Executives – meaning, professional workers with decision authority – face many challenges throughout their career. Hard assignments, huge projects, the need to deal with severe problems, and all of that in the context of corporate politics and complex personal relationships. In the end, it is very likely that they cannot accomplish anything without the support and service of other people – that is where Management and Leadership become the essence of success.

All conversations about these topics, and the countless articles and books can never replace many years of learning and practical experience – however, knowing some things upfront can make it easier. One of these things is to understand the underlying principles of shared values and team culture – or how I like to call it: The difference between Synchronization and Compatibility. Successfully leading and managing people depends very much on these two factors, but unfortunately, most teams don’t know about it. Actually, even those who apply this principle successfully often figure it our on accident. So, what does that mean and where is the difference?

Synchronization means that there is a strong congruence in the way people use their minds, hearts and hands. While that may sound a little bit philosophically, let me give you an example: Would you accept to work with (let alone depend on) someone who has a different interpretation of trust than you do? Would you give an important task to someone who has never shown your level of commitment? Would you ask someone for advice or for his opinion if his interpretation of the big picture was to deviate significantly from yours? Or, to give a last example, would you share your fears / doubts with someone who defines confidentiality differently than you do?

You probably wouldn’t (provided that you know). Basic elements of human interaction (like those mentioned above, and maybe a few more) must be tightly synchronized between people that work closely together – if they are is disagreement about these important aspects, the work they are performing and the results they have to deliver will always remain below their potential. In a sense, if you take a famous and often cited model: You can only have people in your bus that satisfy these requirements.

So what are the things that I consider to be the baseline for synchronization in order to ensure that teams can be successful? Here is my initial list (yours might differ) – actually in no particular order:

  • Loyalty, Trust & Mutual Confidentiality
  • Giving and Receiving Appreciation
  • Humility and Recognition
  • Candor, Openess to Feedback & Level of Constructive Critisism
  • Initiative + True Commitment
  • Results-Orientation and Resilience
  • Quality Consciousness & Self-Demand
  • Ability and Receptiveness to Change
  • Responsibility / Accountability
  • Contribution to and Understanding of the Big Picture
  • Focus on Goals based on Common Objectives
  • Making Use of Strengths vs. Dealing with Weaknesses
  • Handling Mistakes and Errors
  • Satisfaction through Work
  • Pleasure of Achievements

On the other hand, people are different and that is not only great, but even important for better results and real successes. Actually, teams assembling different characters are known to perform much better than teams that are composed merely of clones. While I will not go into the reasons, there is one thing to point out: What is often forgotten is the fact that there needs to be a level of compatibility between these people – they need a way to deal with each other effectively (and if possible even efficiently). Experienced Managers and Leaders spend a lot of time to optimize the level of compatibility, for example by bringing in external advice and coaching, and by tailoring the assignments of people based on their strengths, learnings and feedback. Going back to the mental picture used before: In terms of compatibility, the second step is to get the right people in your bus into the right seats – and to understand that you should think very carefully before throwing them of the bus to early.

What are the things that need to be compatible within a well-performing team? One very common example is the so called leadership style. Of course every organization needs leaders at multiple levels and in multiple facets. What is important is that the ways of leading people – especially in matrix organizations – are compatible with each other, and of course also compatible with the individuals being exposed to them. However, note the distinguishing between synchronization and compatibility: The leadership style of different people can (and actually should) differ, as long as it is compatible and the synchronization on other aspects is given.

The same is true for things like decision making, the way people organize things, how they solve problems, their personal method of working, and how they deal with complexity. Actually, here the contradiction is that the level of difference might actually increase the likelihood of great results as long as the compatibility is ensured.

Of course, there is a nearly indefinite list of things that have to be compatible when working as a team – the importance is to understand that each team needs their own list. Consequently, I can only share my own list and the most significant topics on it – feel free to adjust and replace whatever feels right for you:

  • Leadership Style
  • Definition of Management
  • Communication and Information Exchange
  • Authority vs. Collaboration
  • Decision Making & Problem Solving
  • Measuring Progress and Results, as well as Exercising Control
  • Governance and Organization
  • Application of Methods and Tools
  • Professional Conduct and Necessary Competencies
  • Dealing with Complexity and Uncertainty
  • Defining / Planning vs. Executing vs. Learning / Feedback
  • Customer-Orientation and Stakeholder Engagement
  • (this is only a starting point and will differ from context to context)

The general approach to differentiate between synchronization and compatibility can also help to get a better grip on buzzwords like “culture” and “values” – because it differentiates clearly where culture includes or excludes people, and also where values must be strict and where they promote tolerance.