A small company invests in leadership – Part 3 – initiating the process

Circle - phases 1 and 2

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:

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.

Circle - complete

The rubicon has been crossed….

Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing it is not fish they are after.”   Henry David Thoreau

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Building Global Leadership Capacity – My week in Brazil

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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.

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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.

Day 1

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.

Day 2

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.

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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!).

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Spent the rest of the day reflecting on the learnings from the day’s visit.

Day 3

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.

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Much of the rest of the day was spent looking at leadership tools to enhance collaboration including aspects of influence tactics and political savvy.

Day 4

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.

Day 5

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…

 

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“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

Executive Team Development

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.

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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.

Relationship_Report

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

3rd Industrial Revolution and Leadership

Let me start 2013 with a macro view of leadership…

I was in Philadelphia last year as part of the delivery team for one of the acknowledged top leadership development programs in the world – the Philips Octogon program.  It is a program involving 32 selected top performers at Philips.   The program takes place over 8 months in three locations.  The first session was at the Wharton School of Business.

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Steinberg Conference Center – Wharton School of Business

Of course I felt quite comfortable coming back to this location.  Back in the 1980s I obtained my MBA at Wharton – one of the more prestigious business schools in the world.

I had the privilege to be able to listen to a presentation by Jeremy Rifkin on the first day of the program.  Mr. Rifkin established the Foundation on Economic Trends (FOET) .  Among many of his activities, he is a valued advisor of heads of state in Europe (including Angela Merkel) and has had very direct impact on European economic policy.  He is the author of the concept of the 3rd Industrial Revolution which is a road map for long-term economic sustainability.  This concept was formally endorsed by the European parliament in 2007.

This concept has fundamental implications for leadership in the 21st century.

His talk began pessimistically enough.  We are in the end phases of the Second Industrial Revolution and the only way out of this dead end is to completely change the fundamental infrastructure on which our current civilization is based.

Each industrial age is characterized by two fundamentals: energy and information.  Mastering a new energy process provides the means to create a new form of information dissemination.  The First Industrial Revolution centered around coal-fired steam-driven power generation.  This new energy regime also enabled the advent of mass produced newspapers and magazines based on steam-powered rotary press and linotype technologies.

The Second Industrial Revolution began with the advent of the internal combustion engine powered by fossil fuels.  This revolution was complimented by a communication revolution based on the creation of an electric grid infrastructure which eventually led to telephone, radio and television.

This Second Industrial Revolution is reaching its limits according to Rifkin.  The most important recent economic occurrence in the past five years is not the financial crisis of 2008, but the rise of oil prices to over 140$ a barrel in 2007.  This rise in the price of oil represents a major threat to the welfare of human society on the planet.  So many of current modern materials are based on fossil fuels (from plastics to fertilizer), that this price has seismic implications for the economy.  Rifkin concludes that the current economy is doomed to limited growth for decades to come.  Every time the price of oil goes over 120 $ a barrel, a new global recession is virtually assured.  The problem is not the amount of fossil fuel available.  There are still plenty of reserves.  The problem is that getting at those reserves is becoming more costly over time.  This limit threatens ALL economies including emerging economies such as China and Brazil.   It is a global phenomenon.

What is the way out?  What are the implications for leadership?  Stay tuned for more….

“One thing I have learned over these last 30 to 40 years is that people make history.  There is no fait accompli in any of this.”         Jeremy Rifkin