How does the disease take hold?
So what are these underlying issues?
There’s one characteristic that every one of these issues shares. They are always cross functional in nature. Even the ones that are driven by one team member or function are critically dependent for success on contributions from other functions.
They are often to be found in the areas of process or people. The financials usually get enough time because of external scrutiny. Customer and commercial projects generally get attention because of the immediacy of their impact on the numbers. Issues relating to processes and people, however, which underpin the commercial and financial performance (or lack of it) are often neglected. These are always cross functional by nature and are the real problems which create much of the daily firefighting.
Every team we have ever worked with has elevated multiple process and people initiatives to be critical priorities. Process issues are specific to each organisation but the people issues are remarkably consistent. The most common of these are strengthening the leadership group outside the top team, shifting the culture to fit the needs of the current challenges and dealing effectively with underperformers across the organisation. HR, who have usually spent years trying to get sufficient attention on and support for (often the very same) people issues often particularly benefit from the realisation that process and people issues become some of the key areas of focus for the leadership team.
The role of the leadership team
It is the job of the Leadership Team to address these few, cross functional, underlying issues. These are the issues that can only be addressed by the Leadership Team. If they don’t deal with them, no-one will.
We call the discussions to agree these key issues ‘Priority Conversations’. They are one of the Six Game Changing Conversations. They build on Ambition Conversations (which set the destination for the team and organisation) and provide the foundation for everything else the team does.
Making the most important things the most important things
The first step to shifting update-itis in your team is to get aligned on what these key issues are for your organisation. It’s not difficult and you can find tools for doing so in our book JUMP!
Whichever tool you choose, the basic method is the same:-
- Ask each member of the team what they think are the things that the leadership team should be focussing its time and efforts on
- Share these different views and consolidate them together into groups
- Prioritise the groups until you have 5-7 things that are the most important and urgent for the team to address.
You won’t be surprised by the list that emerges. But you will be shocked when you compare this list with where you currently spend your time as a team.
You will need to make sure your work together is focussed on addressing these priorities. Most teams we work with quickly make dramatic changes to the structure and agendas for their time together.
Getting focussed on these critical priorities will do more than change the monthly meeting agenda. Once you are dealing with the underlying issues, the symptoms of them will begin to recede – freeing more time and resources for what really matters.
For those who own the people and process agendas, life will change dramatically. Instead of you trying to drive the team to get the support and resources you need, they will own and drive the issues with you. This will give you not only the resources you need, but also the personal leadership from each of your line colleagues required to make people changes happen – and stick.
Left brains get it right
An electronics company we were working with was full of highly intelligent engineers. Their skills at analysis and appetite for numbers meant huge board packs with incredible detail – and correspondingly soul destroying meetings.
Worse still, their results were frustratingly flat. In a market in which rapid growth was the norm, they were struggling for even modest sales uplifts. As part of the work we did together, they decided to engage the wider leadership group in their Priority Conversation.
60 senior managers gathered in a room. They sat in groups and debated what was holding the organisation back – and what was needed to create the growth they needed. When we looked at the outputs from each group there was a surprising consistency.
They came up with eight critical priorities. Three of these were People issues and two related to processes. The energy flowed and plans were created to give focus and resources to the new priorities. Some of those conversations were difficult. Sacred cows were slain, and some difficult decisions had to be made.
Three years on, the company now leads in its marketplace. A variety of internal projects have been delivered and they have made two acquisitions. The board is a transformed team and that newly formed wider leadership group now meets regularly. They still love their detailed analysis but they now keep it focussed on a, regularly reviewed, list of key priorities.
Developing a high performing leadership team
Creating a team that functions well, exploits the amazing strengths each member brings and complements the inevitable weaknesses that every member also has can lead to dramatic improvements. It can transform an organisation’s results, culture and prospects, quickly and permanently.
It is perfectly possible to take a normal, uninspired, disparate collection of people and talents and set in motion a process that will help it evolve into a powerful, unified and productive Leadership Team.
You can do it, and it can happen quickly. A complete and sustainable transformation will take time, but the first positive signs of change will be visible, and making a real difference, within weeks. You just need to know how to go about it.
Making changes in your team
In my Book, JUMP!, I set out in detail how you can build the case, generate support for and develop your Leadership Team. Over the next few issues, I’ll expand on how HR professionals can apply these ideas to improve the effectiveness of their Leadership Teams and make truly transformational change to the people agenda in their organisation.
For now, you can get your free copy of JUMP! (hard copy or eBook) here.
I hope you can use these ideas yourself. If not, and you’d like help even if only to think through how you might do so, then please get in contact on 0845 519 7871 or by email .
Please visit our website to read more about The Six Conversations Leadership Team programme or download our article, the Seven Illusions of Leadership, which shows what it looks like in practice — based around a real case study.
Better still, give us a call on 0845 519 7871 to explore your issues further or to arrange a free Strategy Session.