Transcript of The #1 Issue Holding Back Leadership Teams Webinar

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My name is Jack McGuiness. Welcome to our Great Leaders Build Great Leadership Teams webinar series. Today's topic is The #1 Issue Holding Back Leadership Teams. Note on logistics, as you'll see, some of you I've noticed, have participated in previous webinars. So, you'll notice that my slides are a little thick with content. I do that on purpose so that, when we're done, I post them and publish them so you guys can have access to them, and you don't really have to take a lot of notes. So, you'll find that they're a little bit thicker than if I was doing this, presenting in your office, for example.

 So welcome to today's webinar, looking forward to the discussion. One more note on logistics, we'll answer your questions towards the end. It's just too many people on to address questions during.

So here we go. The #1 Issue Holding Back Leadership Teams.  So before we get started, I want to talk a little bit about our definition a leadership team that we use. We've stolen this from a woman named Ruth Wageman, who wrote it a great book called Senior Leadership Teams. And the definition goes like this, a leadership team is a group of individuals, some responsible for leading, some part of the organization, some functional responsibility, some line of business responsibility, but who are also interdependent for the purpose of providing leadership to the rest of the organization.

I like to start with this because we see a lot of leadership teams that are really a collection of direct reports of the CEO, and the relationship is much more of a reporting and information sharing relationship, which is perfectly fine and can work. Really, the substance of what we're talking about here today is, how do you get a group of people not only focused on their functional and line of business roles, but also the interdependent role that they play in driving the organization. From our experience, particularly in growing our organizations, when a leadership team recognizing that it's purpose goes a little bit beyond just implementing the strategic direction of the organization or the functional responsibility that they play and really focuses on where they're at in their business cycle.

Right now, for example, we're working with a company that has grown dramatically. They're going from very loose structure, loose process, to putting in some more structure and more process, and the purpose of their six person leadership team is really to help the organization to build the infrastructure, to build the next level talent of people, next level down, to really be able to help scale the organization, so it's really focused on scale and a very specific one when they get together to meet that that's their purpose. So from our perspective, again, stealing from Ruth Wageman, we believe that really effective leadership teams recognize their functional and line of business roles but also their unique role as a collection of leaders in driving the organization to achieve a specific purpose based on the environment they're working in it's current time.

Why are leadership teams so important? Obviously, leadership teams are in the business of helping your organizations get results. Our premise, which is not based on an incredible amount of objective data but certainly founded on an abundance of experience working with organizations, is that our premise is that effective leadership teams certainly enhance the likelihood of their organizations achieving the results that they've set out to achieve. So that's number one. The next two pieces are around engagement, employee engagement and tapping into the discretionary effort of employees. People are watching the executive team, particularly in small growing or young growing organizations.

Employees are watching how the executive team functions, how they are holding each other accountable, how they are living up to the values, the principles that they espouse, and without an engaged, in sync, aligned, functional, somewhat functional leadership team, employee engagement can really take a hit because basically this is saying great teams practice what they preach and don't expect the rest of the organization to do stuff that they wouldn't do themselves. So that's why we believe that leadership teams are so important.

Some characteristics of great leadership teams. Number one, in the business of getting business results, no question about it, they're the stewards of the organization to ensure that that happens. Number two, we see great leadership teams have members that have ... a collection of individuals that have impact way above and beyond the contributions of any one team member. We call it the force multiplier effect or the whole is greater than the sum of the parts but really, the collection of individuals, you can feel it, that they have each other’s backs. When someone's falling down, they're there to help them pick them up. They really are in sync in many, many ways. So force multiplier effect is really important.

We also see that over time great leadership teams grow in their capacity to solve increasingly challenging problems. That's a very important aspect 'cause you're continually, I'm preaching to the choir here, to many business owners on the phone, but you're increasingly faced with new and different challenges, whether that's new competitor, new product launch, increased regulation. Whatever it might be, the hurdles of scaling, the ability of the leadership team to address and coalesce around more complex problems over time is really important. Related to that, and we think this is probably one of he most important signals that we look at when we're looking how effective a leadership team is, is they're resilient. They have the ability to get back in sync after they've had some setbacks, business wise or professionally, relationally, that they have the resilience necessary to get back in sync. So results, force multiplier impact, ability to get better at dealing with complex challenges over time, and resilience. Those are, from our perspective, key characteristics of great leadership teams.

