Three years ago, I asked the question: “Does your leadership work effectively as a team?” I ask it again. Why? Because I continue to observe dysfunction at the leadership team level. In short, ineffective teamwork results in sub-optimal performance. In a two-year study by Google into what makes a great team, the company found that it wasn’t necessarily the teams with the most senior people or with the highest IQs. The biggest indicator for great teams was the concept of psychological safety and the ability to deal with disagreements through frank and open discussions.
Think about your leadership team:
- Is there mutual trust, enabling frank discussion?
- Is there healthy conflict, where members speak up in a climate of psychological safety?
- Is there consensus following conflict, with mutual accountability for delivering on commitments?
- Are meetings managed effectively?
- Do division/department heads facilitate communication and collaboration to avoid the silos that are obstacles to performance and productivity?
It all begins with trust
Trust cannot be legislated. It is the outcome of serious, good faith collaboration over a period of time, with solid relationships grounded in the absence of political maneuvering, game-playing and competitive undercutting. When resentments and misperceptions linger and are neither addressed nor resolved, trust can never be established.
How do you turn around a dysfunctional team? My approach is to have team members complete behavioral and emotional intelligence (EI) assessments. EI enables relationships to be managed more effectively. Following one-on-one feedback and coaching, team members share their learnings in a facilitated session. Each open sharing is then constructively discussed, with suggestions from team members that address those deep-rooted perceptions or resentments. The open communication around personal areas for improvement is remarkably cathartic and sets the stage for ongoing openness in discussion.
This exercise invariably raises operating issues, which are fleshed out using a mini survey to identify what works or doesn’t. I find that team members are typically objective in their ratings and constructive in their comments, often leading to the core of the dysfunction. This is followed by a team discussion to develop action steps and accountabilities.
Throughout each stage, the president/CEO plays a crucial role in creating a climate of psychological safety. This enables team members to speak up fearlessly, to challenge, and to feel safe in doing so. This is what promotes the creative conflict that leads to productive thinking and successful team decision-making.
The process outlined above is not a panacea for weak leadership. However, it provides the tools and a road map to scale that wall of dysfunction and move the leadership team along a well-directed path to new insights, consensus building, and effective relationships.
Finally, sustaining that environment requires ongoing, proactive efforts by both the president/CEO and team members to communicate, cooperate, collaborate and coordinate—the 4Cs. The result is a team operating under a new ethos of trust and openness, capable of reaching higher levels of performance and productivity.
If you’d like to share experiences or discuss further, please don’t hesitate to contact me.