A Range of Organizational Health: Books Offer Examples from Ford & Theranos

Patrick Lencioni (author of The Advantage, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, and many more) is one of my best sources for book recommendations.

When he first spoke in my Executive MBA course, he recommended American Icon: Alan Mulally and the Fight to Save Ford Motor Company by Bryce G. Hoffman.

More recently he recommended a very different story: Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou.

The first charts how Ford was able to improve what Lencioni and his colleagues call organizational health:

Organizational health is about making a company function effectively by building a cohesive leadership team, establishing real clarity among those leaders, communicating that clarity to everyone within the organization and putting in place just enough structure to reinforce that clarity going forward.  
— https://www.tablegroup.com/organizational-health  

Dysfunction, politics, confusion, bureaucracy, and silos are the listed antonyms of organizational health. 

Ford: American Icon

In American Icon, Bryce follows Alan Mulally, past President and CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, as he becomes Ford’s CEO. Cohesive and clear did not describe the leadership team or approach Mulally found on arrival. By the end of the story, it was as if Mulally was working directly to improve organizational health. Interestingly, Lencioni and Mulally had no connection at the time, but have since met and Mulally is a keynote speaker at an upcoming “unconference” hosted by Lencioni and The Table Group. (I am thrilled to be attending -- join us!)

Theranos: Bad Blood

The second book, Bad Blood, traces the story of Theranos, perhaps the least healthy organization I can imagine. Theranos is a healthcare (irony noted) technology company, founded by Elizabeth Holmes. Holmes and former Chief Operating Officer Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani are under indictment for alleged wire fraud schemes and the company is struggling for survival: going from tech unicorn ($9B valuation at the high) to significant layoffs.  

Carreyrou, an investigative reporter for the Wall Street Journal, broke the story with help of whistleblowers. Besides illegal acts, his sources describe management and leadership approaches that would have held back any organization: physical barriers between teams, siloed rather than cross-functional innovation efforts, board members with influence but no focal knowledge in the technology of the firm, and escalation of commitment where increasing negative information is countered with additional effort down the same path, “throwing good money after bad,” rather than reconsideration.  

Thankfully for patients and investors both, the whistleblowers also demonstrated deep ethics and came forward even at the cost of immense legal fees and career threats.


Read American Icon for inspiration and examples of a path to organizational health. Read Bad Blood as a cautionary tale.