Transcript of Tips to Reenergize Your Leadership Team Webinar

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Welcome everybody. Welcome to today's tip to reenergize your leadership team. My name is Jack McGuinness and I'm with Relationship Impact. We're a firm that works with growing organizations to help their leadership teams stay in alignment, strategically, operationally, culturally. Glad you could all join us today. Just a couple words on logistics. There aren't a lot on the phone, there's probably about 15, so I'm going to keep you guys unmuted with the attention of if someone has a question during the course of the discussion please just jump in. Alternatively there's a little tab down at the ... At least it's at the bottom left hand corner of my screen, in question and answer, you can ask a question through that as well. I'd like to keep this as interactive as possible and I look forward to a healthy discussion. Everyone ready to get started? Is everyone unmuted? Let's see. Unmute ... Can everyone hear me? Sorry for the technical issue here.

Want to get started here. Tips to reenergize your leadership team. Why would we want to reenergize our leadership team to begin with? From our perspective, we've been around for about nine years and worked with a little over 100 leadership teams during the course of that time. While it's a small population, we've gained some interesting insights we think. First thing is that effective leadership teams, we believe, are an essential element in any growing organization. I know that's probably a cliché thing to say but we believe it's really true. Engaged leadership teams that are in sync, that are able to debate well, challenge each other, and hold each other accountable, really have an ability to serve as a force multiplier for the organization. The team is much more effective than the individual contribution of any one leader.

From our perspective engagement of the hearts and minds of the folks that work in your organizations are really derived by how a leadership team interacts with each other. Not just so much how nice they are to each other, but how effective they are and how do they hold each other accountable as a unit. Every once in a while teams have a way of getting off kilter or out of sync and from our perspective it's real important to get them back in. Another study that ... We do a lot of work with CCL and another study that ... They do an annual study on executives from executive perspectives.

One of the things they look at are the effectiveness of leadership teams. Here's a couple of key statistics from the most recent survey. 18% of executives rated their teams as very effective and 97% of executives had a feeling that if their teams were just a bit more effective it would have an important impact on results. Obviously in the work that we do, we're not ... The work that we do is not really focused on helping teams necessarily like each other, or be nice to each other, although those are very nice things. It's really about can they be as effective as they can be to impact the organization's results.

Some of the things that we see in the clients that we work with where there's definitely a need to reenergize, or refocus, or redouble our efforts on working together as an effective team are listed on this page. We'll just go over a few of them. First is, sometimes there's a duplication of effort. Folks are not really in sync enough so that their departments or, as individuals, are working on the same stuff and not doing it in concert. Another thing that we see often times, it's really related to the last check mark there around conflict is real meetings happening after official meetings. What do we mean by that? That just simply means that the real decisions and the real debate and challenge is done outside the setting of the official team meeting, for example.

The CEO sometimes ... We see this happen quite a bit. There's a leadership team meeting and shortly after the team meeting one or two people are heading to the CEO's office to get their point across even further, politics for their particular point of view. There's a couple things happening there, first the CEO may be enabling that to happen. Number two, the team may not be as adept as they could be or should be at confronting each other and debating well. Another one is unhealthy or interdepartmental competition created by a team that may not be in sync in terms of the direction of the organization. Often times what we see is the direction of the organization or the strategy is pretty well defined, but the how or the operating plan or rhythm is out of whack and folks are not necessarily in sync, not necessarily intentionally, but sometimes unintentionally on how the organization is going to execute. That sometimes creates unhealthy competition at the departmental levels and below.

We often see teams churning over and over on important, and sometimes not important, issues. This can cause frustration, it's one of the number one things we see, is folks that get frustrated by even having meetings because we're talking about the same stuff over and over and not coming to a resolution on it. These are some of the symptoms we see. There are sometimes you see a lot of them and there's a lot of dysfunction, and sometimes you see a few things that the team really needs to get back on track and put some structural stuff in the works to help the team get back on track.

This is another thing that we believe in, and obviously it's a bit self serving in that this is what we do for a living. We do believe that any good team, in particular leadership team, without putting a level of focus or nurturing, as it says here, on the team as an entity, what its purpose is, what the roles of the individual numbers are, the types of preferences and styles or relationship challenges that can come about with any team. Without addressing those things sometimes we see teams becoming actually organization impediments or hindrances to the success of their organizations rather than having more of a force multiplier or accelerating effect. We do believe that it is important to step back and for teams to actually reflect on how they're going to operate as a team, what's most important, how they're going to collaborate, what are they going to work on together, what are they going to work on individually, and how are they going to do that effectively.

