How can we support top teams to be more agile in the way they work together? Recently I was approached I was approached by the HR Director of a global manufacturer who had been tasked by the CEO to bring new impetus and energy to the Global Leadership Team on which she sat. She explained that this was a newly expanded team under pressure to increase sales and market share as well as keep costs down, and wanting to integrate regional sales directors to achieve this.
I have learnt with top teams that a team development workshop – with a focus on ‘piggy-backing’ a one or two day learning on to regular meetings of such a team – can bring the release in energy required by the HR Director. So I naturally took the opportunity to speak to each member of the team – including the CEO (and de-facto team leader). At this critical re-beginning of the team, I wanted to understand how energy could be released in areas of concern to the team. In terms of energy I feel my work is similar to that of the acupuncturist looking into the eyes and examining the tongue of the patient before inserting the needle in the right point of the body.
My initial interviews revealed a common picture of a team where great progress had been made by the CEO – in his first 6 months in the role – of building a sense of trust in his ability to lead the team. However, by common consent, there were concerns about the future -and pain-points from the past -linked to 3 issues:
- What kind of team have we been in the past, and what do we need to be in the future to handle the biggest questions our organisation faces? There was a sense coming out of the interviews that the team had lost touch with the markets. It needed to take the opportunity of having regional sales people on board, to unite in serving the customer. Reporting results was no longer enough. The team needed to work together to solve problems, and deliver results itself. A real team rather than a working group.
- How can we learn to trust each other in responding to these issues together? There was a fear that there may be a trust gap between the competence of sales and other functions (such as marketing, finance and product management) in working together globally to serve the customer. The old team of functional experts were concerned that the sales directors would be able to extricate themselves from the details of their markets to serve the broader needs of the organisation. The new regional sales directors were concerned that would get the opportunity to communicate their experience of the customer to others
- How do we create value in the way we communicate and collaborate together in the grey zone? There were a mounting number of pressing strategic issues that needed greater clarity and direction for the organisation to move forward such as the impact of online sales, and the growth of talent. However, there was a perception that decision-making was a key bottleneck in the team. The CEO team leader himself admitted to liking to take time to make decisions, weighing up the various options. Perhaps partly linked to his Scandinavian roots, he enjoyed working in a consensus-style where opening up discussion supported greater commitment to the decisions finally made. His team-members trusted his judgement, but wanted him to be more decisive in leadership style.
In my experience these 3 questions are the biggest challenges of top teams in a VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) world. How can a group of alpha-males and females pull together and build the repository of trust necessary to themselves create change, rather than depend on delegation to others? How can they get the best of speed with the best of commitment when making decisions?
One activity that we tried out in our opening two-day workshop – particularly linked to question 3 – was the testing of a decision-making process that could be incorporated in real team meetings.
Firstly, the team prioritised top two emerging issues that had implications for the success of the team moving forward, and could not be resolved by working within functional or geographical solos.
Secondly, two mixed groups of sales managers and functional heads were each given one of these issues to make a decision on using a 5-step discussion process and a time-limited meeting. Discussing in parallel in separate rooms, each then reported their ‘recommendations’ back to the team leader who took a decision in front of the whole team.
The 5-step process we agreed on was the following:
1. The team would together agree two ‘grey zones’ that most urgently needed discussing
2. For each grey zone chosen, the whole team would also need together to formulate a question to which the answer is the decision they need to make eg how do we handle differential pricing in the new world of online shopping?
3. The two whole leadership team of 12 people (minus the CEO) would be split into two groups, with each group discussing one of the issues. They would be allocated 45 minutes of real face-to-face problem-solving time to prepare a recommendation to the CEO. This meeting would involve the following steps:
- Clarify the question – what are we helping our team to decide on?
- Listen to each person, in turn expressing their ‘gut reactions’
- Summarize the options we have
- Listen to individual opinions about which option is best
- Agree on our best possible recommendation to the CEO, based on consensus or split decision
4. Report recommendation back to the whole team where the team leader makes the final decision, and it is recorded in a ‘decision log’
5. The team also agrees on how this decision is to be implemented and the results monitored.
The process proved a success. It seemed to help to create a sense of interdependence and draw on collective intelligence, but also supported the CEO and his colleagues in finding the faster speed of decision-making they required.
People wanted to tweak the process slightly, but it was decided to keep going with it in future meetings.
TCO International specializes in accelerating the agility required to get higher performance in a VUCA world. In the next few blogs I would like to share other activities that I have applied to this and other top teams.
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