to create their own development plans.

And before you think this book sounds far too serious, one of Pontefract’s leadership competencies is “clowning” – to create moments of fun that become part of the team folklore.

At the heart of it all though, what’s the essence every leader needs?

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Insight #2

You Won't Get Far Without Building Deep Trust

"Engagement, therefore, and in my opinion, is about whether or not an employee feels trusted by leaders to do the right thing when it counts."- Flat Army, page 13

Trust is a foundational element in most leadership models, and Pontefract includes discussion of it as well. He encourages leaders to look at the subtle (or not so subtle) ways trust can be undermined, such as continuing to micro-manage. In my experience, many managers have micro-management as a blind spot, and working to move from managing to coaching is one of the strongest ways to change the team dynamic, improving outcomes as well as engagement.

It’s worth the time to look closely at Pontefract’s models for learning as well, where he describes how learning and technology are now intertwined, and encourages embracing a “pervasive learning” mindset, rather than seeing training as an event to complete once or twice a year.

In many ways, Flat Army is a call to arms to care much more about how our organizations are being led. As Pontefract notes, “We’ve become numb to the bosses who don’t care. We’re ambivalent to leadership that is hierarchical and close-minded.” Instead, wake up, step up and take a running leap forward to be more intentional in the way you lead.

Flat Army is a book I will continue to use for years, and it should be part of every leadership development toolbox. Whether you are new in building your leadership skills, or have been leading for a while and are continuing to learn and grow, this book is full of thought-provoking ideas and guidance to push your leadership capabilities to new levels.

We need a world where workplaces are filled with leaders who give a damn about providing the best environment for employees to succeed. Flat Army will be part of the arsenal of tools to get you there.

Please share your ideas in the comments below… what are you doing to create your own Flat Army?

Read the book

Get Flat Army on Amazon.

Dan Pontefract

Dan Pontefract is the author of Flat Army: Creating a Connected and Engaged Organization. He also holds the role of Head of Learning & Collaboration at TELUS where he is responsible for the overarching leadership development, learning and collaboration strategy for the company. He has driven a philosophical and cultural shift in the way TELUS views and experiences learning called “Learning 2.0”; the shift to a social, informal and formal learning and collaboration model for all 40,000+ team members, bringing TELUS to the forefront of learning leadership. In parallel to these actions, Dan championed the introduction of the TELUS Leadership Philosophy (TLP), an open and collaborative-based leadership framework for all TELUS team members, alongside a litany of social collaboration technologies.

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