So the topic we've all been waiting for, the number one issue, from our perspective, holding leadership teams back is what we call non-productive dialogue. We see it over and over and over again, and our definition of productive dialogue is the ability for teams to challenge, debate, and discuss their most important issues in a way that moves the issues forward and minimizes relational scars, and there's a whole bunch packed into that definition. So the ability to confront each other, right? There have been studies done on executive and their ability, adults in general, but they're executives and their ability to confront and deal with conflict well, and I'm not talking about as a CEO or as a general manager, I'm not talking about the telling part and the authoritative part. I'm talking about, that's obvious, that's a way of confronting, but do you do that in a way that there's a receptivity on the other end of it?

And so the ability to engage in productive dialogue and enable, create an environment where people are comfortable confronting and challenging you as a CEO, each other, very importantly, and doing it in a way that minimizes the relational damage. And what I mean by that is, doesn't result in passive aggressive behavior or someone picking up their ball and going home or someone just saying it screw it, I'm going to remain silent. Lobbying the CEO in the back office, whatever it is. So productive dialogue, and we're going to dig into what are some ideas we have and what are some ideas that we have seen in some of our client systems that CEOs and leadership teams can create an environment where productive dialogue can thrive.

So before we get into it, let's just hit a couple of examples so we get a better understanding of what non-productive dialogue looks like. First, the CEO or formal team leader dominance. The CEO's perspective overpowers the team. Their point of view is number one. They're dismissive of other perspectives, and in many cases, might cut their teammates off, even in mid sentence. Seeing it happen, it shuts down the ability to engage and confront each other well right out of the starting gate. Number two, the elephant in the room. Many times we can see it, and you guys know it when you're there, you know there's a big issue on the table that people are just afraid or reluctant to address, and people just, for multiple reasons, just kinda skirt the issue. Sometimes the CEO might force the issue, and sometimes he or she won't. And the CEO forcing the issue is one solution but not a long term, viable solution if you're trying to build an effective team that's just not reliant on the CEO.

Third, love fest. Teammates are extremely nice and complimentary to each other and really avoid hurting each other's feeling at any cost, and even when they have maybe something that they want to present constructively with some constructive feedback, they shower with, they comment with so much praise that the message is lost in the praise. I hope these things are resonating with you all on the webinar. These are things that we see often in the teams that work with. So a couple more, a few more. Passive aggressive, ideas are knocked down directly or by insults. Direct confrontation is avoided. People might pout of present a stubborn demeanor, or in some cases might even hold back information, those types of things. We've all seen that in our work lives, very damaging on any executive or leadership team.

This one we see quite a bit as well. Lobbying. And it can be, these are all kind of related to each other too, but if you think back to the topic of the elephant in the room, or not even that, but all appear to agree on a course of action discussed in a meeting, but after the meeting, the individuals lobby the CEO about a different approach. They may get together and say,

"God, did you hear? Why did we decide to do that?" Or, "Bob's view was really dumb, and it really got pushed through. How did that happen? "And rather than having the discussion in the meeting, they decide to lobby the CEO outside, and the worst part of this is that the CEO engages in the discussion rather than says, "Wait a minute. We just had this discussion. Why didn't you bring these concerns up during the meeting?"

The CEO engaging in the discussion at that point has multiple downstream effects, but, as you can imagine, but the whole lobbying thing and not being able to confront in the course, and obviously you have side meetings. You have meetings before the meetings, that kind of stuff. But I think we all know what we're talking about. Talk about something, the feedback wasn't given in the meeting. Immediately after the meeting or sometime after the meeting, folks are saying oh that was really stupid. Why did Bob push that? And going to the CEO's office. That can create a lot of chaos.

Next, turf protecting, and many of us have seen this as well. No matter what the issue is raised, teammates argue about what's best for their own department at the expense of what's best for the organization, and there's a whole bunch of host of issues that potentially contribute to this, but nonetheless, if you look back to the first definition of what we think, at least, and you buy into it a little bit, the definition of a leadership team that has individual role and a team role, this turf protecting thing kind of knocks that down right out of the starting gate. So these are a few examples of what non-productive dialogue looks like, and right out of the case studies of clients we're working with.

