Transcript of How to Optimize Collaboration on Your Leadership Team

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Welcome to this month's edition of Great Leaders Build Great Leadership Teams webinar series. The topic for today is Nurturing is Critical for Maintaining Great Leadership Teams. Thanks for everyone for joining. I look forward to a good discussion. Just a couple of notes and logistics. Again, my slides are full of content, lot of words just so that you have the slides after the webinar is over. Number two, if you have any questions during the course of our webinar today, please just use the chat function, and I will answer them as best I can. Let's get started.

What are the challenges? The challenges related to any leadership team is that it's really hard to build a great team. It's hard to maintain one that's in sync all the time, that's supportive of each other, that has a sense of resilience, that learns from each other. There's no nirvana state, but without being able to step back, really hard to maintain a great team.

Unfortunately what happens is that if a leadership team is out of sync, the rest of the organization tends to get out of sync as well. That can cause some problems. There's been plenty of studies on the fact that people look up to see how their leaders are interacting with each other, not so much how nice they are to each other, but are they serious, are they focused on results, are they not letting petty stuff get in the way, are they holding themselves and the team accountable? Really important for leadership teams to be in sync, at least our point of view is that.

What's the definition of nurture, why we use this term nurture for. Nurture is the caring for and encouraging the growth and development of someone or something, and in this case, something is a leadership team. Just as executives and leaders are laser focused on making sure that service is taken care of, making sure that sales are taken care of, making sure that they're profitable, and making sure that operationally they're as efficient and as effective as they can be, our point of view's that they need to take some time to make sure that your team is functioning how you want it to function.

Without nurturing, what we see is that you move from a team that's working well together on the most important things you should be working on to a group of individuals that's focused primarily on getting their functional or business unit roles taken care of. We use this from another presentation we've done, but what we often find is that there's, even those teams that are set up well can devolve into a senior staff model of where individuals are focused solely on their functional roles. Meetings or progress reporting to the CEO, problems are resolved by the individual, executive, and the CEO versus as a team. That is one way to run an executive team, but it's not really a team. It's more like an executive group from our perspective. From our perspective, there's four steps to nurturing, or taking step back, and we'll go through those each in some little level of detail.

First is reinforcing the dual role that a leadership team member plays. Sort of a defining feature of a leadership team is the fact that each team member has two roles to play. They come with their functional expertise and their role of running a functional or business unit, and then they have an enterprise or a stewardship role focused on the enterprise of the organization. Executives grow and gain their experience over their careers and build capability in their functional areas in terms of how a business is run, their leadership capabilities, and the trials and tribulations that they've gone through to this point in time. Those are typically another value-add that an executive brings to a leadership team.

Our perspective is that most of the time these two roles are not talked about, and it's an, from... We really believe that if you're going to build a great leadership team, it's important for each executive to understand that they sometimes have to subordinate their function or business unit role for the good of the organization. That simply means using their expertise, their talents, their experience that they've gained over their careers to put their two cents in on important strategic issues that the organization's facing.

Once you've established and take a step back and said, "Let's remember that we all have two roles to play here," it's important to take a step back and take a pulse of how the team's operating. Pace of growing organizations is typically fast. There's typically some resource constraints, and that combined with some faulty assumptions that executives often make around the fact that just because you're an executive, you know how to be a great leadership team member or just because we've added a new team member doesn't mean that that new team member knows exactly how we operate. There's a whole bunch of assumptions that are made in the face of a fast growing resource constrained organization that can get it out of whack.

From our perspective, there's a few triggers that you could look at for when it's a good time to take a step back. Shifts in strategic direction are often a good one. I'm working with a pharmaceutical company now that has some external pressures on it to putting some pressures on the stock price, and the executive team is going through and restructuring how they're organized. Their focus as they're really doing a good job as an executive team of making sure that they're laser focused on the next 12-18 months and how they're going to work through this restructuring, and so they've taken a step back and said, "Hey, how are we going to do this together?"

Transitioning to a new CEO. Obviously CEOs come with their own perspectives and those own ways of leading their teams. Really important to be concrete and transparent about how you want to run your new team and making [inaudible 00:08:08] on the same page with that [inaudible 00:08:13] team members, not assuming that the team members are just going to figure it out, and obviously palpable dysfunction or when people aren't getting along, they're lobbying the CEO, there's a sense that we're not addressing the most important issues in a productive manner, obviously, that's a big trigger. From our perspective, taking a step back every six months or so and saying, "Yeah, how are we doing? I mean, we said we wanted to operate this way. How are we doing against that?"

