Interpersonal Agility: Balancing Multiple Teams

July 15, 2013 -- Sal Silvester

leadership agilityOne of the challenges senior leaders face is that for the first time in their career they may find themselves on multiple teams. For example, they lead their own team of managers who run the function of an organization such as Sales or Engineering. And, they may also belong to a leadership team comprised of fellow hard-charging peers from other functions of the organization that report up to a General Manager or CEO. Working on multiple teams presents two key challenges.

The first challenge is valuing the work of being on a leadership team. Most leaders are fully committed to the department they lead and the people within. That’s where they spend most of their time. And they are usually rewarded based on the performance of that department, not on their performance as a member of a leadership team. This creates a natural tension, and, as a result, leaders often regard their work on a leadership team as a waste of time. One clear indicator of this is when they begrudgingly attend leadership team meetings and impatiently long to get back to their “real work.”

The second challenge of working on multiple teams is more difficult to overcome, and its one of learning to prioritize resources based on the goals of the overarching organization and not just the department for which the leader is responsible. It’s easy for the Vice President of Sales to vie for more sales representatives. And, it’s easy for the Vice President of Engineering to compete for funding so that she can hire more software engineers. It’s not so easy for both leaders to work together and make a decision that’s in the best interest of the organization instead of their department. One of them, inevitably, will not get their way.

So, back to interpersonal agility. In my first post on the topic, I defined interpersonal agility as the ability to maintain composure in the face of complex and chaotic interactions and that it happens through a continual process of self-observation, reflection, and choice. When leaders are pulled in different directions and by different loyalties that naturally come from working on multiple teams, it takes an agile leader to stay present, keep the lines of communication open, and maintain a broad perspective that extends beyond their individual agenda. 

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