Many organizations are struggling with low or mediocre levels of employee engagement, customer service, quality, safety, productivity, and innovation. This reflects uninspiring cultures of mediocrity created by harried leaders madly scrambling to keep up.
An organization’s culture ripples out from the senior leadership team leading it. In “Is Your Leadership Team Slipping into These Traps?” I outlined seven common traps snaring many teams. Priority overload, unaligned change programs, leadership lip service, not building capacity for change, poorly run meetings, conflicting messages, and lack of follow up are typical culture shortfalls that start at the top. We then developed a brief assessment to help leadership teams look in the performance mirror: Seven Leadership Team Failure Factors.
As I was working with a senior leadership team (SLT) recently it became apparent that the root cause of many of their struggles was lack of clarity about their role and their key team processes. Their weekly meetings were becoming highly frustrating and a waste of time. Like a rowing team with one set of oars locked into one side of the boat, they were rowing in circles. The faster they rowed, the quicker they spun around.
Here are a few tips to help your SLT get all its oars in the water and move forward together:
- Agree on your team’s roles and responsibilities – are you primarily together to share information and updates or make collective decisions and set action plans?
- Don’t waste valuable team time on updates – find other ways to keep team members informed. Put your heads together to deal with the most important issues.
- Separate operations from strategy – periodically step back from daily operations to look at culture, strategy, policies, and the team’s dynamics and effectiveness.
- Don’t confuse information and communication – everyone says “we need more communication around here.” Almost no one asks for more e-mails. Most teams need a much better balance.
- Improve your meeting effectiveness – bring discipline and focus to your meetings. Use a robust discussion structure with the purpose, desired outcomes, decision type (Command, Consultative, or Consensus), and action plan for every agenda item. Agree on behavior ground rules and call each other when you drift off track.
- Follow through and follow up – document who, what, when, where (and sometimes why) of your decisions and action plans. Start your next meeting with these. Make your decisions stick.
- Encourage healthy debates – the best decisions come from vigorous discussions arguing all sides of important issues. Learn to have courageous conversations that focus on the topic or problem and not personalities.
An organization’s culture reflects the dynamics and behavior of its senior leadership team. Culture development starts with team development.