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Twice in the very recent past, I sat down with members of management teams at very different types of organizations sharing one common denominator: the member of the management team (and, as was reported, the rest of the team as well) felt motivated by the prospect of identifying business goals, measuring progress and performance, and spending some time giving the management team some real grounding in management science, interpersonal dynamics, and conflict.

From what I was told, business growth  never passed a certain level for some mysterious reason(s) which remain unexplored.

This scenario is COMMON — among new and established businesses, across industries, and involving all types of personalities.

In both of these cases, the management  team member described the owner as a “nice guy” but not a good manager or leader. Strong risk aversion was at play, as was reluctance to openly analyze and work to improve the effectiveness of each member of the management team AND the team’s impact as a whole.

Each organization has its own “organizational lifecycle.” Each stage of that lifecycle benefits from a different type of leadership, and set of leadership skills. Perhaps there is a mismatch in these organizations, between the stage of the lifecycle and the strengths of the current leaders. When this happens, it is not because the present leader/owner is a bad person. It is not because s/he is a completely inadequate leader (though it could be). How healthy and productive it would be to discover and acknowledge this as a team, then make decisions about how to proceed! The organization could see a real surge in productivity and profit if there were:

  • focused energy toward meaningful goals,
  • plan for leadership that was energizing,
  • right people put in the right places at the right times, and
  • support for team members with good resources including an impartial coach.

Engaging in this sort of management team work does not have to be the “expose your soul” variety. There don’t have to be fights or tears. One very effective technique is to use a tool (assessment) to gather and feed back information to each team member about his/her communication (or conflict or personality or change or other) style. This technique offers each person a chance to come to some insights about oneself and one’s relationships with others. It also provides a filter to analyze the relationships through so that the discussions don’t feel so raw, directly personal, or unbuffered. This “educational” sort of approach can be a nice way to ease in to the underlying issues of a team. It is also positively-focused, not problem-focused. Setting a positive tone contributes to the group seeing their improvement needs more objectively and calmly.

Tips for persuading the owner/leader to come along for the ride:

  1. First, what teammates perceive as reluctance may not be. It could be many things — fear, overwhelm, self-doubt, dissociation, apathy, etc. Frame messages directly and strive to avoid making assumptions about the owner’s beliefs or attitudes.
  2. Secondly, presenting a team-supported proposal to the owner showing the “cost of doing nothing” vs. the “cost of doing something” is often compelling. Include projected financial impact data where possible.
  3. Remind the leader that the organization and its employees reflect the leadership. The leadership team establishes the organizational climate, the norms, the expectations, and ultimately the degree of employee engagement. This is directly related to productivity, which of course, drives growth and profit. The leadership team determines the success of the company. This may be obvious, but stated as such, may be a good attention-getter and appeal to the owner’s sense of responsibility and . . . well, ownership!

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