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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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.

Belbin_Circle

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