I'd like to stop here. Are there any question that anyone has at this point? I think we're going to have to use the question and answer piece. Okay, no questions so far, so move on. The three tips that we've culled from the work that we've done over the last ... We put this together and actually wrote an article for Chief Executive Magazine in early January called Tips for Reenergizing Your Leadership Team. I will make sure everyone gets a link to that article at the end of the webinar. These three tips, we wrote about in that article and they are as follows. One, confirm the leadership team purpose, and I'll talk about each one of these in a bit of greater detail. Tip number two, foster productive dialogue, and we'll talk a little bit about what productive dialogue looks like from our perspective. Number three, reinforce accountability. A lot of written and talked about around accountability and we believe ... We have a pretty good perspective, from our perspective, on how to get that to happen more effectively.

Tip one, confirm the leadership team purpose. A great book, if you haven't read it, it's called "Senior Leadership Teams" by Ruth Wageman. One of the quotes in there is this, "Leadership team purpose should encapsulate what the formal leader needs this group of enterprise leaders to do that cannot be accomplished by any other set of people." What is this group of leaders uniquely capable of doing as a team? Not necessarily as individual contributors, but as a team, that no other folks in the organization can carry out.

Before I go into our perspective on how to reconfirm or confirm the team purpose, a note on the purpose of leadership teams to begin with. Teams are brought together for various reasons and obviously functional leadership is an important element or consideration when putting a leadership team together. From our perspective, that's just one consideration however. When a group of leaders is brought together, is that team brought together as a consultative body for the CEO to make more informed decisions or is that team brought together as a decision making body that is addressing cross organization, cross enterprise type of issues?

We've seen both constructs in the work that we do. We have a bias towards the latter, we think that if you're going to bring the executives together they definitely want to have their individual technical CFO, head of engineering, whatever it might be roles. There is what we call a force multiplier effect, by bringing together a group of leaders that can address important cross organizational enterprise wide initiatives or issues that are very closely related to the current strategic direction of the organization. That's just a little bit of a background from our perspective. There are various ways of putting together leadership teams, those are two, there are certainly more than that. It's more of a consultative body versus an enterprise wide decision making body.

If you looked at it from the enterprise wide decision making perspective, how do you confirm the team's purpose? Number one, we often are challenged by executives that will say, "Obviously our team's purpose is to execute the firm's or organization's strategy," or, "Our purpose is to lead the organization." Those are obviously true statements and we support them wholeheartedly. However, if the leadership team is really constructed to lead the organization and help execute the strategic direction of the organization we believe that that purpose of the current strategic direction of the organization, there has to be some purpose centered around that. From our perspective starting with strategy and identifying the most critical areas that must be tackled for the current strategy to be successful is an important place to start.

I'm going to run through an example. Once I go through all these four points I'm going to run through an example from a current client that may shed some light on what I'm talking about. Number two, identify the interdependencies among leadership team members that will help drive the strategy. Number three, narrow the interdependencies to a critical few that the leadership team is uniquely positioned to address. Finally, the formal leader, the CEO, the president, general manager, taking that and shaping that into compelling purpose. Again, this is not just for eye candy purpose or put up on a board, it's really to drive the leadership team at this particular juncture in the organization and the team's lifecycle, drive decision making, drive resource allocation, and communicate to the rest of the organization. That's why we suggest the formal leader turn that into a compelling statement of purpose. It doesn't have to be written, just communicated.

Let me give you an example what I'm talking about here. Last year we worked with a global professional services firm based in New York City with offices in Asia and Europe as well. The firm had grown really rapidly, it's about a $70, $75 million firm in the middle of last year. One of the critical strategic challenges that they had was that there were ... One customer that represented, it was actually greater than 70% of revenue, which is great for a new, young firm, but obviously is fraught with some risk longer term. Leadership team got together, identified some of the critical interdependencies to address that 70% issue around resource management, sales direction, the direction of the service lines or the lines of business and narrowed those interdependencies down to a few critical areas that were, at this juncture in time for that young organization were critical for them to address.

Shaping an integrated go to market strategy approach. Just for a little bit of background they had three different lines of businesses and they were approaching the market in three fairly distinct ways. Even as they were going to talk to customers they were tripping over each other talking to customers and confusing potential prospects. Developing an integrated approach was important for that. Leveraging their current service offerings so they could use those current service offerings to develop new products and services was obviously an important diversification approach. Building an infrastructure that could enable them to scale, those were the three areas that they narrowed down from the leadership team's perspective.

