Focus leadership teams!

What demands does your management team place on itself? And how consistently does it pursue them? For many leaders, the work in leadership teams is a frustrating routine: discussions that get out of hand, half-baked proposals, topics brought in at short notice - in short: knee-deep operational work instead of shaping optimal framework conditions. Is there a way out?

Actually, we all know that a task appeals to us the most and motivates us the most when we have fun and recognize a contribution, a result. We are then also more willing to endure unpleasantness or to make improvements. If many leaders now complain about leadership meetings, it is because they miss this positive energy there (and probably cannot implement any improvement). This is not only unfortunate, but devastating considering the tasks and accomplishments that a leadership team could and should deliver. Before presenting a solution, I would like to discuss four causes behind this unfortunate situation.

Traditional reactions

Companies constantly produce situations that demand a decision. But today, the consequences of such decisions can hardly be clearly determined. The multiple linkages between tasks, processes, and systems reach a paralyzing complexity and consequently create a decision backlog. Topics are therefore dealt with over and over again and the desire to deal with them further decreases - the backlog rises, piles of pending tasks increase.

Management teams therefore often invite “guests” to their meetings, who are rarely prepared to process information in a level-appropriate manner and to put it into a suitable perspective. It is probably in the nature of things that guests primarily look after their own interests and want to get “their” business through. In doing so, they exacerbate the problem rather than solving it: The management team then sinks even deeper into operational argumentation. Often also because they have learned nothing else and thus (unconsciously) trade and perpetuate their way of functioning.

Instrumentalization from below

And then there is politics, i.e. the struggle for resources, influence and power. It can produce the most bizarre forms of behavior: Employees who manipulate their superiors by artificially inflating the urgency of their requests, building up a broad lobby and, above all, building up negative consequences that threaten the company should their request not be dealt with and approved immediately. In doing so, they justify their particular interests with potential customer churn, failure of systems or possible dismissals of central key players.

Not infrequently, I hear the term “pre-cooked dinner “ used by leaders to describe the fact that decisions have already been made and the leadership team (by employees but also by peers) is used to officialize this decision.

Insufficient understanding of roles

Few members are aware that they wear two hats and that there are different roles and behaviors associated with those hats.

As a rule, employees are elected to leadership teams who have distinguished themselves through special achievements. Either they were able to successfully complete important projects, win critical negotiations or regularly acquire significant orders. This list could be extended at will. Unfortunately, they (and their team colleagues) have to painfully learn that working in a management team is not about winning, but about shaping. That individual point landings are less central than framework conditions. And that this requires long-term and collective perspectives.

In my opinion, one of the most unpleasant leadership challenges arises when a person’s self-image and the image of others drift apart. That’s why it’s important for leaders to understand that they wear two hats and to be aware of the demands that come with it.

In my view, this process of friction and adjustment could be substantially reduced if new members were prepared for it in a special boot camp - ideally by the team leader himself. I also like to call this performance “necessary wear and tear”, which I encountered in the Japanese-oriented Kaizen approach. Very simplified, it describes an unproductive performance, which, however, promotes the overall productivity.

Neglected team building

Teamheads have a non-delegable leadership task: to continuously develop their team, to align or prepare them for existing and upcoming challenges. Unfortunately, this development process is too often limited to an annually recurring event in an exclusive hotel. Instead, an everyday examination of the generated, collective team effect in the system would be much more effective. This allows a team to more quickly identify its performance blockages and determine common or individual development steps.

Of course, joint events outside the company are helpful for team building. However, especially when they pursue and ensure a single goal: To strengthen mutual trust. At the latest after reading Patrick Lencionis analysis of the five necessary team skills, it becomes clear that a solid foundation of trust forms the basis for all achievements that a leadership team should deliver. I also suggest that the team complete - as an extension of trust building, so to speak - an Expectation Matrix. This is a simple table in which everyone’s explicit expectations of everyone are written down - after they have been shared, commented on, and discussed in pairs.

Solution Approach: Define a specific team purpose. A constructive way out, and thus a way to regain and strengthen the fun of working in leadership teams, is for the team to set a unambiguous, meaningful, and challenging team purpose. Of course, this is not valid forever and requires regular revision, but it does provide stability, orientation and thus self-assurance in impact, appearance and communication.

So that the work on the team purpose does not get out of hand in long discussions and finally only produces a few general (and possibly meaningless) statements, I like to start with the following question:

“What would not be possible in the company if this team did not exist? “.

Other authors also support working on the team purpose with questions like “What would fall off the table if we didn’t care about it?”. I also find helpful the question of the extremely remarkable and unfortunately already deceased Harvard professor Clayton Christensen: “What job did the company hire this team for?”. All of these questions have one goal: to focus teams on what’s really important. Just the discussion among team members about possible answers, I consider as probably one of the strongest contributions to a team development. But then it is necessary to face the findings courageously and, for example, to change the agenda of leadership meetings, to define requirements for “guests” and to secure time for working on rather than in the system.

So far, I have mostly known leaders as committed people who want to contribute to the future of the company. But when that contribution is not made possible, or the shared work in the team is neither meaningful nor challenging, they lose that commitment and joy.

Don’t let it get to that point and strengthen your focus through team purpose. It can be achieved with modest effort when measured against its broad impact. The relief of all team members about the gain of meaning alone should be reason enough for you to tackle this task. Contact me if I can be of assistance to you.

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