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Leaders Are Team Members First

One of the most fulfilling engagements for us is working with teams, often who are not quite 'gelled', to develop strong, collaborative team dynamics. In every engagement where we work with leaders of leaders, often directors and vice presidents, we ask the question: Who is Your Team?

To no surprise, each member lists the functions that report to them, speaking positively and often fondly of these reports. The next question is: Who Else? Always a pause. Often uncomfortable silence.

Now, the reason these folks are sitting in the conference room with us, is that they are on a leadership team together. Sometimes someone will sheepishly identify that fact, but almost always that is curtailed by an offsetting comment. One of our favorites was: "Well, we're called the operations leadership team, but we don't really have anything in common, we just all report to Ali." True story.

After a little more probing and some team dynamics exercises, then comes the recognition that they are "reporting to the same executive" because their work IS in fact (greatly) interrelated. Once we regain that acceptance, we often delve into the 5 Behaviors of Cohesive Teams by Wiley based upon the work by Patrick Lencioni.

It starts with Trust. Every team consistently defines trust in two simple ways:

  1. I can trust what you say

  2. I can trust what you do and that what you do will not harm me

This is where the competitive pressures for resources, interdependent processes, and just the day to day pressures of management can be at cross purposes to teaming at the leadership level. If you are reading this, you get this at a visceral level and probably have some additional root cause business dynamics that you would easily add. And, you don't need us to tell you what a difference a cohesive leadership team that was constantly aware of opportunities to communicate, collaborate and be accountable to one another would make to your business!

So, how do you help leaders who are stretched to the limit with the needs of managing their direct report departments to also make time for the team that they are a part of as a member?

  1. Spend time reinforcing expectations of team collaboration at the senior leader level both in meetings and in 1:1s. This costs nothing, and if consistently communicated, takes less than two to three minutes to reinforce.

  2. NEVER allow triangulation between members of the leadership team or create unnecessarily competitive situations. In fact, remove these dynamics immediately if they occur. They demolish Trust.

  3. Encourage senior leader team members to spend time together outside of meetings and 1:1s. And, if they aren't having regular conversations on a weekly basis--yes weekly--then start there. Relationships take constant gardening particularly early in their inception and in times of stress.

  4. Invest in team development work. This doesn't have to be expensive, but you do need to take the time to engage. Engage means every member is leaning in without distraction or avoidance: in other words, committed to the goals of developing the team.

  • Take free conflict style assessments and discuss conflict resolution while discouraging avoidance.

  • Use the Lencioni model (Trust, Conflict, Communication, Accountability, Results) to discuss behaviors that both support and detract. Discuss how these should show up in your leadership team and overall culture.

  • Engage internal mentors or coaches for individuals who would benefit for support and development. In some cases where conflict is deep rooted, go through a mediation process (models are a Google search away). Do Not Avoid that that there is a conflict or a grudge has developed. We are all human. Let's repeat that. WE ARE ALL HUMAN.

Teams of leaders, whether it be part of the organizational structure or for critical projects and initiatives, MUST believe and act like they are a cohesive team in order to fully produce and optimize results. You know this to be true. But in the world of Zoom meetings, spreadsheets, and a relentless focus on tangible results, this work takes awareness, relationship savvy, and the willingness to get deep in the work. Go Team!

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