The strength and ability of the leadership team is an important predictor of long term corporate success. Teams are made of people, people are in relationships and relationships have a natural ebb and flow. Even the best leadership teams fall into slumps of sub-optimal performance from time to time. People get tired or complacent – and even one disengaged team member can have a significant negative impact on overall team performance. Suddenly the captain is also mired in the leadership team doldrums, not knowing when they will happen – only that they will happen.
No matter how well you all know each other, when your management team hits the doldrums your first step should be to assess how the team is interacting. There are as many approaches to this exercise as there are teams themselves, but these three stand out for Bellrock as the winners for both our clients and ourselves.
1. The Simple Do-it-Yourself Exercise
You only have an hour or two, and there is no room in the budget for anyone to come in and help. What can you do? Run a simple exercise to define where you want to be and what each person can do to help get there. Assign each team member the task of individually defining what great team performance looks like to them. Get everyone to submit their definitions in advance of the meeting. Don’t worry about how they come up with their answers; just make sure they do. Collate and redistribute the input to the entire group to read in advance of the meeting. In the meeting itself, state the definition of greatness that your team developed, and then have each person assess how they think the team is performing relative to the ideal. Finally, decide as a team what each of you can contribute to improving this rating, and commit to those changes. Measure progress on these commitments in subsequent meetings.
2. The Facilitated Approach
While it takes a full day, running a management effectiveness profile exercise combined with a business simulation can be one of the most impactful exercises to get a leadership team out of its malaise. It works so well because of three factors – feedback on how you relate to one another (instead of just your own personality index), practice in optimizing that relationship (through the simulation), and a scorecard to measure future interactions and implement what you have learned. The bonus of the exercise is learning the best practices associated with whatever business simulation was selected. For example, a “Culture for Quality” simulation educates the participants on how they can best operate together, and identifies the ingredients that may be missing in their quality program.
3. The Hybrid
Can’t decide if you need a facilitator? Try this hybrid method that allows you to make the decision once you’ve already started the process. Most people have read Patrick Lencioni’s 5 Dysfunctions of a Team – the bible for identifying team dysfunction in modern business. A lesser known publication is his Field Guide called Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions of a Team, and the 5 Dysfunctions of a Team Workbooks. Instruct everyone on the team to read the Five Dysfunctions. This provides the common framework of what an optimum team should look like – hugely valuable in opening the conversation of any problems the group is experiencing. The sessions themselves can be run by the leader of the group (using the Field Guide and Workbooks) or a facilitator can be brought in.
Do I HAVE to do something?
Companies go through natural ebbs and flows. If your leadership team is feeling a bit lackadaisical these days it is possible that you don’t need to do anything but wait it out. If you’re not sure whether you should take action, pull out a napkin and do some quick calculations.
How much profit does your company generate on its best day – when everything is operating at peak efficiency? How much does it lose on its worst? That’s the range. Now guesstimate how much you are losing, daily, by not operating at peak potential. If the losses are less than the cost of fixing the problem, don’t fix the problem. Sit back and wait it out. The wind should pick up sooner or later and fill your sails.
But if employing one of the suggestions in this article is less than the cost of the ‘wait and see’ approach, it is your duty as the captain to adjust the sails and push your way through it – even if it means getting out the oars and rowing.