Chris Henderson asked:
In my experience most leadership team members spend a day a month meeting together and the other 29 days complaining about what a waste of time it was and how they arenâ€™t talking about the â€˜real issuesâ€™.
Almost everyone I say that to cracks a wry smile. Weâ€™ve all seen it. Most of us have suffered the effects of it. Many of us have even been part of it. It seems to me that most organisations seem to survive in spite of the fact that their leaders donâ€™t work effectively together â€“ and yet few organisations are actually doing much about it!
But, before we get too smug, arenâ€™t we all members of â€˜leadership teamsâ€™? Whether itâ€™s the team that heads our part of the organisation, things weâ€™re involved in outside work or being part of the team that runs our household and family – we all have leadership roles which we share with others.
I call this kind of leadership Collective Leadership and I think it is a vital area that is little written or spoken about.
So whatâ€™s the difference between Collective and Individual Leadership?
Essentially. Collective leadership is where we need to lead together to achieve things that we cannot do alone.
It has been said that â€˜nothing very significant in life can be achieved aloneâ€™ and it is easy to agree. Collective leadership, however, challenges our ideas of leadership.
Generally, when we talk about leadership we are talking about an Individual with some sort of positional power or authority whose role is to set direction first and then mobilise people towards it second.
This model is increasingly flawed in the modern world. However senior we get, we keep discovering that we donâ€™t have direct or complete authority over the people we need to influence to accomplish things. Even where we do, our ability to exercise that authority is significantly diluted by the agendas of others and their ability to find creative ways to achieve their ends whilst doing the minimum possible to help us meet ours.
So why is it so hard to make leadership teams work?
The core of the problem is in the division of responsibilities. Ever since Henry Ford invented the production line, we have been ever more keen to divide up work and give people individual accountability for elements of it.
The big advantage of this is that each person can focus and specialise on their part of the jigsaw and, over the years, we have become more and more creative at ways of reinforcing that focus through measurement, performance management and reward of all kinds.
The challenge that this brings is that when groups with different responsibilities come together they become representatives for their agendas rather than members of a collective team. This in turn leads to meeting agendas that are typically full of items from each department seeking the support of the heads of other departments.
In this way the leadership teamâ€™s time together becomes crowded with decisions on marketing or operations or HR etc. Limited time means that, as a result, the big issues like strategy, customer service, processes, people and leadership are either not discussed at all or donâ€™t get enough time.
Because they affect everyone they can only be progressed by the leadership team working together so they tend to remain unresolved as running sores. These in turn create a series of problems and symptoms in Marketing and HR and Operations that require top team agenda timeâ€¦â€¦.
So what can we do to get our team working?
The first thing to do is to clarify what the big, collective issues are. My experience is that there is rarely a consensus on this and the way to begin is to talk to each member of the team to find out their views before presenting a consolidated view back to the team for discussion and agreement.
Once this is clear and agreed, meeting agendas can be changed to reflect these priorities. This will involve some debate and creative thinking about where the decisions that the team were previously making should be dealt with.
The team is likely initially to need help to work together in new ways. Typically these will be more ambiguous than the tactical content that dominated previously and will require new ways of preparing, discussing and listening in order to make progress.
It is also common for there to be relationship issues which need to be addressed.
Can we do it alone or do we need help?
In my experience few teams are able to make this shift alone. A combination of busy agendas, tricky relationships and force of habit mean that it is very helpful to have someone else help to identify and consolidate the issues, manage the changing agenda and support the team through the change. The right person will be able to engage with the big organisational issues and will also be skilled with people.
If you need support or ideas for your leadership team, then the best way to begin is with a conversation. We donâ€™t believe in a â€˜hard sellâ€™ and often find that people get value out of the exploratory discussion – whether or not we go on to work together.
Good luck with your (collective) leadership challengesâ€¦