What are some of the root causes behind these issues? There's a bunch of them. These are just some. CEO shuts down dialogue. They really only want their perspective on the table, or they don't value the perspectives of other folks, and really tough to have a team. And you can argue oh we don't have good people on the team. Well, then you have to sort of do something about that, or you really have to work at figuring out how to get the best out of people that aren't contributing like you want them to contribute. Number two, teammates are afraid to look bad in front of their colleagues. Teammates don't want to make their colleagues look bad, and you can replace their colleagues with their CEO or the formal team leader. Teammates are afraid to look bad in front of their boss. They don't want to make they boss look bad giving feedback.

I've actually worked with a number of teams and their very reluctant to give the CEO or the formal team leader, general manager, whatever it might be, any feedback because they don't want the CEO to look bad. Really tough to have a good team dynamic if that's the case. Teams create an environment where the loudest voice gets heard. We've certainly all seen situations where that's the case. There's a perception, real or imagined, that the CEO plays favorites to certain team members. That's, unfortunately, happens sometimes, and it often is imagined. But if there's a perception out there, and it's coupled with an inability to really say what I feel, then it because a self-fulfilling prophesy and cuts down on the ability for teams to really trust each other.

Most team decisions have been negotiated and agreed prior to decision meetings. You can see where that would contribute to some of those challenges in the previous slides. Incentives weigh much higher in driving individual performance over corporate performance, right? So it's a structural issue getting gin the way of some relational dynamics. Teammates don't appreciate any perspectives that might be different than their own. Right? My perspective and how I think about things is the way I'm looking at it, and when other people strayed fro that, I devalued their contribution. Okay, so those are some of the root causes.

So what are some ways that teams can create productive dialogue? First, it starts with you as the leader. Formal team leaders are responsible for establishing the conditions for leadership teams to engage in productive dialogue. So basically all that it says is if you don't model the behaviors you're expecting from the team, then very unlikely that those behaviors will happen. So they must practice what they preach or model behaviors that reinforce productive dialogue. It is the sum of the behaviors that reinforce productive dialogue. Being open to other people's perspectives, being receptive to feedback, being receptive is different than agreeing to everything you hear, right? It doesn't mean I have to agree with all the feedback, but it does mean that I should be at least receptive to hearing it in my verbal and nonverbal cues that I give off are that, yeah. I'm open to hearing what you have to say for sure.

Setting clear expectations. I work with a lot of CEOs and a lot of CEOs think they're being direct, but when in fact you talk to the person they just were direct with, and that person really came away with a different view, and that can be a communications challenge, but it also can be an inability to confront well challenge on the part of the CEO and not want someone to feel bad type of thing. Giving feedback and holding the team and individuals accountable, right? A lot of this sounds, this productive dialogue thing, can sound soft and touchy feely, and if you think that, this is probably not the right talk for you because we believe that an inability to have productive dialogue will really, really hold your team back. So promote open challenge and debate, and obviously go drive to resolution. Follow through. Drive to resolution. No question about it. And a leader modeling that is important, right? It's great to have open challenge and debate, but we gotta move to some sort of resolution at some point. Can't kick the can down the road.

Encourage face to face conflict management. What I mean by that, or face to face confrontation, what I mean by that is we will often see the CEO being the moderator of types of conflict between team members and our encouragement is always get hem to talk to each other, and if those two can't talk to each other be the moderator to help them get through eh challenges so they act like mature adults. Resists back office deals. Basically back to the lobbying thing. Resist the urge to engage in after the fact conversations. We agreed to something as a team, and then all of sudden we're now opening up the dialogue again. Sometimes that can happen, but it should be, when it's done, it should be done transparently. That's kind of what we're getting at here. So those are some of the things from a formal leaders perspective. And you can say to yourself, "I do all that."

And if you do all that, then, from our perspective, you're modeling the environment with which your team can really engage, debate, challenge each other, again, with minimal relational scars.

Okay. Next. What's number two? Build trust among team members, and boy is this a mouth full. Building trust among team members particularly if trust has been damaged, is a huge hurdle. Building trust it not ... when we're talking about trust, we're not talking about do team member like each other? Do they like each other? Can they go out for drink with each other? That's not what I'm talking about. What we're talking about is do members of a team trust the intentions and motivations of the people they're working with, right? Or do they not? Right? So if trust has been damaged, takes a lot of time and energy to get it back.

