There is a fascinating example from nature that I use in my public presentations to show the importance of creating the right kind of bonds between members of an organization; it is that of the difference between graphite and diamonds.

These two minerals are chemically identical, made of exactly the same carbon atoms. It is the form and strength of the bonds between the atoms that make graphite soft and of little monetary value and diamonds strong and priceless. Businesses are similar: the stronger the bond among members of an organization, the stronger—and more valuable—the business.
Tough decisions are required in hard times, decisions such as cost cutting, remuneration reductions, long and hard working hours, lay-offs. Explaining these decisions throughout an organization is no easy task. Still, it is the task of the leader. A major challenge is managing the giant gap between the stress-level and uncertainty a leader endures while preserving his or her calmness and decision making ability, and the stress level of the people he leads. This is, after all, the hallmark of leaders. So, there is clearly a fine line in what you communicate and how you execute it. Cross it, and uncontrollable panic will spread among your followers, bringing performance down when needed the most. Stay safely well below it, and see them underperform, losing the sense of urgency and becoming alienated from your leadership, unable to see the correlation between their reality and your decisions.

Everyone has his own character, his own abilities to deal with challenges, his own limits. Does this mean that communication transmitted at a single frequency is bound to fail, with some people being unable to receive the message and some not being able to deal with it? Can this be avoided? Would one-on-one meetings, for example, solve this problem? Obviously not. You would create multiple perceptions of reality by adjusting your communication to each and everyone you talk to. Chaos would soon reign and collaboration among members of the organization would almost certainly cease. Let alone that in a large organization this is truly impossible. What a challenge…

As in diamonds, however, the secret to value—and success—lays is in the bonds between the members of the organization. Raise the level on their relationships and collaboration, nurture a shared vision, and promote a common culture and two amazing things will have happened simultaneously: a) you will have upgraded significantly the level of hard reality your people can cope with and b) your will have formed a now homogenous system where a single frequency would succeed in communicating a unique and distinct message effectively.

As easy as this may sound, I would easily argue that it takes a lot of time. Usually it does. However, in times like these, people tend to look for a system to belong to, to provide them with a comfort zone, to share their hopes and fears, to support them in dealing with today and tomorrow. So, the timeframe required to build these relationships and values shortens drastically. It is not rare that these bonds form in an absence of a leader and then the system reacts disastrously, with inertia opposing vital changes needed to survive.

If you are not certain of the level of the bonds between your system members, begin to understand them today. Invest as much as you can afford in team building programs, cross-departmental projects and collaboration and talk to your people as much as you can. This investment has a great return. As if turning graphite to diamonds…

Article by Alexander Athanassoulas, Business Partners Magazine [June 2011]