Brokering peace in a bag of ferrets

Why is there so much destructive behaviour in this team?   One of my HR clients memorably described her role in her team as being like ‘brokering peace in a bag of ferrets’. Although the description was extreme, it’s certainly evocative of the tension, arguments and unmanageability of many of the Leadership Teams I come across. Indeed, our research suggests that a huge majority of those in leadership teams think their team doesn’t function effectively. And, if you ask those outside the team how well they think their top team functions, the answers are considerably less favourable! These tensions aren’t always on display, but they are always there. A strong CEO can often keep them in check in the boardroom at least. Even in those cases, the problems will, however, leak out to conversations at the water cooler or behind the closed doors of individual’s offices. Worse still, frustrations can be shared with members of their own team – setting a bad example and producing similar tensions between functions further
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Categories: Changing Your Team, Learning Conversations, Relationship Conversations, Stories and Case Studies, Tools and Techniques, and Why Leadership Teams Matter.

From ‘meh’ to mission

Teenagers in the boardroom? A few years ago my daughters reached their mid-teens.  Amongst many challenging things I had to learn was a new vocabulary.  It’s tricky, you see, to communicate when it’s too much effort to use more than one syllable! One of the most used expressions was ‘meh’.  After considerable deduction, I decided that the closest translation was a shrug of the shoulders.  It means something like ‘so what’ or ‘I don’t care’ and dismisses anything that’s not of immediate and personal relevance to the teenager in question. To my surprise, I’ve gone on to find this sentiment in abundance in the boardroom.  I haven’t yet heard the word used, but most discussions in most top teams provoke exactly the same disinterested, disengaged and dismissive responses from a proportion of the team. Do they really not care? Board members wouldn’t work as hard as they do without an inner fire. Every leader I’ve ever met is there because they passionately believe things can be better, and because they
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Categories: Ambition Conversations, Learning Conversations, Stories and Case Studies, and Why Leadership Teams Matter.

Are You Turning Down A Bonus?

When did you last see a project promising a 50% uplift in results?   I’m guessing it wasn’t recently. If you ever have. Imagine the focus, energy and action that would flow immediately into making that project happen. Even before any results flowed it would be a fantastically exciting and motivating prospect. If you’re the Director proposing it, that would be even better still. If you’re in HR, and seen as marginal to the top team, it would be even more amazing. Every Leadership Team has this opportunity. It’s a big assertion but when we asked leaders and members of teams about the cost of dysfunction in the top team, that was exactly what they told us. Could do (much) better: every Leadership Team underdelivers. The biggest surprise in our research was the discovery that all Leadership Teams, almost without exception, thought they could and should do far better. Even those who classed their current teams as performing well said they felt the organisation could perform 45 per cent better
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Categories: Changing Your Team, Learning Conversations, Relationship Conversations, and Why Leadership Teams Matter.

Keeping your clevers happy

The importance, and challenge, of leading your ‘clevers’ In the last issue we explored the folly of much of the current thinking on individual leadership. We also explored the importance of ‘clevers’, the high value people with expertise, on whom most organisations are now highly dependent. These people are difficult to lead. They are often:  Unimpressed by hierarchy (they value cleverness more than position) Organisationally savvy (and don’t want to be led) Resistant to feedback (and won’t thank you for doing the right things, either) Hard to replace (and they know it) Bored easily (and ask difficult questions) They expect instant access (to you and to other clever people) How then do you command loyalty in your clevers — and how do you get the best out of them?  The boardroom as your classroom Identifying your clevers isn’t difficult. My guess is that names and faces came quickly to mind even as you were reading the descriptions above. The first place to look is round the boardroom table. Just take a
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Categories: Ambition Conversations, Changing Your Team, Relationship Conversations, and Why Leadership Teams Matter.

Do you have the ear lobes for leadership?

The problem with clever people I was lucky enough to see Rob Goffee speak recently. Rob is a professor at London Business School and became famous with the publication of his HBR article, and subsequent book, Why Should Anyone Be Led by You? He says that thinking about leadership has completely missed the point. I think he’s right. He points out that, in today’s knowledge economy, organisations depend on clever people with expertise (he calls them ‘clevers’) who are often: Unimpressed by hierarchy (they value cleverness more than position) Organisationally savvy (and don’t want to be led) Resistant to feedback (and won’t thank you for doing the right things, either) Hard to replace (and they know it) Bored easily (and ask difficult questions) They expect instant access (to you and to other clever people) In this world, the work of leadership changes. In the old world, leadership was focussed on making individuals more valuable to organisations through concepts like productivity, motivation and engagement. In the new world leaders are faced with the task
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Categories: Learning Conversations, Relationship Conversations, Tools and Techniques, and Why Leadership Teams Matter.

