Note: this is the first of a multi-part series exploring the issues, challenges and opportunities for senior managers to strengthen group and organizational performance. Whether you are CEO, a member of the senior management team or, someone on the rise and aspiring to this level, the content we’ll explore on teaming, power, politics, strategy and execution are relevant to you.
Part 1 sets the stage for our on-going discussion.
Let’s start with the contention that a high performance senior management team is one key component of effective and sustained organizational performance and organizational health.
While not a researcher by background and sensitive to the human propensity to recreate the fundamental attribution error, I’m comfortable through many years hanging around, leading, guiding and generally working with senior managers in all manner of firms and industries stipulating that there is a relationship between this group’s performance in several key areas and overall organizational health.
More specifically, when the individuals who comprise the senior management team unite and focus on executing around a limited number of critical priorities, including strategy clarification and communication, execution coordination and talent selection and development, the rest of the organization is better positioned to perform at a high level.
Easy to write. Not so easy to realize in practice.
If I had a dollar for every CEO who has confided to me that he/she isn’t satisfied with the performance of their senior management group, I would be at least a good dinner and a few bottles of great wine richer.
The CEO concern is typically in the neighborhood of a nagging belief that organizational performance is being left on the table due to lack of alignment. The most commonly described issues or obstacles include personality conflicts, political gamesmanship and communication challenges.
Most CEOs are quick to highlight a perceived lack of trust between members as a contributing cause of poor management team performance as well. Of this grouping of issues, trust is perhaps a core contributing cause of team dysfunction and the rest truly just symptoms of poor team leadership and development. Ironically, the team leadership/development is on the shoulders of the complaining CEO.
Hackman’s Conditions for High Performance Team Development:
The recently late J. Richard Hackman devoted a career to studying teams and his five conditions for high performance are minimum table stakes for team development at any level. They are:
- A clear and compelling purpose
- The right (and clear) team membership
- Expert coaching
- Enabling structures
- Supportive organization
In almost every case of the frustrated CEO or perplexed management team member, one or more of those conditions are absent.
While developing an understanding of the conditions for successful team creation is a core part of this series, it’s useful initially to explore some of the most common areas where senior management teams flail and fail. A good understanding of the tripping points is important to building a program for successful team development.
4 Key Areas Where Senior Management Teams Fail and Flail:
1. Failing to establish an identity as a team at the senior level. The lack of team identity at this level manifests itself in a grossly tactical focus at the expense of the heavy lifting of direction (strategy), resources and execution and talent development. While the group meets from time-to-time, there’s little integrated work around what should be the core priorities of the senior management team: strategy, execution and talent.
2. Hiding behind collegial dialog. It’s impossible to drive business without robust dialog on the big issues. This is the uncomfortable vetting of different viewpoints and interests and the honest admission of weaknesses and blind spots with the need for individual and functional improvements. Many senior teams remain collegial and tactical in their discussions, preferring the safety of this environment to the perceived dangerous chasm posed by the hard issues in front of the team.
3. Failing to work at improving team performance. It’s unlikely that a group of high-powered and successful individuals will automatically coalesce as a team without addressing Hackman’s core issues above and without working hard at building trust and moving beyond the comfortable content to the hard issues facing the business. This is difficult work…and it often requires taking a leap of faith to engage professional guidance (Hackman’s coaching component). Instead of this heavy lifting, most senior managers meet and report and discuss, but few integrate their efforts to team.
4. Expecting too much teaming. While this might seem contrary to the core premise here, the reality is that there is a limit to the concept of “team” at the senior management level. Laser focus on the big, critical issues is much more important than promoting the belief that the people have to perform like a team for every single organizational issue. The executives are functional leaders responsible for promoting execution within their own tribes, and the concept of team is capable of being pushed too far around the executive table.
The Bottom-Line for Now:
Most senior management groups are teams in name only, but not in performance. Sadly, the costs to the organization of this failure to coalesce at the senior management level are heavy. Great functional performers are not automatically great team players, and the hard work of moving from a team by name to a team in performance is just that, hard work.
The first step is recognition.
Up next in the series: creating the senior management team identity.
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