The Four Disciplines by Patrick Lencioni

By Rita Buscher Kulis on May 31, 2012

This guest post from 2012 Global Institute for Leadership Development™ faculty member, Patrick Lencioni, addresses four steps an organization needs to take to get healthy–also known as the Four Disciplines in Patrick’s newest book  The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business.

The Four Disciplines

What exactly does an organization have to do to get healthy? There are four simple, but difficult steps. They include:

  1. Build a Cohesive Leadership Team – The first step is all about getting the leaders of the organization to behave in a functional, cohesive way. If the people responsible for running an organization, whether that organization is a corporation, a department within that corporation, a start-up company, a restaurant, a school or a church, are behaving in dysfunctional ways, then that dysfunction will cascade into the rest of the organization and prevent organizational health. And yes, there are concrete steps a leadership team can take to prevent this.
  2. Create Clarity – The second step for building a healthy organization is ensuring that the members of that leadership team are intellectually aligned around six simple, but critical questions. Leaders need to be clear on topics such as why the organization exists to what its most important priority is for the next few months, leaders must eliminate any gaps that may exist between them, so that people one, two, or three levels below have complete clarity about what they should do to make the organization successful.
  3. Over-Communicate Clarity – Only after these first two steps are in process (behavioral and intellectual alignment), can an organization undertake the third step: over-communicating the answers to the six questions. Leaders of a healthy organization constantly and I mean constantly repeat themselves and reinforce what is true and important. They always err on the side of saying too much, rather than too little. This quality alone sets leaders of healthy organizations apart from others.
  4. Reinforce Clarity – Finally, in addition to over-communicating, leaders must ensure that the answers to the six critical questions are reinforced repeatedly using simple human systems. That means any process that involves people, from hiring and firing to performance management and decision-making, is designed in a custom way to intentionally support and emphasize the uniqueness of the organization.

In addition to these four steps, it is essential that a healthy organization get better at the one activity that underpins everything it does: meetings. Yes, meetings. Without making a few simple but fundamental changes to the way meetings happen, a healthy organization will struggle to maintain what it has worked hard to build.

Can a healthy organization fail? Yes. But it almost never happens. Really. When politics, ambiguity, dysfunction, and confusion are reduced to a minimum, people are empowered (oh, I hate to use that word!) to design products, serve customers, solve problems and help one another in ways that unhealthy organizations can only dream about. Healthy organizations recover from setbacks, attract the best people, repel the others, and create opportunities that they couldn’t have expected.

At the end of the day, at the end of the quarter, employees are happier, the bottom line is stronger, and executives are at peace because they know they’ve fulfilled their most important responsibility of all: creating an environment of success.


Patrick LencioniPatrick Lencioni is the author of ten business books including the new release, The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business, and the national best-seller, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. He is Founder and President of The Table Group, a management consulting firm focused on organizational health.




Posted in Blog

About Rita Buscher Kulis

When she's not geeking out over marketing, Rita Buscher Kulis hits the hiking trails with her 100-pound lab, Indy. A Lego enthusiast, you can find Rita on Twitter at @Buscher.
2 comments on “The Four Disciplines by Patrick Lencioni
  1. I think Lencioni’s principles cover only half of the equation. Clartiy (“I understand it”) is essential but without commitment (I believe in and support it), real organizational health won’t be achieved. The assumption that a small leadership team can convey with clarity a direction and the masses follow based simply on clarity has long been debunked. Organizations need to cultivate healthy give and take engagement with those who are charged to implement, enabling them to influence the answers to Lencioni’s key questions. I’m not talking about pure consensus. Rather, a model of inclusive decision-making that taps into the larger wisdom and commitment of people.

  2. These thoughts are instructive and setting the right and authentic culture can make a huge difference. However, in the current period of accelerating disruptive innovations, I’m not sure this approach does justice to how critical it is to have the ability to encourage robust discussion about the future which may often create tension (hopefully a good tension) among leaders. I feel like something is missing in this approach. (I wonder what Clay Christensen would think.)

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