What are you taking a pulse on? You're taking a pulse on two sides of this great leadership team coin that we talk about. On one side of the coin, there are structural factors for building a great team. Those are things that help you focus on getting the outcomes you're looking for. Then there's relational dynamics or relational factors that help you figure out how we're going to do it in a productive, healthy way. Those two things are inextricably linked. You can't really have one without the other to be as effective as you can be. You can have really great relational dynamics. People like each other. People trust each other. We're able to talk about great things well. But if you don't have good structure in place, and we see this in a lot of young companies that are growing fast is they don't have good structure in place, and it leads to some relational strife.

The opposite is true as well. You could have great structure and really not such great relationships, and the structure doesn't really work that well. What we see is that most executives will focus on fixing or addressing team challenges, leadership team challenges with structural solutions primarily. We'll put a new process in place. We'll put a new communications mechanism in place. We'll change how we meet. We'll fire someone. We'll add someone to the team. All those things are probably necessary and important, but without assessing how well the relational dynamics are, then they can only go so far.

Then finally, making commitments. We can... excuse me. We can assess all we want. We can step back and nurture all we want, but unless we take some moves to action, then really difficult to make any progress. Here's a couple of examples. A team that's struggling to stay strategic might address how it meets so that they gain some discipline in their meetings to stay focused on strategic issues and not devolve into the latest operational crisis, and they commit to "yeah, that's how we're going to manage our strategic team discussions."

Similarly, teams that have uncovered issues of trust are going to gain commitments from the individuals that are having trust issues to do something about it. Lot to be said on trust and had several webinars and written a bunch of articles on this. Not going to talk about that now, but just to say that you can't ignore it. If you have trust issues, you gotta make some commitments to actually doing something about it. Just the last piece on commitments, teams that are able to have patience with each other, assume good intent, and support each other with the commitments that they make are much more likely to have some success than those that don't.

I got a couple of questions here, two questions that have come up. One is, "Moving from a staff model to a leadership team model, who really can make that happen?" The short answer is the CEO's the most likely person, or the general manager's the most likely person to make that happen as they really establish, their job is to establish the foundation where the team can can work well.

But we've seen... I'm working with a team right now that has expanded to include their, they're expanding what they call expanded leadership team, and so there's a bunch of AVPs on that team that are hard charging and really not afraid to speak up, which is a testament to the executive team and the CEO. But one of the, in a recent team meeting, one of the AVP stood up and said, "Hey, look, I really appreciate being involved in these meetings, but I just feel like we could be doing more together and rather than just reporting out to each other." They're actually in the process of revamping sort of the focus of how they operate as a team based on, not just based on that alone, but based on the input from that AVP. I hope that answers your question. If it doesn't, just please ask me again.

Second question relates to when... I won't read the whole question out, but it basically says, "Things go wrong, profits go down, crisis might happen. Are good teams able to weather those storms better than teams that aren't as effective?" I don't know if that's a rhetorical question or not, but from my perspective, absolutely. From our perspective, great teams are laser focused on results. They don't let petty crap get in the way.

Number two, they're resilient, and they are able to get back on track after inevitable periods of problem. It doesn't mean that there won't be struggles, but it means great teams are able to help those in those times of crisis, in those times of challenge, and they don't devolve into total dysfunction.

There's a great example of this. I don't know whether any of you guys are interested or follow the Washington Nationals, but they've had struggles over the years. They just clinched their playoff berth, wildcard playoff berth last night. It's a testament to their leadership. Their manager and their coaching staff have been very consistent in how they've dealt with the struggles they've had. They've remained positive, focused on the future, and they've... It's not that they're not concerned about when they were having struggles, but they dug in, and they worked harder and continued to stay focused on supporting each other and moving forward. Didn't mean they didn't make some hard moves, made some trades, and demoted some people to minor leagues, whatever, but they maintained the ability to be resilient. From my perspective, that's a good example. I hope that answered your question.

Just in summary, there's four things to do to step back and nurture. First, make sure that there's a recognition that, as a leadership team member, you play two roles. Take a step back periodically or when you know one of those triggers hits. Assess your structural and relational challenges that you might have, and after you assess them, make some commitments to move towards action to fix them.

Then I just wanted to point you to our next webinar, which will be October 22nd. It's called A Systems View of Leadership Team Effectiveness. I've been writing an article about this that should come out around the same time, so I hope you will sign up and register. I appreciate your participating, and I look forward to seeing you on our next webinar. Thanks so much.