In my previous post about breaking down silos I wrote of the importance of seeing the executive team you are a part of as the priority team (Team #1) over the team you are actually leading. This comes from Patrick Lencioni’s book, The Advantage .
Expect expressions of sense of loss and concern as you ask your team to make this mental switch. It’s real. The fear is, if the team I manage is no longer my “home team”, who will look after me? Where will my sense of belonging come from?
As the executive team leader you have an obligation to be the best meeting chair/coach/team leader possible from your level down. Their success as leaders of their own teams will largely depending on how you model your role.
Make this home base: Coffee matters. Icebreakers and personal check-ins matter. In-jokes are important. Non work conversations are important. This group should be in regular commuication and visible as a united front. The team should be more than just a place for the executive leader to bark his/her orders and delegate directives to. As coach you must have the biggest listening ears.
Encouragement and Exhortation: Yes, they must see this executive leadership team as their first, but humanly speaking, their day to day responsibilities are overwhelmingly driven by the needs of their departments. Cast, re-cast, and cast again the vision for the organization and for the executive team in a way that keeps the big picture at the forefront of their own minds, along with the encouragement that their arduous work of running a department is vitally contributing to the fulfillment of that vision. Speak of and create real benefits for prioritizing this team. It would take a lot of self-assurance on the part of the leader, but this should be a safe place to for team members to vent about their bureaucratic frustrations. The team coach must also be team#1’s champion.
Feed the players: As much as is feasible, share a helpful leadership or self care nugget with your team every time you are with them. Even if it is strictly a business meeting where you’re updating your strategic plan, spend a few minutes (and more when you can spare it) to “feed” your team members out of your abundance of expertise and experience. Let them feel the benefits of being in the “in crowd”.
Collaboration: Consciously structure your meetings in such a way that problems can be tackled together. If one member comes in with a problem from her department, don’t let it remain her department’s problem. This is how we head off siloed thinking and practice from the place siloed thinking often starts. Give each team member’s project or division a focus time (perhaps on a rotating basis) when their successes and challenges get highlighted along with input and assistance – real concrete assistance – from their colleagues. Institute this kind of mutual collaboration and problem solving as normative and these meetings will be looked forward to by your team members. It will feel like a “me, too” opportunity.
Resources: In creating collaborative forums, it is up to you, the exec team coach, to remove as many roadblocks as possible to the acquisition and sharing of resources (could be space, materials, funding, staff, training, technology). While resources are always finite, show no favorites among the departments represented while clarifying the basis for triage, when necessary.
Respite: Retreats are an executive team staple and it’s beyond business-as-usual. That annual or (better) semi-annual weekend away with the team to cement personal bonds, strategically plan, develop esprit de corps and renew the vision serves an even greater function: renewal, refreshment and reinvigorating for your hardest working, weary soldiers. This is also your chance to teach them what it looks like to pause, reflect, and get replenished: yes, Board members can “play”. Spa Days are for male staff, too. Time off the day to day “dance floor” to get the “balcony” view is some of the best time spent all year.
Meaningfully Shared information – LOTS of information gets passed around in executive and other meetings, through emails and on company websites but how much can we truly process or internalize? Is it realistic to expect the head of finance to pass on the new innovative patient engagement practice being carried out by the head of medical? You must guide your team towards the creation on a strategy of mutually agreed on items to be shared with their respective teams; a mechanism to share them that actually works (some combination of verbal, electronic and mechanical with plenty of built-in redundancy) and a feedback mechanism to ensure follow-up items were carried out as assigned. Creating and sustaining a communication plan is an ongoing but rewarding venture every executive team must learn to master.
We can make our executive teams into communities that each member wants to see as their home team. It takes thoughtfulness, much planning and trial and error but the yield is exponential compared to the effort. Go team!