Don’t let your team glue create a sticky situation…

Over the last few weeks I’ve gathered 360º feedback for a number of different coaching clients. During the interviews a phrase kept popping up that made me pause. I kept hearing…

“(He or) She is the glue that holds the team together”

On paper there is very little that is similar about the specifics of the engagement. The client organisations ranged in size from 20 employees to approximately 1000. They operated diverse business models in equally diverse industries. The level of seniority of the interviewees ranged from frontline staff to CEO. And yet I kept hearing about a particular individual who (in each team) is considered to be the “glue”

Have you ever wondered what holds your team together?

So, what does this glue do? From the outside it looks like they are the go to person for:

  • creating and maintaining “the rules” of the team. In other words people check with them about whether decisions and behaviour are “ok”.
  • being a conduit to and from the Executive team. The glue is both trusted enough and senior enough to be useful for delivering messages — especially the tough or sensitive messages.
  • knowing everyone and everything that is happening. They seem to have their finger on the pulse. They know the stars. They know the flight risks. They know the cliques. They know the work and they know the people.

On the face of it, it seems incredibly valuable to have someone who is able to navigate the ever-increasing complexity of culture within the team. An informal role that unfolds naturally, often due to the personality of the individual rather than their job title or level of seniority. It is valuable — but it’s value that doesn’t come without some risk.

For starters, shouldn’t we all have a role in protecting our organisational culture? There seems to be considerable risk in having one person in the team (albeit informally) responsible for keeping the culture alive. It doesn’t seem right to abdicate that responsibility to a single person. They end up shouldering a burden — and based on my interviews, it is an heavy burden to bear.

It can be incredibly isolating for the glue. They receive a lot of sensitive information but then don’t feel able to share their own personal experiences in the same way. They feel the need to maintain a safe distance from their colleagues in order to protect their position as the glue. Over time this can diminish both their enjoyment and effectiveness in the role.

Let’s not forget that if the glue decides to leave the organisation, you’re left with a sticky situation…the hole that’s bigger than the box on the org chart. I’ve heard colleagues describe themselves as feeling “untethered” and even “abandoned” upon the departure of the glue.

They key is to think about how to create glue between as many members of the team as possible. Consider those things that can bind you — and the things that are likely to divide you. Create opportunities to openly acknowledge both. In doing so you’ll begin to build peer to peer accountability which will strengthen the glue across the team.