The Rocket Model: Commitment and Engagement

Rocket ModelOne important component of the Rocket Model© is Buy-In, which concerns the degree to which leaders and members are committed to and engaged in team goals, roles, norms, and success. There is an important difference between member commitment and engagement. A United States Marine corporal may be very committed to The Corps and protecting the United States, yet he may not be particularly engaged while walking guard duty at Camp Pendleton. In this scenario, the corporal will do the minimum and nothing more. Likewise, team members may be committed to the team and its goals yet not engage in the tasks needed to succeed. The Holy Grail for leaders is to create teams whose members are both committed to and fully engaged in the tasks needed to succeed.

Team members with high levels of commitment and engagement will work toward team goals, take their roles and responsibilities seriously, adhere to team norms, and do what is needed to help their teams and groups win. Team and group members with low levels of commitment and engagement may publicly agree to decisions but privately ignore them. They will also be unconcerned with achieving team and group goals. Executive leadership teams avoid conflict, so a lack of Buy-In may not be apparent in their meetings. However, they will use proxies to fight their battles, which will start a chain of inter-department finger pointing: the sales leaders may complain that R&D designs products that nobody wants; leaders in R&D will blame operations for building products with poor quality; both groups will blame IT for poor software systems, etc. Executive team members smile and compliment each other’s accomplishments, even though outside the boardroom, Rome is burning.

The lack of Buy-In is not confined to executive teams – any team can have members who are not committed to success. Uncommitted and disengaged members will focus on their own agendas and blame others when things go wrong. When Buy-In is lacking, leaders will hear: “It wasn’t my fault, I got my part done” or “I never agreed with that decision.” Buy-In is the rocket fuel for team success. Just as rockets with more fuel carry heavier payloads, teams with greater Buy-In can achieve more difficult goals. The opposite can be found when member Buy-In is low.

Buy-In is a component of the Rocket Model© where there are differences between groups and teams. Group members only need to buy in to their individual roles and goals; team members need to buy in to their team norms and goals, be willing to cooperate and do joint work, and internalize the idea of shared fates. In a group, if members do not have high levels of Buy-In, they may fail to achieve their individual goals, but this may not impact the group’s overall success. Teams, however, depend on cooperation and joint work to succeed. Teams with even one or two low Buy-In members (think Slackers or Criticizers) will lose. This difference between teams and groups has important implications for leaders.