The dictionary definition of obliquity is:
The reasons that the direct approach often fails are many according to Kay:
“The straight line lies, the truth is a circle.” Friederich Nietzsche
The dictionary definition of obliquity is:
The reasons that the direct approach often fails are many according to Kay:
“The straight line lies, the truth is a circle.” Friederich Nietzsche
In a 2006 article published in the Financial Times, business school professor Henry Mintzberg attacked the obsessive focus on individual leaders as the pillar of organizational effectiveness: “By focusing on the single person…leadership becomes part of the syndrome of individuality that is … undermining organizations”.
Henry Mintzberg is not alone in bemoaning the excessive attention to individual leadership. Many authors have voiced their objections. To be fair however, the fixation on leaders as individual actors results from the lack of an alternative framework from which to view leadership.
That alternative framework is readily available today. The difficulty is that old habits and ways of thinking die hard. It is far too easy for us to conceive of leadership in terms of the individual actor. As a result, we do not see the alternative framework – even when it stares us in the face.
The frame of reference that helps us to better understand the effectiveness of leadership is the network. Work in organizations gets done through the collaboration of individuals. Individuals that work with each other (and/or exchange information) form the basis of a network. A mapping of the networks inside of an organization reveals how information flows inside of an organization and what patterns of collaboration exist. From this framework we can begin to talk about leadership in the plural.
Let us look at an example:
The above diagram is a network analysis of two companies that have recently merged. Each small square represents an individual. From this diagram it is clear that managers are still only interacting with those individuals from the company from which they came. There is one individual who straddles the information flow between the groups, but otherwise the groups interact separately (with minor exceptions).
The individual at the center of the information flow could be seen as an invaluable asset to the organization. He or she is the leader that connects the two organizations. From a systemic perspective that same individual could potentially also be seen as a major bottleneck in the effective collaboration of the two teams.
Through network analyses like this one, the role of leadership can be visualized. Leadership is the interaction of various “leaders”. Effective leadership in this case would visibly alter the pattern of collaboration.
Creating maps such as the one above is not difficult. The software and analysis tools to create such diagrams are readily available. The biggest inhibitor in using the network frame of reference is our lack of familiarity with it. If we were able to change the mental models of our leaders so that this frame of reference were commonplace, the impact on our organizations would be immense.
Individual leadership development is as necessary as ever. Perhaps as part of that leadership development, we should teach our leaders to view leadership from a different perspective.
“Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.” Marcus Aurelius
The team development process in which I spoke about in previous blogs (posts from Feb 12 and Feb 24) got started in the past two weeks. The managing director of the German operations agreed with the process I proposed and gave the green light to go ahead.
Since then I have put the process in motion, concentrating on establishing the appropriate framework for the team development process and starting the initiative.
Getting the right framework is critical. Two questions need to be answered before anything else can be done. The first question is Why? – i.e. what is the purpose of making this effort and what does the company expect to be the outcomes of this initiative. The second question is Who? – who is and who is not on the team (and why or why not?).
I met with the managing director and the executive in charge of personal development for three hours to discuss these two vital questions.
Normally I would include more people in the search for the answers to these questions. In the case of this client, I made a judgement call that keeping the number of people to a minimum was the appropriate strategy. The key in this particular situation is having the 100% buy-in of the managing director who is de-facto the team leader. This company has never gone through a process like this before. Opening up the process to a larger group of people might create more questions and doubts than answers at this very early stage of the process.
My role was to facilitate an answer to the two key questions of Why? and Who? that was both compelling and motivating. Our conversation was very fruitful and the two company representatives came up with the following formulation:
“The purpose of this initiative is to prepare our organization for the next level of performance by strengthening our key success factor ‘Customer-Centricity’ and living and transmitting our values (respect, readiness to communicate and continuous improvement).”
This formulation puts the whole initiative in perspective, indicating what needs to be emphasized and what does not.