So what are some ways, from our perspective that are really, really fundamental to building and repairing trust? Well, the first is, get beyond the lunch and the drinks, and get to know each other and gain some insights at a level of understanding where you can get a better sense of where people come from. Again, this can sound touchy feely and soft, but I'm telling you, I've seen the team members gain some forgiveness for each other and gain some insights to each other by just doing some simple stuff. We do an exercise every once in a while called personal journeys exercise where we'll just ask folks to go around the room and say,

"Tell me where you grew up and how many siblings were in your family, where you fell in that chain, and tell me the biggest challenge you had through college."

And boy, some of the conversations and insights you gain from that. My father was in jail during my high school time frame, and my mother was addicted to drugs, and you gain insights into why this person is so wound up, so tight, for example. Right? Doesn't mean that it's okay for her to be wound up and so tight and be sometimes mean, but it does give you some insights and often times will give you some forgiveness for some of those behaviors. You'll be a little more patient around those behaviors. So understanding folks at a little bit of different level, really important stuff. I know a lot of people don't want to hear that, but I'm telling ya, it really works.

Secondly, take time for members to understand each other in terms of what are their motivations and intentions? There are some great assessment instruments out there like the Myers Briggs and Disk and others that we really use as discussion starters. We don't spend a lot of time on them. We use them as discussion starters and more as a vehicle for individuals to self-reflect and become a little more aware of, I really am that kind of assertive, aggressive kind of guy, or I am that very analytical, thoughtful, take my time, think it through types of person, and most importantly for your teammates to give you some similar feedback as it relates to how they see you, what the vibe is that you're giving off. Most importantly, from those discussions, we work with our clients to drive commitments, behavioral commitments.

So for example, the woman that I just talked about that had that tough upbringing that is wound up type, some of her commitments were to, "You know what, I know that I don't listen well you guy. I know that I barrel through discussions. I know that I need to step back and hear other people's perspectives a little bit more, and I'm going commit to do that. And I know it's not going to be easy for me to do it, and when I fall down, I want your help. I want you to give me some feedback."

If I could point to one thing in this whole 30, 40 minute conversation we're going to have, making behavioral commitments, sticking to them, and getting feedback from your colleagues is probably the most important thing I'm going to say throughout the course of this discussion. On the other side of that coin, it's also one of the most difficult things we see people have to do. Changing adult behavior is not an easy thing to do. We all have blind spots. We all have, maybe not even blind spots, things that we know. Maybe we're just a hard-charging, hard driving CEO, and that's just the way we do stuff. And, by all means, continue to go do that if it's working for you. If it's not, you might want to step back and ask yourself what I could be doing a little bit differently that might make this team work more effectively.

And often times I'll hear, "Well, it's just their fault. They are weak, or they don't know how to deal with me."

And that could be the case, however, if you want to create a real team dynamic and get people to be able to contribute to the best of their ability. You have to look into some of those blind spots. Okay. Last thing that just kind of summarizes what I've been talking about trust. Vulnerability and commitments are the key to building trust. Showing some vulnerability - we're not talking about trust falls or getting into divorces or family issues. I'm really not espousing that, but I am espousing taking some lens into each other's journeys. And then, very importantly, making some commitments to do something different, to help this team at this time be more effective based on the feedback I'm getting from my teammates. That to me, vulnerability and practicing something different are the first steps in helping to build or rebuild trust.

Third, foster an environment of feedback and accountability, right? And I would argue that the certainly can't foster an environment of feedback and accountability if you don't do something to build trust and if the leader isn't modeling feedback and accountability. So those first two steps are critical. The last one, though, is really important. We work with a lot of organizations. In fact, I just gave a talk this morning to a local chamber of commerce construction owners this morning, and one of the guys came up to me afterwards and said,

"You know, we're restructuring a little bit and because no one's accountable in the organization except me as the CEO and my COO."

And my argument to him, we didn't get a lot of time to talk, but that is his job is to create that environment where folks are accountable 'cause what it sounds like to me is they have great power accountability or good power accountability where the CEO is where the buck stops, which is fine, but how can you create an environment where truly great leadership teams feel accountable to the team, and they hold each other accountable. The team really holds itself accountable without having to rely only on the CEO. And as it says here, the leader or the CEO serves more of a coach than the primary source of accountability. There are teams that are really good at this, and then there are teams that continue to struggle with accountability, follow through, and it really requires a lot of diligence and a lot of discussion around what would it look like if, do we all agree that we don't have a great environment of accountability right now? Let's focus on the six, eight, ten of us as leadership team and how well are we holding each other accountable? And what are some things that we can do differently to hold each other accountable?

