Facing and Fixing Organizational ‘Undiscussables’

In their 1994 landmark book on corporate strategy, Built to Last, Jim Collins and Jerry Porras emphasized that the cultural success factor that distinguished high performing companies from their underperforming peers was operating according to a shared “Core Ideology” and a set of “Core Values.” In his follow-up book in 2001, Good to Great, Collins demonstrated how understanding those core values, authentically living up to them and challenging others to do so contributed to competitive advantage. Fundamentally, strategic success depends on leadership embracing values such as honesty, humility, empathy and inclusivity and ensuring those values are lived, especially when leadership teams are making strategic decisions.

But in many corporate and law firm settings, leadership team dysfunctionality can undercut the process of applying a core ideology and core values to decision making. To address this, Professors Ginka Toegel and Jean-Louis Barsoux at the International Institute for Management Development (IMD) have identified four categories of “undiscussables,” toxic team and leadership behaviors that subvert the performance of leadership teams. In their recent Sloan Management Review article “It’s Time to Tackle Your Team’s Undiscussables” they prescribe a number of assessment, coaching, and team building approaches that help leadership recognize, address and overcome these four categories of undiscussables.

I had a chance to interview Toegel and Barsoux about “Undiscussables” and approaches to address and overcome the dysfunctions that accompany them.