The next step was a bit more difficult – who should actually be on the team. Studies have shown that in order to build a cohesive and interconnected team, that the optimal size is between 4 and 8 people. The managing director had originally conceived of her team as consisting of 12 people. Size does matter. The larger the group, the more it tends to subdivide into smaller units. If cohesion is an important goal of a teambuilding initiative, reducing the size of the team is imperative. Of course, by reducing the team you have to avoid creating adverse effects with those people who are not selected.
After a thorough discussion, the team was paired down to 9. The managing director the next week then communicated the purpose and the goals to not just the selected team, but to the entire company. She also had personal meetings with the 3 that were not to be part of this development process.
With the purpose in place and the team defined, this week I officially launched the process for the team with an online questionnaire. I wanted them to begin to think about what it means to be a team. The questionnaire was made up of 12 basic questions about teams and took approximately 20 minutes to fill out. Below is a sample view of a few of the questions in the questionnaire:
Next week I will be meeting with all nine team members individually. Two hour interviews have been arranged. The purpose of the interviews are for me to get to know the team members personally, get them to think further about the meaning of a team and their role within that team and to address any barriers that may exist in entering into this team development process.
The rubicon has been crossed….
Today’s leaders are global and leadership development has to take into account and bring to life this global dimension. As part of the Philips Octagon leadership development program, I spent a week in Sao Paolo, Brazil as part of a year-long program preparing the company’s top leadership.
26 leaders from the company from all corners of the world (Australia, Brazil, China, India, Netherlands, Germany, USA) came together in Sao Paolo for the second week of the program.
The best way of learning is learning by doing – and Philips has one of the best programs I have seen in this regard. The leaders work on a project together. The results are presented at the end of the program to the CEO, CFO and head of HR of Philips. Project presentations in the past have developed into real businesses. For the project members themselves, these project presentations can have significant career implications.
There could hardly be a more global approach than the 4 projects being prepared this year: Lighting Strategy in Brazil, Expansion of Oral Healthcare Products and Services, Domestic Appliances in Africa, and Home Health Service in India. In addition, each of the teams is global in its composition.
Participants spent most of the day working on their project ideas, taking advantage of being physically in the same place at the same time and not having conflicting matters to attend to.
Today featured a field trip into Sao Paolo to better understand the local market conditions in this fascinating fast developing economy. The field trip was well organized by local Brazilian Philips staff. It included visits to retail establishments, discussions with store managers, directors of hospitals and most memorable of all for me was a visit to an average Brazilian household. Local Brazilians opened up their homes (receiving credits for Philips products in return) to the Octagon participants. The purpose of such visits was to get an insight into the “typical” consumer.
Having grown up in Mexico, the environment that we visited was certainly not foreign to me. Nevertheless, having lived in Germany for a couple of decades the exposure to this kind of reality is always eye-opening. We visited a family with 5 daughters living in a space which at best was 80 m². The family was extraordinarily gracious and from the looks of it, living a contented and rich existence. Despite modest means, they had a plethora of appliances, including a microwave, blender and fully equiped kitchen. We asked the wife what was the most valuable piece of equipment they owned and were surprised by the answer – a rice cooker (saves a lot of time!).
Spent the rest of the day reflecting on the learnings from the day’s visit.
The inauguration of the new 360° instrument Global 6 (see my blog from Jan 26 and Feb 2). Octagon leaders got direct feedback from bosses, direct reports and peers on how their leadership style works or does not work in a global context.
We also included an interactive group activity – The International Trading Game. The purpose of the game was to show how barriers and boundaries create difficulties in creating genuine collaboration. Everyone cognitively understands the benefits of collaboration, but when put to the test, competitive, non-collaborative behaviors automatically come to the fore. For the Octagon participants this was no exception. We need to be constantly reminded how difficult collaboration is to achieve.
Much of the rest of the day was spent looking at leadership tools to enhance collaboration including aspects of influence tactics and political savvy.
Spent mostly with local Philips Brazilian managers discussing what has been learnt so far and learning more about the local Philips businesses.
One of the highlights of the day was a presentation by an external speaker – an entrepreneur who has started an online distribution business selling baby products in Brazil. This presentation led to a lively debate about how to incorporate elements of entrepreneurship into Philips.
