Kick-Start TQ by Leveraging The Burning Platform

As a team leader, you probably have some clear ideas of the issues concerning your organization or operation, and where you want to lead the team. But the reality is that some team members are content to carry on in their usual way. “Hey, I’m so busy delivering results that, I don’t have time for this stuff.” “Yeah, I’ll attend the team meetings but don’t expect me to spend much time on team projects and collaboration; I’ve got a full agenda, and can’t fit it into my schedule.”

I have witnessed many team initiatives peter out for this very reason. The team leader is very clear about what he or she wants and can articulate it, but not all team members are on board.

To start the journey to High TQ, achieving team alignment is essential. Sometimes it’s necessary to create a ‘burning platform’ to galvanize the team.

What Is The Burning Platform?

When I was a V.P. in PepsiCo, the concept of a burning platform was top-of-mind for most managers. If Coke is breathing down your neck and gaining market share, you have a burning platform. If you are not able to deliver cans and bottles to the store daily, on time, and well-merchandised, you have a burning platform.

I like the real story of the burning platform because it illustrates graphically the challenge at hand. “At nine-thirty on a July evening in 1988, a disastrous explosion and fire occurred on the Piper Alpha oil-drilling platform in the North Sea off the coast of Scotland. One-hundred-and-sixty-six crewmembers and two rescuers lost their lives in what was (and still is) the worst catastrophe in the fifty-year history of North Sea oil exportation..[i]” One of the 63 crewmembers who survived was Andy Mochan, a superintendent who jumped 15 stories from the platform to the water. “It was either jump or fry.” Andy jumped because he felt he had no choice—the price of staying on the platform was too high. His philosophy had been “Better probable death than certain death.”

The point of the story is that that it took a platform fire to cause a major change in behavior. It emphasizes that radical change in people only comes when survival instincts trump the desire to stay in their comfort zone. When making major decisions or solving major problems, an emergency attitude is sometimes required. The ‘burning platform’ is often required to begin team transformation by eliciting buy-in from the team.

As the team leader, it’s your job to communicate and provide meaning to the link between the burning platform, and the need for the team to align around the High Performance Team journey. I’ve found this can be done as part of a an offsite, or in a separate session. Either way, there needs to be a clear purpose to this several hour-long meeting, which is to achieve alignment on where the team is and where it wants to go. The burning platform could be anything from poor results, to conflicts within the team, to troubling stakeholder feedback. If the team is already a good team, and the house is not on fire, the burning platform might be the frustration that we are just good, not yet great. in other words, aspiration can serve the same purpose to galvanize the team.

Remember that as you embark on the Team Quotient journey, utilize the burning platform to get all members committed and aligned. Once you have done that the journey will have meaning and a sense of exigency.

Douglas Gerber is Founder and CEO of Focus One, a consulting firm that helps leaders create High Performance Teams. After 23 years as a corporate executive, he developed a reputation for building successful teams. Later, as a consultant, he has personally worked with leaders from over 70 companies to develop their own winning Teams. Drawing from his own extensive background and 10 years of research, Douglas innovated the concept of “Team Quotient” (TQ). He is a thought leader in the area of team transformation. Learn more about Douglas and his upcoming book Team Quotient: How to Build High Performance Leadership Teams that Win Every Time on

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