The headlines these days read: "Congress in gridlock" and "Approval ratings for Congress at all time low." Many organizations have the same problem. Senior managers often do not work well together as a team and their employees are not happy about it. This issue focuses on the problem and solutions.
The 8-person senior management team of an 800-employee medical device manufacturer gathered together in the executive conference room for their monthly meeting. The topic the company-wide results of their annual employee survey. The presenter yours truly. I spent 30 minutes walking through the overall results and then asked the group for ideas about how to address the problems.
But no one except the president spoke. They didn't speak because:
The VPs of Manufacturing and Engineering only cared about the results of their departments, not company-wide results;
The VPs of Sales and Marketing were at war and thought it would serve them better politically not to speak;
The head of HR was too intimidated to talk; and
The others were new to the organization and preferred to just listen.
To my surprise, the president was not frustrated or upset by the lack of input from his team. He had come to expect it.
Here are some of the reasons why senior teams often do not function well:
- Poor Leadership
The leader does not know how to run a productive meeting, is unaware of how poorly the team functions, and therefore does little to try to improve the situation.
Senior managers often operate under the false assumption that they are merely representatives of their own functional areas rather than leaders of the entire organization.
- Inconsistent Attendance
Due to scheduling problems or a lack of commitment, the entire senior team is often not present, making it difficult for the group to coalesce.
- Fear of Retribution
Participants fear embarrassing themselves or losing favor with the leader.
- Personality Conflicts
Some just do not like others and find it difficult to communicate.
WHAT TO DO
Here is how leaders can address the problem.
- Voice the problem.
Denying a problem exists makes it worse. The leader needs to state the problem clearly to the group and, most importantly, acknowledge some responsibility for the problem.
- Focus on process issues.
Well-functioning teams discuss issues, such as how well the group is functioning, how decisions are being reached, and how well the group is interacting.
- Assign process roles to participants.
Here are some possible roles:
Contrarian - One who intentionally takes the other side of an issue so that all perspectives are considered.
Process Monitor - One who observes and vocalizes how the group is functioning (e.g., whether it is getting bogged down, whether it is considering all perspectives, etc.).
Timekeeper - One who makes certain the group stays focused on the agenda and the time allotted for each topic.
Summarizer - One who summarizes the decisions the group has made and actions to be taken.
- Restrict the use of the word "WE."
Adopt a standing ground rule that the word "we" can be used only to refer to the entire organization, not to one's department or functional area. This will help ensure everyone is wearing the company hat.
- Reverse finger pointing.
Instead of focusing on what others can do to help them, encourage participants to focus on what they can do to help others.
- Continually refer to the organization's mission.
The mission should be the constantly repeated mantra at senior meetings. For each issue ask, "How does this help serve our mission?"
- Use a facilitator.
Hire a professional facilitator to make certain the meetings are run productively, preferably someone outside of the organization who can provide objectivity.
- Promote team players.
Senior teams often consist of self-interested managers because they are the types of people who are promoted. Organizations should recognize and promote those who work well with others on teams.
- Evaluate senior managers on their team performance.
The annual performance reviews of each senior manager should include ratings of how well that manager contributes to the senior team meetings.
- End each meeting by reflecting.
End each meeting with a 5-10 minute discussion about what went well, what did not, and what should be improved at the next meeting.
A well-functioning senior management team is critical to the success of any organization. Improvements will not occur unless the entire senior management team understands the problems and commits to change.