Aligning and coordinating your team in a strategic direction is paramount. However, as challenging as this might seem, it is easy compared to the conversations you and your team need to have around what will actually make the plan work.
So was our CEO, Michael.
He thought that setting a clear direction (see the article Getting Your Leadership and Company Out of the Weeds) and aligning and coordinating his executive team’s energies around this (see the article How to Align and Coordinate Your Team) would get them to “hit the ground running.”
Not so. In fact, his efforts had only been the first two of five important steps to becoming a high-performing team to meet the goals that matter most.
Aligning and coordinating his team revealed some deep, dark secrets that turned out to be what actually held his team back.
As a reminder, Michael had set a business imperative for the year as a first step to getting out of the weeds. He then took this to his executive team and asked each of them to consider their respective areas of responsibility as they drew up their own business imperatives to support the larger one. Recognizing that this would require some time, they agreed to meet the following week.
As they reconvene seven days later, let’s sit in on their conversation…
“Max,” I asked the COO. “You had a great question just before we adjourned our last meeting. You asked if redirecting the team’s energy around the business imperative would not require that we reexamine the other initiatives currently on your plates.”
“That’s right,” Max responded.
Candace, the CFO interjected. “Patti, I’m more interested in the shifts in behaviors you mentioned we would have to discuss.”
“Great kick-off to this meeting,” I responded. “If you will recall, I mentioned that you are all part of a system, and that all parts of the system need to work together in an aligned and coordinated way. This means not only having the same focus and organizing your efforts, but also confronting those things that hold you back from getting this done.”
“We are going to talk about what will hold you back from achieving the goals you have set together. I call these the “elephants in the room.” These are things that interfere with moving forward. And we are all well aware of them. But we don’t address them for various reasons.”
Max spoke up. “Like the fact that we probably won’t effectively address what to do with the other initiatives we have on our plates, because we just hope that by ignoring them, they will get done, anyway.”
“Right!” I said.
Michael spoke up. “And how about things take away from our focus?” He glanced at Candace. “For instance, employee problems that keep happening because we don’t want to confront them.”
“Well, if you are going to talk about this, then let’s talk about it,” bristled Candace. “Because if we are really going to surface these elephants in the room, then let’s talk about that employee situation to which you are probably referring, which occurred again last week.”
“That’s exactly what I’m talking about,” said Michael.
“Well,” Candace took a deep breath, “Would it surprise you to know that I feel you are the cause of that problem?”
The entire room fell silent.
“Okay,” said Michael. “I’m listening.”
Candace resumed. “I actually spent another two hours in HR last week over those two employees, only to find out that I couldn’t take action. Apparently, one of them had gone straight to you and gotten permission to do exactly what I had told him not to do. This happens a lot! So how do we handle that, Michael?”
“Now, we are talking,” I said. “We’ve just begun to reveal and confront some of the important things that are holding you all back.”
Michael sat back in his chair. “It sounds like I may be a chief culprit in keeping us in the weeds.”
“Well, I guess I can stand with you,” said Candace. “I’ve been avoiding this conversation for months.”
“Take heart, team,” I said. “This happens to the best of companies. The good news is, we can turn this around. The heart of successful change lies in identifying these behaviors and actions that hold us back – and in having the courage to confront them together.”
We spent the next two hours identifying main areas where shifts needed to occur. The team was subdued as they adjourned.
“Just a minute, team,” Michael paused. “I want to say a couple of things. First, I want to apologize for what I now know has held us back. I’m going to work very hard on making these changes. I’m thankful that you listened to the shifts I need to see in the team – and I’m very proud of you for speaking up today; for having the courage to confront me on what I need to do to support these changes.”
“I want to second the motion,” I shared. “And believe it or not, when we confront what is holding us back, this is when great things begin to happen. Let’s meet next week to pull this forward. It’s not enough to reveal the elephants – we need to up-level these behaviors to move past them.”
What are the elephants you need to confront in your executive team room? Next week, we will talk about how to up-level the behaviors and actions that hold you back so that you, too, can move forward.
© Patti Cotton and patticotton.com. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that attribution is made to Patti Cotton and patticotton.com, with links thereto.
Patti Cotton helps executives optimize their effectiveness in leading self, others, and the enterprise. Her areas of focus include confidence, leadership style, executive presence, effective communication, succession planning, and masterful execution. With over 25 years of leadership experience, both stateside and abroad, Patti works with individuals, teams, and organizations across industries, providing executive consulting, leadership development, succession planning, change management, and conflict resolution. She is also an experienced Fortune 500 speaker. For more information on how Patti Cotton can help you and your organization, click here.
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