In the words of one highly successful plant manager, "My biggest challenge is not getting our employees to work together because they will if we lead them that way... The biggest issue is getting all our managers to work together and cooperate, which can be a daunting task." Why is walking the talk in team work so difficult for leaders. Let’s see an example.
Brijesh Kumar, the Sales and Marketing Manager of a product company was at his wits end. His company had not met the commitments made to one of his biggest customers for the third time in a row this quarter. He would surely lose this customer to his competition. What was happening? Had he not done his best in providing leadership to his team he thought? Brijesh may have led his team well. But there is something else amiss. On all the three occasions Brijesh had faced problems from the production and supply chain side. The Production Head had delayed the product manufacture citing reasons like unavailability of raw material, unrealistic delivery goals committed by sales and lack of machine capacity. The Supply Chain Head had on the other hand had argued that there was no proper forecast of the requirement, vendors had defaulted and that raw material rejection had taken place. Clearly there is limited collaboration among the team making Brijesh and his peers viz., the operational leadership team in the company ineffective.
Leadership team is a group of managers at the same organizational level who need to collaborate together to meet organizational goals. Small enterprises may have only one leadership team, while large organizations have several teams at each layer of their hierarchy. For a member of a leadership team to be effective he/she should not only be a good team leader but also a good team member– a good team member for his peers. But often this is not easy because the team sometimes work at cross purposes as seen in the case of Brijesh. In fact there are significant challenges to getting the leadership team to function as a good team, despite the obvious benefits to the organization.
Why team work in a leadership team is difficult
All leadership team members need to successfully wear two hats, that of functional leaders and organizational leaders. Selected for their knowledge and expertise, they own functional responsibilities. At the same time they have an organizational leadership responsibility which may supersede their functional responsibility. For example, the Sales and Marketing Head, has a primary responsibility for the Sales function of the organization and as a member of the leadership team also carries a responsibility towards organizational success. So to be an effective team member he/she must understand the difference between these two roles and play both the roles. Since the primary purpose of management team members is to make decisions, they must regularly try to reach agreement on critical issues. Conflicting interests can make this process difficult.
A research survey conducted on manufacturing managers identified factors preventing managers from working together and the problems created when managers in a manufacturing operation do not work together. The survey results were as follows:-
To summarize, ineffective team work between the managers led to loss of employee morale, decrease in productivity and adverse impact on customers and profitability of the company. The factors preventing the managers from cooperating were not only on account of differences in individual personalities and aspirations, but also on account of organization systems and top leadership not effectively supporting team work
Having understood the challenges of working as an effective leadership team now let’s look at the ways in which we can improve the team work among leadership team members.
Building leadership team cohesion and synergy
An individual manager might struggle with a problem with his/her limited view of the problem. If the manager tables this problem in a meeting with other managers, he will have different views of the problem and someone might have an answer right away. He/she would be experiencing the rewards of collaboration. A significant advantage of a team is the power of collaboration. When people work together on problems, the different views and interpretations of the problem, plus the different facts and knowledge people in the team bring with them, create better solutions. Also, the solution identified would have support across functions, and likelihood of successful implementation increases exponentially. So you can contribute to better team effectiveness of the leadership team you belong to by following the principles of collaboration.
Principles of Collaboration
- Understand and call upon the specific skills, strengths or knowledge of each team member
- Listen with open-minds and open the minds of others to different ideas
- Relentlessly look for ways to make things better
Confidently and constructively speak your mind - Freely speak your mind without fear at crucial points during important meetings, rather than later at the water cooler and listen to feedback without hesitation
- Passionately debate ideas without getting defensive
- Don't hoard knowledge and business expertise
- Debate with a higher level of intensity and diversity of thought
- Structure discussions that lead to action, not endless meetings and conversation
- Adapt effectively and creatively to corporate and economic change
- Balance free-thinking and creativity with business discipline
- Remove politics from conversations
Create an environment where ideas are encouraged from and by everyone, without threat of embarrassment or disapproval. When collaboration is working really well, team members listen closely to each other, build on each other’s ideas, amend them, drop them, pick them up again, and come up with new ones.
The research survey conducted on manufacturing managers also identified the following top ten factors for getting managers to cooperate with each other and to function as a team:-
- Develop unifying super-ordinate goals that focus on needed outcomes
- Top management must demonstrate and foster cooperation
- Provide team-based rewards or incentives for desired behaviors and outcomes
- Identify and resolve management problems and conflicts in a timely fashion
- Team-based performance measurement and feedback devices
- Team-building activities; teaming skills development
- Create management team ownership of decision processes and outcomes
- Integrate planning, problem-solving, and communication processes
- Clarify each manager's roles and goals to every other manager
- Build understanding and consensus around production processes and systems
Individual members of leadership teams at all levels need to work together better to be more effective in their individual roles and for being more effective as a leadership team as a whole. Improved team cohesion makes working a more positive experience for both the team members as well as for the people the team members lead. In the wise words of a manager from the study on manufacturing managers, "When we [managers] work together, it is amazing how much better things run and how much easier it is to come to work."
- McIntyre M G., Ph.D., ‘Building an Effective management Team’, http://www.yourofficecoach.com/Topics/building_an_effective_mgmt_team.htm.
- Longenecker, Clinton O, ‘Building High Performance Management Teams’, http://www.entrepreneur.com/tradejournals/article/82107886.html.
- ‘Team Collaboration at Work’, http://employee-management-relations.suite101.com/article.cfm/team_collaboration_at_work.
- ‘Team Collaboration’, http://www.marcumsmith.com/team-collaboration.php.