Wharton professor David Wessels looked at project finance as an input for the project teams. The teams then proceeded to present the current state of their projects. Final presentations will be in Amsterdam in May. Stay tuned…
“Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice and most of all, love of what you are doing or learning to do.” Pele
The leadership investment mentioned in my previous post of Feb 12 is moving forward. This week we will be discussing and agreeing to the process to be undertaken.
The purpose of the intervention with this small company is to support the executive team to take greater accountability for the direction and development of the German organization.
The following is a six step model which I will propose to accompany the team in its development over the next six months.
Like all cultural issues, a circle is the best symbol to use in describing the process to be undertaken. No sooner are you finished with the development process than you find yourself at the beginning of the circle, ready to initiate the next phase of development. The process for this next phase looks very similar to the process which has just been gone through. Developing teams and or organizational culture is similar to life-long learning- it needs to be constantly nurtured.
Entheos’ Six Step Team Development Process contains the following items:
1) Establish Framework
This involves clearly setting the purpose of the team development process as well as defining what should be achieved. It may also require clearly setting the boundaries around who is and who is not part of the team.
2) Initiate process
This phase has its challenges and pitfalls. The objective is to get as much acceptance as possibile from the team members while at the same time taking a pulse of what is actually happening in the team. Many team members may be lukewarm or downright hostile about getting involved in another activity which adds to the burden of their busy schedules. Obtaining their understanding and acceptance that this process will be of great benefit to them is paramount. As a team consultant Entheos needs to diagnose initial team dynamics issues (i.e. existing conflicts within the team) at this stage in order to plan for the next phase of the intervention.
3) Foster team awareness
This sounds simple, but is actually quite complex. People’s understanding of team and their role within that team varies greatly. Some individuals may not even acknowledge that they are part of the team. In this phase it is key to look at people’s understanding of the team as well as the various links which glue a team together. Focus is on the functioning or non-functioning of relationships within the team as well as getting team members to deepen their sense of team. I also likes to look at team values s stage and compare those with how they co-exist with company values.
4) Create team identity
This stage requires a deep dive into team roles – who is filling them and what is lacking. After sorting out team priorities, team members then make commitments to fill in the gaps where certain roles are underrepresented. New team agreements emerge.
Throughout Stages 3 and 4 the individual team members may need individual coaching. After Stage 4, the consultant/coach needs to shift into a team coaching role – looking not necessarily at the individuals but at the interactions among individuals.
5) Reinforce new team dynamic
With the new priorities and agreeement in place, it is time and essential to test these new commitments. The team building development will only remain a theoretical exercise unless it is quickly put to the test. My preferred approach is to pick ONE challenge that the team is facing and then approach it through the prism of the new team understanding. Team members are asked to be particularly aware of interactions on this priority item. Through this strengthened consciousness, the possibilities of new team interactions become real and are strengthened.
6) Reflect on team development
After a sufficient amount of time has passed (approx. 6 months), team members are invited to reflect as a group on what has changed, what has improved (or not). As part of this exercise, team members ponder what might be the next step in their development.
Throughout the process I make an extra effort to build capacity within the organization. By approaching the team coaching in this manner, the team members develop the skills to guide the team through the next level of development. Emerging from the positive expererience of teram coaching, the team members have acquired the language, the tools and the motivation to carry the process forward.
“It is the mark of an instructed mind to rest satisfied with the degree of precision to which the nature of the subject admits and not to seek exactness when only an approximation of the truth is possible.” Aristotle
Most leadership development work focuses on the individual. And indeed the leadership skills that individuals bring to the table are fundamental to the success of any endevour. Nevertheless the real music takes place in the ensemble of how individuals work together. We all know from watching professional sports that having the best talent on a team does not guarantee a first place finish.
As a workshop facilitator I have often run activities where the results of teams are compared with the results of individuals. One rather sophisticated activity is a case study on change management. A company on the verge of bankruptcy needs to change quickly. Both individuals and teams can choose what should be done from a menu of options. Almost invariably the team comes up with the better solution.
These activities interestingly enough are really aimed at individual leadership development not at team development. The point of such exercises is to help individuals become aware of the qualitative difference.