Every time they met, they were a global organization, so they met by phone every couple weeks and in person every month to focus on these strategic, really this sense of purpose that they established for themselves.  The leader, obviously his compelling purpose was really our viability depends on our efforts to capture new customers and expand to new markets. You could say that was obvious, but obvious and important nonetheless, and driven by some important discussions that they had. Confirming team purpose, what's your unique team purpose at this time in your organization's history with this team of people in place and how are you mobilizing your, I would imagine, limited resources to narrow the purpose of that team, your leadership team, to gain the biggest impact?

Any questions on this so far? I'm not getting any questions at this point. Tip two, fostering productive dialogue. That sounds, I'm sure, to people like another consulting bunch of jumbo. Maybe potentially it is but from our perspective there's a lot of meat in that term, productive dialogue. From our perspective one of the biggest challenges that leadership teams often run into is that they don't debate well, they don't challenge well, they don't address their most important issues as productively as they should be. That obviously leads to some of the issues we talked about in the earlier slide, the check box slide where we're churning on issues, or we're avoiding conflict, or we're delaying important decisions. From our perspective productive dialogue is much more than a fancy buzzword.

It's the ability for teams to challenge each other well, debate, and discuss their most important issues in a manner that progresses the issues and leaves minimal relational scars. Minimal relational scars is an important part of this statement as well, in that teams that have maturity and can debate each other without lots of defensiveness and can do so in a respective and constructive way, will they have some hurt feelings? Potentially. Will those hurt feelings linger? Mature teams, they tend not to. That's a little word on productive dialogue and what we mean by it.

How do you foster it? There's a really cool TED video by Amy Edmondson and a very, it's sort of a seminal study on teams that I think is important to note here. The highest performing teams in this study were the ones with the highest reported error rates. Team mates were comfortable openly admitting mistakes and they weren't afraid to tell the leader that something was wrong. Again, these are easy statements to make. I'm sure you've been on teams where openly admitting mistakes and telling the leader that something is wrong, although both of those things seem ... Lots have been written about it, a lot of theory behind this, but in our experience it just ... These things are not always in place in the organizations that we see. Hopefully you're saying to yourself, "That's silly, obviously we admit our mistakes and we're not afraid to tell the boss when something is wrong." I hope that's the case in your organization.

How do you foster productive dialogue? There's a couple things. First, getting the team to know each other at a little bit of a deeper level, and I'm not talking about trust falls or meditation or anything like that, although both of those things have their place I'm sure. What I'm talking about here is just getting to know each other's backgrounds, understand where people came from, understand where some challenges folks might have had in their lives, and understand that ... For example, I had a company for three years and in 2008 I went bankrupt. The financial crisis destroyed us. That is a very important moment in my history as a leader and as a colleague of other people. It informs a lot of how I behave now. Having an understanding at a deeper level can be an important thing for executive teams or leadership teams to get to.

I use an exercise called personal histories, it's a very simple exercise where we just go around the table and ask folks where you come from, where do you fall in the birth order, and what was the biggest challenge you had growing up. It's amazing what that does to folks longer term, not just in the moment but longer term. It basically makes people more human and gives people the opportunity to give each other a break. I've seen it in practice, I know it may sound a little corny but my experience with it is it's not.

Number two, foster self awareness, and self awareness from two perspectives. Not just from how I see myself, my introspection, but how I think others see me, and spending some time really ... There's a bunch of instruments that can be used, there's psychometric instruments like I'm sure a lot of you guys have used [inaudible 00:26:33], or Insights, or Myers-Briggs. Those tools are great, but only if they're used to make progress and to help people make commitments to each other. What I mean by that is if my behavior and how I'm being perceived by others is that I'm a quite assertive, aggressive, and results oriented person, that's a great thing but sometimes I leave a trail of dust behind me and I don't ask people for their opinions, or I don't slow down to ask questions, or I steamroll over people sometimes. Don't do it all the time but sometimes I do it.

If I continue to do that and that's impacting our team then that is obviously not a good thing. It's important to foster self awareness and for me to make some commitments about what I'm going to do differently. That's why I think a lot of those psychometric instruments fall short, is that they're used and they feel good after you take them and you have some good dialogue around them, but when they're used to help teammates make commitments to each other, to address potential behavioral blind spots, then they can have a real dramatic impact. They only can have a dramatic impact if there's the discipline in the team to actually provide and receive feedback well. That's a big mouthful I just said, provide and receive feedback well. It's one of the hardest things we see, particularly leadership teams.

