The Phases of Executive Team Building

Occasionally I still engage people form the C-Suite in the process of team building.  I did this on three recent occasions and I am reminded of the sacredness of the work.  It moves through phases.

The first phase of the work is the interview process.  I meet with individuals and make it safe for them to tell me the truth.  I think of one person who was recently working very hard to not reveal his true feelings.  What he was about to share had already been shared by others but for his own good he needed to articulate what he was observing.

As I probed and listened, it all came out.  Bringing those words into the world was like facilitating the birth of a baby.  The labor was difficult for the parent but the words simply could not stay inside.  Once he said what he was really feeling, his veneer of being in control was replaced by the exposure of his human vulnerability.  When this happens, trust goes up.  It becomes easier for the person to tell me more.  Hope also goes up.  They begin to believe that what I do next might actually help.

In the next phase the objective is to turn the leadership group into a leadership team.  In the professional world, where political correctness is king, many people believe that unity is an unrealistic expectation.  Frequently I hear the following, “I do not expect them to like each other.  I just want them to get along enough that they get the work done.”

The sentence is flawed.  People who are emotionally unaligned engage in conversations where the trajectory of trust turns downward and the conflicts keep intensifying.  The sentence is a cover for work avoidance, that is, a lack of leadership.  The logic of the sentence simply greases the slippery slope of slow death.  The essence of leadership is the ability to transform conflict into creative collaboration.  Few executives have this transformational capacity.

In the second phase the task is to make it safe for the group to tell the truth about the most critical issues of the organization.  The process begins with a diagnosis of the problems in the culture and a statement of what they want the culture to look like.  This step feels normal, like the problem-solving work they usually do.  It is really an excuse to move them into the rarely experienced process of real-time conflict resolution.

Specifying the culture they desire provides a legitimate purpose.  By shifting from the resolution of problems to the pursuit of purpose, it becomes possible to hold them accountable to their own desired future.  A terrible truth becomes clear: the emergence of the desired future requires each individual to behave in new ways.  At this point their natural tendency is to slip away.  The facilitator must confront even the senior most person and keep the group moving forward.  They have to negotiate a new, collective, behavioral contract.

It is a task that requires the application of discipline wrapped in genuine concern.  As the group makes progress, the collective conversation becomes authentic.  As the conversation becomes authentic, individuals are seen in a new light, forgiveness becomes possible, trust emerges, and a transformation takes place.  They begin to see they have already created a new future.  Hope soars.  The previous vicious cycles now become virtuous cycles.  The most frequent comment at the end of the day is: “Today exceeded my expectations.”

 

Reflection

  • How cohesive is your team?
  • Why do some CEOs not expect their people to act like a team?
  • What are the keys to change?
  • How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?

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