From the Ask Tom mailbag –
Our company is growing. I used to make all the decisions, but I delegated some decisions to my newly formed executive team. I made it clear which decisions I would retain as President, and which decisions I expect them to make. The team knows the guardrails I set and my expectations of discussion that would occur in the team prior to their decisions. But, what I am seeing from them looks more like a land grab with hidden agendas. There is posturing, hints of passive-aggression, smiles and promises without delivery, ass-covering, ass-covering for each other. They are a team of very bright people, who make good decisions within their own departments, but just having difficulty working together.
First, this is all normal. Organizationally, this is moving from S-III (single serial system, or at least a focus on one or two core systems) to an organization at S-IV (multi-system integration). It’s easy to talk about the content at S-IV, looking at work hand-offs, outputs that become inputs to the next function, optimizing output capacity of each function as it sits next to its neighboring function. That’s the highbrow stuff above the surface. But, underneath the surface is “how” that stuff gets done. Underneath the content is the process.
If we skip the process stuff, because it takes time away from the analytic content stuff, we may never get to the analytic content stuff. Pay me now, or pay me later.
As a team forms, from a group with disconnected goals to a team with a common goal, there is a predictable process that must occur. We can spend a reasonable time up front dealing with the process, or we can spend an unreasonable time on the back end trying to manage dysfunctional behaviors.
That process always starts with trust. Much of the behavior you describe indicates the team has not learned (yet) how to trust each other. When each member of this new team was solely accountable for their function and their function alone, you gave them marching orders to be internally focused, efficient, internally profitable (to their own budgets). You now expect them to lift their eyes and see the other parts of the organization they have to integrate with. It requires a subtle shift from an internal focus to an external focus. Each has to keep their eye on the ball with a peripheral vision on and responding to neighboring systems.
There is risk to each individual on this new team. The risk is, working in this new way, their own department (function) may suffer for the benefit of the organization (total throughput). When managers are first put in this new situation, their first response is to armor up. There is a very real lack of trust and likely evidence to prove that lack of trust.
The first step to create trust among the team members is to create a context in which they allow themselves to trust. This is messy. In the sequence of forming-storming-norming-performing, this is the storming stage. Windstorms, gusts, occasional lightening. As the President, it is your job to convene the team and create a safe space for this to happen, and it cannot be skipped. On the other side of the storm, the team will learn, set its own guardrails, determine what is okay and what is not okay (norming) and then get on with the work.
This stage of gathering interdependent team function is choppy – and naturally so. Team members can be put together to create norms, the need for which may already be apparent. That process can consist of members recalling what works best in close quarter, high contact environments and putting “rules” in place to regulate those encounters. The important thing, as Tom says, is to place the highest order of importance on the welfare and advance of the enterprise, and that does help introduce the pole around which resolution of issues can occur.
When the inevitable happens and people seriously rub each others fur the wrong way, alienation, reduced collaboration, decreased morale and throttled communication looms. Then the only work is to fix the fractures that have occurred so the players can come together again.
Doug, great to hear from you. And for the rest of my readers, Doug is the author of Fixing Fractures: Restoring shattered relationships. Great read. Available on Amazon. https://www.amazon.com/Fixing-Fractures-Restoring-shattered-relationships/dp/1777972108