There's actually been a study done, God, I can't remember. It's actually in the article I wrote, I referenced it, about receiving feedback. Executive teams struggle with giving and receiving feedback. Not out of power feedback, not authority feedback, not authority from the boss, but peer feedback. A lot of executive teams have a tough time with that and it can be really powerful for a team to be able to give and receive feedback very well. In fact, it's probably the key to fostering productive dialogue.

I had a client at the end of last year who went through our process. It wasn't a CEO, I think it was the head of public policy at a trade association. He said, "I've been doing these things that my teammates mentioned for probably 15 years or more and no one ever told me how damaging they were." There's a lot wrapped up in that statement obviously, obviously not the most self aware person in the world. The other point there, though, is that the act of giving and receiving feedback there, had he gotten some feedback earlier on in a constructive, respectful way, man, it could've had a profound impact on that executive.

This cartoon is pretty important as well from my perspective. It's, "Thanks for the feedback ..." When I'm coaching folks to ... I'm working with a CEO right now who is a really, really nice person but has a very ... Is not self aware of the impact he's having on his five direct reports. They've basically shut down, will not challenge him in meetings because he cuts them off, has to be right, those types of things. One of the things I've been working with him on is just to say thanks when they give him feedback. Even if he thinks their feedback is wrong to just say, "Hey, thanks a lot, I appreciate the feedback," and maybe ask a clarifying question, saying, "Tell me a little bit more about what you mean by that."

That one act with this CEO and his five direct reports is accelerating their development together. Is it addressing all of the challenges? Not even a little bit. It is giving the five direct reports some confidence and comfort that maybe he will start listening and I will be able to provide some more constructive input without getting cut off or shut down. Feedback is really important, really, really important. Probably receiving is more important ... The skill of receiving feedback is more important than anything.

Last time, reinforce accountability. We talked a little bit about the shaping of purpose and getting a team really narrowly focused on what this group of people at this time can do to accelerate the strategic direction of this organization. We've also talked a little bit about how do you foster better dialogue so that leadership teams can debate well, challenge each other. Lastly, we're talking about reinforcing accountability. They're all big and inextricably linked. Obviously, from our perspective, really tough to reinforce accountability if you can't have a productive dialogue with your teammates. I'm talking about at the peer level more than anything.

In our experience high performing teams manage the vast majority of performance issues with one another. We're going to talk a little bit about the levels of accountability from our perspective, but the best teams that we've worked with peers really managed ... Actually in the same study I talked about earlier, I can't remember the reference right now, but this point came out as well. Peers that manage the vast majority of performance issues with one another, key performance tends to be higher.

Tips for reinforcing accountability. First, from our perspective, the formal leader needs to clarify and reinforce the importance of the levels of accountability. From our perspective there are three levels of accountability, authority, individual, and team accountability. All are critically important for an executive or a leadership team to work as well as it possibly can. Authority is obviously the formal leader, individual is obviously my commitment to following through on my commitments. As we said in the previous slide, team accountability, those teams where peers can hold each other accountable tend to have higher performance.

The ability to hold each other accountable requires me to give people feedback on how they're doing. It also requires me, as a team member, to be a bit more proactive than I might otherwise be. If someone is responsible for something and they seem not to be following through with it, rather than waiting for them to crash and burn, stepping in beforehand and saying, "What can I do to help you out?" Is an important aspect as well.

Number two, doubling down on collective and individual accountabilities for decisions and actions required to achieve the team's purpose. What that simply means is just when you identify what that purpose is be really clear, crystal clear as you possibly can, on the collective and individual accountabilities, the collective team accountabilities and the individual accountabilities required to carry out that purpose. Just a little dialogue around how are we going to move forth and execute on that team purpose. For the team we talked about earlier there were three specific strategic initiatives that emerged from those interdependency discussions. There was an accountable executive responsible for each one of those things.

Third, commit to hold each other accountable formally and informally and don't wait until someone is buried before reaching out. It's pretty important. It really relates to the previous slide around the ability to give and receive feedback. First time someone gives you feedback or you try to hold someone accountable and they lash at you, it's tough to continue to do it. Finally, reinforcing accountability. From our perspective there are no perfect teams, there's no perfect leadership team. Some are a lot better than others. I would say that from our experience the one characteristic that stands out more than any is a team's level of resilience or their ability to get back in sync after inevitable periods of dysfunction, because there will be periods of dysfunction. There will be times when it's very stressful and things didn't work out as well as planned and people got on each other's nerves. We got back on the horse and were able to get back in sync.