Seventy-one percent of your employees are not engaged in their work. They are simply showing up and putting in the minimum effort to get by and not get fired. A 2010 survey by Towers Perrin of 90,000 employees found that only 29% of employees are engaged. Let’s face it; most of our working relationships are ineffective. John King and Dave Logan concluded after a 10- year, 24,000-person study that 75% of our corporate cultures are ineffective (published as Tribal Leadership 2008). The good news is that it doesn’t have to be that way. One of the great insights of their research was that the 24% of organizations that were effective had one major difference — they met in “triads”. A triad, at its most basic level, is three people that meet together. The objective is to create a peer-to-peer-to-peer relationship for accomplishing a mutual purpose. Triads are based on core values and mutual self-interest. 

1. Form a Triad
First, put three people together and set the context. The leader starts with a conversation that we’re going to a different model that is going to be collaborative. She may say something like, “I’m interested in creating a new model for us to work together. The next level of success is going to require a different style, one that requires the three of us to work together as partners. We’re going to have to figure out how to do this and we’re going to make mistakes; there will be times that we step on each other’s toes. We have a lot to gain by working through this. This is not about me; it’s about us.” 

At this point, talk about what’s in it for us to work together. This is the “why we’re doing this conversation,” the big picture or common interest for the group. When I put three CEOs together our common interest is to become better leaders, make better decisions and get better results in our organizations.

2. Connect on a Human Level
As human beings, we want to feel connected to one another before we let our guard down. It helps to begin by having each member share something about themselves. I ask each person to share their core value and a story that explains why that value became so important. The question could be, “What are three of your most important values that guide your decision making and life?” This act of each person sharing helps the members to feel more comfortable with each other.

3. Set the Ground Rules
In business, everybody has a “trump” card. The Chief Information Officer (CIO) controls the information (and PC support), and the CFO has the budget. In typical working relationships, we hold back information. What would it be like if everybody just threw their trump card out there on the table? The ante to get into the game of being in relationship with each other is to ante up your trump card. Then, it will be even. Successful triads stay in the question, “What is working and what is not working?” This is different from what is right or wrong or good or bad. King says to move forward, we have to give something up. In my experience, I had to give up being right, give up being in control, give up looking good, and give up my desire to get the credit.

“Effective triading requires a word that we heard people use again and again: authenticity.” Authenticity is being real with one another. It is transparency and speaking the naked truth without fear of looking bad or holding back out of fear of rejection. It is a way of being with one another, where the intention is always to come from contribution and not ego. Each person takes responsibility for the quality of the relationship between the other two, and consciously nurtures the relationship. 

4. Establish Roles
There are three roles in the triad: speaker, listener and observer. The observer is looking for value being passed between the speaker and the listener. For example, in one of the triad meetings I was in, the speaker, Bob, showed the other two members his design for a new brochure and asked for feedback. The listener, Charles, said that he felt it lacked pizzazz. Bob said he disagreed and became defensive. As the observer, I brought up our purpose to help one another with honest feedback and asked Bob if he was feeling defensive; I invited him to listen to Charles’ assessment as a valuable contribution. Bob was able to shift his interpretation and move to taking action.

The triad provides a space where the listener may see a blind spot and take on a new perspective. The roles are constantly changing and each person is going from speaker to listener to observer. Triads are peer-to-peer-to-peer relationships. Each member may momentarily take the leadership role, but it is like a flock of geese, where each goose takes turns leading. Each person in the triad steps in when it is appropriate and they have something to contribute. 

5. Stabilize Triad through Conflicts
Finally, deal with breakdowns. Typically, in a relationship, we think we need to talk to the other person rather than speak to the strength of the relationship between the other two. In triads, we are interested in what’s happening in the dynamic between the other two. When people are in conflict they are of diminished capacity. When you use triads to solve problems, remind people of shared values. Values lead to alignment, which trumps any disagreement.
King says, “Values are only manifest when they are called and they are only called when they are missing; when the value is missing, the anchor presences the value.” An anchor is a device that is used to connect a vessel to prevent it from drifting due to wind or current. In a triad, the anchor connects each person to their values in order to prevent the relationship from drifting. Each person is an anchor for the quality of the relationship between the other two.

Let me provide an illustration. John, Dave and I are in a triad. As the anchor, I am responsible for the relationship between Dave and John. If there is something qualitative that has disappeared or diminished that I see between the two, it is my role to speak up. One of my core values is contribution. Let’s say I hear John say something to Dave, and see that Dave gets defensive and starts to make an excuse or justification. As the anchor of the relationship between the two of them, I speak up and say to Dave that he may not be hearing the contribution that John is offering him. My experience is that many times, a simple “pointing out” statement can make all the difference for Dave to open and see his defensiveness, or a blind spot that he may have. It takes more than one mind to move a mind.

In summary, these five steps will get you started in the creation of stable effective partnerships. You will experience that it is working when things become easy and whatever you’re doing comes naturally. Your triad will get along fluidly with each other and you will be in a state of “flow” or what some people call being “in the zone”. Your results and productivity will be three to five times greater. You will get more done in less time. Your triad will feel a sense of purpose and meaning. King and Logan found that "Triading brings together a group of people that can accomplish the nearly impossible: the history-making performance.”

Mark Taylor delivers workshops, keynotes and retreats for companies that want to facilitate corporate change based on the models and processes of Tribal Leadership. He is a Vistage Chair of a several New York City think tanks composed of successful Manhattan CEOs focused on “outperforming” their competition. Mark applies his 35 years of experience as an accomplished CEO and corporate manager towards increasing the effectiveness and enhancing the lives of CEOs. Mark holds a MBA, is certified coach, and Approved Tribal Leader. Visit his blog, or contact him at 212-867-5849 or