“The key to business success is duck-like – smooth and unruffled on the top but paddling furiously below”

The expression ‘in the same boat’ is typically construed as a negative idiom – “you say that you have run out of money – well, I am in the same boat”, meaning that I have run out of money too. It implies that you find yourself in a similar situation or in the same position as another or others and have to face the same problems that they have to face. Although usually used with negative undertones, the phrase potentially, however, has a positive outlook when the word ‘all’ is placed up front – all in the same boat, with everyone applying energy to paddling together, with focus on the job at hand. This is particularly true within an organisational context, where alignment around strategic objectives is important. Businesses need all employees to be working towards the fulfilment of business goals. Having some staff out of the boat hanging on to the side induces drag and makes the boat unnavigable. The safest and most productive situation is where everyone is in the boat with the right resources and fully focused on what needs to be achieved.

To get everyone in the boat (and therefore bring about alignment), the following actions need to be achieved:

  1. Create an environment of trust– Stephen M R Covey, in his book “The Speed of Trust”, demonstrates that trust has become the key leadership competency of the 21st century and notes that trust is “the one thing that changes everything”. Trust is not a soft, social virtue, but a hard-edged economic driver. Trust is a learnable and measurable skill and an environment of trust makes businesses more profitable, people more promotable and relationships more energising. Distrust, on the other hand, creates division, builds barriers, sends feedback messages underground and laces the environment with fear. Appropriate and trustworthy leadership behaviour is therefore necessary to engender transparency, creativity and empowerment.
  2. Dismantle unnecessary bureaucratic processes– bureaucratic processes are often introduced to mitigate against risk (especially if trust is not present) and to place checks and balances in the systems. Although some of these are potentially necessary, many are superfluous when relational integrity is in place in the company. Dismantling unnecessary bureaucracy sends a very positive message to all – we trust you to give of and do your best with honesty. It extends trust to people who previously were not trusted.
  3. Break down interdepartmental rivalry– interdepartmental competition usually develops unintentionally when an environment is not geared towards synergy, working together towards the same goals and relational quality. The problem with rivalry lies in the areas of trust and communication freedom – if I am in competition with you, I am going to withhold crucial bits of information from you and look for ways to “outdo” you in operational activities. Focus shifts from ideas flowing freely to strategies designed to make my department alone to look good. As a result, the company as a whole doesn’t benefit from everyone’s possible best.
  4. Free up staff to offer new ideas and tap into their creativity– create feedback sessions to investigate areas in which departments can improve. Solicit ideas, explore and get staff working on potential improvements. This not only develops better productivity, but also communicates that the business leadership values direct input from employees. There will be a greater sense of ownership amongst staff over self-generated ideas and processes.
  5. Be ‘present’– engage appropriately, not only with direct reports, but also with others in the organisation. A present leader engenders confidence and a spirit of teamwork amongst employees but needs the leader’s full presence and deep listening ability. Presence, in and of itself, without connection, becomes meaningless. Presence involves emotional connection and warmth.
  6. Communicate freely– share vision, strategy and “big picture” direction to keep people on the same page and working towards the things that really matter. Uninformed employees easily fall into the trap of just going through the motions of their job, without applying extra energy to the task. When employees understand basic strategy, their energy gets channeled to goal achievement.

“All in the same boat” in a business context speaks to alignment, focus and energy being applied to the most important business drivers. Targets become clearer, teamwork becomes essential and relational quality is raised. Fundamentally, all employees become united around the business imperatives that will most likely translate into success.

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