Playing within the rules is a given in business. But, the increased communication around compliance has a negative side effect. Compliance becomes a goal in and of itself. The implication is that if I have a compliant team, I am a successful leader. Not true.

Committed Teams Beat Compliant Teams

Recent conversations at multiple organizations prompted me to update this blog from June 2012. 

Truly great teams are not built around compliance. To me, that means I have a team who follows the rules out of fear of punishment.

I want a team that is committed – not just compliant.

What’s A Compliant Team Look Like?

• Leaders are in fact just managing – The goal is to prevent mistakes.
• People don’t trust their subordinates or their leaders – It goes both ways, from the front-line to the C-suite.
• People wait for direction – People are unlikely to try new things without manager approval.
• Mistakes are punished – Therefore everyone plays it safe.

Compliant Team Results:

Compliant teams have unfulfilled workers. The Gallop Engagement survey year after year points out that 70% of all workers are not engaged. In other words, people on a compliant team work at a J-O-B.

As long as they don’t screw something up, they will collect their paycheck and go home.  They are not engaged and can be actively disengaged.

What’s A Committed Team Look Like?

• Leaders are leading – Leaders are not acting as corporate watchdogs. They are strategizing and coaching for the future.
• Trust runs from the top down and vice versa – People believe in their leaders and the leaders believe in their people.
• Everyone is innovating – The message is, “If there is a better way, do it!”
• People embrace mistakes – Failure is embraced as part of the learning process.

Committed Team Results:

Job satisfaction is a given on committed teams. There is more trust and things get done without micromanagement. These committed teams outperform the compliant teams time and time again.

Committed Teams Are Engaged

The Gallup Survey does a great job of asking questions that can determine the commitment level of both leaders and employees.

Committed Leaders

There are 4 statements that can be asked of front line leaders that will determine their state of mind. If these 4 statements receive a negative response, it is likely these leaders feel they are leading from a place of compliance versus commitment.

• The mission and purpose of my company makes me feel like my job is important.
• The leadership of my company makes me enthusiastic about the future.
• At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.
• In the last six months, someone has talked to me about my progress.

If the front line leaders do not have a positive response to the statements above, I doubt they are leading in ways that create committed teams.

Committed Employees

Some of the statements on the Gallup Survey examine employees attitudes about the environment the leadership above them has created.

• In the last 7 days, I have received recognitions or praise for doing good work.
• There is someone at work who encourages my development.
• My supervisor creates an environment that is trusting and open.
• At work, my opinions seem to count.

The Bottom Line:

A compliant team functions out of a sense of fear while their leaders manage. Constant oversight versus innovative change are the priorities for leaders of compliant teams. An organization led with a compliant mindset is doomed to stagnate and be beaten by their committed competition.

When teams are characterized by leadership, trust, innovation, and productivity go up while turnover goes down. On committed teams, leaders are leading change instead of managing the status quo.


How has the best leader you know built a committed team versus a compliant team?