However if the music is in the ensemble, why aren’t there more leadership development efforts aimed at teams?
I find the lack of attention to team leadership troubling, particularly at the top executive level. I did work for an automobile part manufacturer where the so called executive “team” only met twice a year. In another case for a very large non-profit, the “team” which operated in various locations globally did not actually know each other personally. In a third case – for a reknown truck manufacturer – the executive team would on principle never get together for any longer than two hours.
Such “team” constellations are in my opinion not really teams but fiefdoms. The heads of the various clans come together only to make decisions that they could not otherwise make alone. Perhaps each of the individuals is a great leader – but what image are they projecting about leadership through their team interactions? Can such a constellation at the top truly inspire great teamwork throughout the organization? A critical dimension of leadership appears to be neglected.
Breakthrough research was conducted by Dr. Meredith Belbin in the 1970s on teams. Over 9 years teams were asked to participate in simulations. During these simulations the different kinds of contribution from team members were observed, recorded and categorized. The results were illuminating. The best teams were not those with the greatest intellectual capacity, but those teams that demonstrated the best balance in the types of contributions that were being made. From this research sprung the conceptual model of team roles. In his book Management Teams – why they succeed or fail Belbin highlights 8 various roles (later expanded to 9 roles) that teams need to be successful. The Financial Times selected this book as one of the top 50 business titles ever.
Each of the segments in the above circle represents one of the 9 essential team roles. Each of the individuals on the team have been placed into the different segments twice (represented by their initials) – for their top two contributions to the team. There are two roles which are not represented in the team – both roles which are part of the social category. The implications of this finding are that there could be a substantial risk to team cohesion.
Presenting this type of information to a top executive team can be very insightful. The non-profit organization I spoke of earlier had 3 roles underrepresented which highlighted many of the issues that the organization was facing. In addition to the overall team report, individuals also get an overview of where there could be “chemistry” issues between certain members as shown in the sample report below.
Leadership is three dimensional. Development occurs at the individual, team and organizational levels. Investment in individual leadership capability is not enough.
“Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships.” –Michael Jordan
Last week I had the opportunity to meet with a small to medium sized company in the precision instruments business. With manufacturing in Europe and the US and the opening of distribution centers in China and Brazil, it has become in the past few years a truly global enterprise.
I have known the director of the German operations for many years. Over that time we have had interesting conversations on leadership, culture and high performance teams. The conversations usually ended with her telling me that I should help her with her business, but nothing concrete materialized. I always told her that when the time was right, she would know. Over the years, she has had a lot on her plate to put the house in order. There were two changes in ownership of the organization. This disruption was accompanied by operations running in the red for a few years. Re-organizing production and distrubution were top priorities.
When I took a tour of the facilities last week, I was impressed with what had been achieved. They have a catalogue of approximately 12.000 items – most of which can be assembled and shipped within twenty-four hours of receiving an order. They are able to do this even though most products have to be assembled before being shipped. Approximately 180 orders go out a day.
They have also done an admirable job in attending to the culture of the organization. When a new employee comes into the organization, they have a one-on-one session with the director and talk about the values of the company. Absolute priority is given to customer orientation. As proof of that commitment, an extensive feedback system has been developed in which scientists who use the instruments are in constant dialogue with the company’s management. The company’s CEO takes pride in being part of those conversations.
After reading the feedback from her employees from a 360° feedback instrument, the director of the German operations decided that it was time to invest in leadership. Despite or perhaps because of all of the success that had been achieved, there was a limit as to how much further she could take the company, based on her leadership capabilities alone. She realized that the time had come for an increase in the level of leadership within the organization.
Last week we had a discussion on what it would take for her team to begin to take more ownership for the direction in which the organization is developing and more accountability for the alignment and commitment of its employees.
I will be putting a proposal together in the next two weeks and hope through this blog to keep you informed on the way the leadership consulting process unfolds through this most interesting case study.
“I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
“If you’re walking down the right path and you’re willing to keep walking, eventually you’ll make progress.” – Barack Obama