Shock-waves Part 2: Avoiding Senior Leadership Team Mistakes

August 25, 2010 -- Sal Silvester

In Part 1 of this article, I discussed the impact that senior leadership teams have on employee engagement, productivity, and retention. And, I made it very clear that the behaviors that originate at the executive team level ripple through the organization. Just like a wave that gets larger as it nears the shore, those behaviors get magnified and repeated - regardless of whether they have a positive or negative impact.

I also discussed the first "Costly Mistake" that senior leadership teams make - The Lack of Focus. The challenge in many organizations is that senior leadership teams get so busy spending time IN the business, instead of ON the business. And when senior leadership teams aren't focused, it often results in communication breakdowns that perpetuate barriers between individuals and departments, leading to the second mistake of...Protecting and Hoarding Resources.

Costly Mistake #2: Protecting and Hoarding Resources
One of the challenges that leads to this costly mistake is a dynamic that is often found only on senior leadership teams. This dynamic stems from the fact that senior leaders are often rewarded based on the performance of the functional teams they lead and not on the shared goals of the leadership team itself. Additionally, the only way for senior leaders to move their career "up" is by replacing the CEO or leaving to take on a more senior role in another organization.

These two factors often result in competition among senior leadership team members instead of collaboration. It encourages individuals to focus on their own agenda, egos, and careers instead of team goals. And this eventually ripples through departments, resulting in the inevitable silos, politics and dropped hand-offs that are so costly and wasteful.

Here are some symptoms you might see in your organization if hoarding and protecting resources is an issue.

  • Sales blames Operations for late delivery in front of customers.
  • People fight over resources without consideration for the larger goals.
  • Meetings are boring  because people are too afraid to share differences of opinions and ideas.

People-First™ Factor #2: Collaboration

To overcome this second costly mistake, senior leadership teams have to recognize that it is not good enough to just get people working on the right things (alignment). Team members have to work on the right things...together.

In order to do that, people must be able to appreciate and value the differences that everyone brings to the team. General George S. Patton once said, "If everyone is thinking alike, then no one is thinking at all."  But, in order to value those differences, the team culture has to be based on respect and trust. Without respect, you can’t have trust. And without trust, you can’t effectively work on things together.

So essentially, respect and trust become the cornerstone for efficiency.

How do you build a senior leadership team culture based on respect and trust? Here are they keys.

  1. Get clear on organizational values and model those values. This drives alignment down to the behavioral level.
  2. Create a climate of open communication,  where people can share differences of opinion, engage in constructive conflict, and get involved in problem solving and decision making. (Nothing can be more important on an executive team)
  3. Create team norms and ground rules. These provide guidelines on how the team will engage in conflict, what their team time will look like, how decisions will be made, and other behaviors that will drive team success. The best teams review their ground rules prior to starting regularly scheduled meetings, and team members hold each other accountable to the ground rules.
  4. Learn about personality styles to build vulnerability based trust. This takes trust to a whole new level. Patrick Lencioni talks a lot about this in his book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.

All of these suggestions have to do with “behaviors” that drive collaboration on a senior leadership team. Remember, the behaviors that originate with the CEO and senior leaders will ripple through the organization – and be repeated and magnified.

Change your behaviors. Change your organization. It’s as simple as that.

Stay tuned for Part 3 of this article where we'll discuss the third costly mistake senior leadership teams make. This one's a biggy, because it impacts team member commitment.

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