Never Reorganise Again!

Hmmm… Reorganisations, we all bear the scars… I remember my first experience of ‘reorganisation’. It seemed an ordinary day until word got round that people were being called in and made redundant. We waited all morning for the tell-tale single ring on our phone which could mean the end of our time at the company. I survived, and so got to see the months of disruption with staggered departures, reallocation of work, leaving parties and collective resentment. The relationship between us and the company changed that day. It was never quite the same again. Since that time I’ve had far too much experience of imposing reorganisations. There were always good reasons. We always agonised about how to minimise the impact – on the company and on individuals. Every one significantly dented the performance of the organisation in the short term and damaged the relationship with its people for much longer. Very few made a positive difference to performance. Even the cost savings were elusive – with people being moved rather
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Categories: Changing Your Team, Stories and Case Studies, and Why Leadership Teams Matter.

Doctor, heal thyself!

HR are the experts in developing teams, right? The role of HR is to get the most out of the human capital in any organisation. One of the many ways they do this is to help create high performing teams across the organisation. Developing these other teams is hard enough, but the really important team, the one that sets the tone and plays the biggest part in delivering success, is the one that sits around the board table. The first job of HR then is to unlock the human potential in the top team. Leadership Teams are different. Whilst some of the research and tools on teams generally does have some value in top teams, they are different to other teams in the organisation in a number of critical ways. To successfully unlock the potential of a Leadership Team, you first have to understand these differences. There are three main types of team in any organisation: Functional teams These work within a single discipline, often running a department. Because each
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Categories: Changing Your Team, Making the Value Case, Relationship Conversations, and Why Leadership Teams Matter.

Gardening with a Chainsaw

When is a weed not a weed? Success in gardening is about getting the right plants in the right place. Experienced gardeners will tell you that there’s no such thing as a weed – only a plant in the wrong place. Most of us have done at least some gardening. We know that if we put a plant in a less than ideal spot then it will struggle. No matter how much water, fertilizer and love we lavish upon it, it will continue to be unhealthy and growth will be stunted. Sooner or later, we’ll have to move it or it’ll probably die. Put the same plant in a location it likes, and things change dramatically. It will grow vigorously and require attention of a different kind. The challenge now becomes to control and manage its growth so that it’s rapid progress doesn’t become a problem. Leaders are equally capricious.  Put any one of your team in the wrong environment and you’ll find yourself investing lots of time – with
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Categories: Relationship Conversations.

Polishing Fish

The futility of New Year’s Resolutions Most of us fall into one of two categories. Some of us still make resolutions at this time of year, with genuine intentions but very little optimism. Others don’t make resolutions, mainly because we know that we almost always fail. I’ve long been puzzled about why you’d choose the first of January over any other date to make changes in your life. Sure, it’s the start of a new year but, if you’re serious about the change then why have you waited until then? More importantly, what makes you think that you can change alone?     Independence Day? None of us are independent entities. Our environment shapes our behaviour, our thoughts and even our beliefs. You’d think differently about smoking, eating or drinking if you were sitting amongst starving refugees in a camp escaping a war zone. It’s an extreme example, I know, but it illustrates the point. Each of us is enmeshed in a web of relationships. These relationships play an important part
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Categories: Changing Your Team and Why Leadership Teams Matter.

Team Alignment – a great idea but what does it mean in practice?

Most members of leadership teams would recognise the conflict and ineffectiveness that arises from members pulling in different directions.  Team alignment is much discussed but few leaders agree exactly what it means, let alone know how to achieve it. It’s simpler than you might think and this article shows how.   Alignment – the Holy Grail for leadership teams? Every leader I have met would recognise this image as a representation of a team who are working to different agendas and looking to different goals.               Enormous energy is wasted by all of the members of these teams in understanding and reconciling the different positions, and by the leader in particular. Even when the competing viewpoints are brought together the discussions and decisions that ensue are usually poor and badly implemented. These compromises take two forms:- In order to gain agreement, a ‘lowest common denominator’ compromise is reached. Everyone knows that it’s a sub optimal answer but also accepts that it’s the best that
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Categories: Changing Your Team, Delivery Conversations, and Why Leadership Teams Matter.