And I'm telling you, what we've seen is the leadership teams that does that with each other, than it does have a trickle down effect. Is it automatic? Is it immediate? No, not at all, but it does have a trickle down effect. Bottom line is that without trust, team members struggle to give and receive feedback required to hold each other accountable. So that again, what I said without a leader being a key resource in creating a foundation for holding folks accountable. So let me give you some examples ... so this is sort of a summary slide. Before we go into the summary slide, though, I want to talk ... let me see ... we talked about the leader's role, trust, and creating an environment of accountability. I want to take a step back, and I don't necessarily have a slide related to this, but I want to take a step back and just talk to you a little bit about structural parts of creating a great leadership team and the relational side of creating a great leadership team.

Structural stuff is do we have the right people on the team? Is the team really coalesced around, excuse me, a common purpose? Do we have a good meeting rhythm  in place so we're discussing strategic things when we need to be talking about strategic issues, and we're talking about operational issues when we're supposed to be talking about those, and we don't kind of cross over that too much. Because often times I see strategic discussion turn into operational discussions in about the first 15 seconds of the meeting, right? And do we manage our meetings well? Do we have the right roles? Is everyone clear on what they're supposed be doing, the incentive, right? So there's all that structural side of creating a good leadership team.

And a lot of what I talked to you about today was the relational side. Have we created an environment where people can trust each other, hold each other accountable, confront each other well, so we're talking about the most important stuff, and ultimately be in sync and aligned? And like it said on the characteristic on one of the first slides, can we get back on the horse when we fall off, right? So those are really, really important, both sides of that coin are important, both the structural side and the relational side, and they have a symbiotic relationship. You can have great structure in place and have really fractured, bad relationships, and that structure will only work so well, if at all. And you can have pretty decent relationship to start and have disjointed structure, don't really have a clear understanding of what we're supposed to be doing as a team, as a leadership team, or our roles aren't really clearly defined. We don't meet well. We kick the can down the road on issues, right? So if we don't do the structural things well, it can have an impact on the relational side as well.

So there's a symbiotic relationship between those two things I guess what I'm trying to say. I probably should have had that in here. You know what? I'll stick that one little slide in here for you guys so you have it when I pass the slides out to you or post them on my website. Examples of productive dialogue. So moving from CEO dominance to multiple perspectives being heard. And again, not talking about churning on multiple perspectives. I'm talking about hearing multiple perspectives. From the elephant in the room to confronting the challenge. From a love fest to a comfort giving and receiving feedback. From a passive aggressive way of operating to a more direct way of operating or relating. From lobbying the CEO to debating openly. And from protecting turf to doing what's best for the organization.

Okay. So where at the end. This is one of my shorter webinars. We're usually on for about 50 minutes or so. So before we open it up for questions, I just wanted to give you guys ... on our website, and again you'll get these slides passed out to you, and I'll send you an email with this link, but this complimentary offer is open to all CEOs, presidents, general managers to take a team assessment. I'll give you 30 seconds on it. I talk to you about the structural and relational things or sides of great leadership team. We work with an organization called Team Coaching International that has a great team diagnostic instrument for measuring the structural side and relational side of the team, and it looks at it not form an individual team member perspective, but it looks at the team as a system, and what we typically do, we get the team to take it. We get the board, sometimes, to take it, and we get the direct reports from the folks on the leadership team to take it so we have sort of a 360 view of how to teach these itself and how key stakeholders see that team.

And it gives you a snapshot of where are some areas we need to work at? It helps get the discussion started is more the way we look at it. So what I'm offering you here is just an opportunity for you as a leader to take that assessment. It takes about 20 minutes to complete, and then I'd be happy to get on a call for 15, 30 minutes to debrief the assessment after you take it. It's really a discussion started. It only gives you one point, but it can be a valuable vehicle for you to use. So that's the essence of my talk. Please, if you have any questions, don't hesitate to ask them now or send me an email afterwards. I'm happy to address anything you have to ask...