Management team fireworks
Updated: Jul 18, 2021
Understanding why team members sometimes find it hard to access their cleverness.
There are two overarching processes that take place when management team members try to create alignment between themselves. The first is a cognitive process, in which knowledge is transferred and worked through. The second is a group dynamic process and involves everything that bubbles away underneath the surface of group life. To understand the first process, we can turn to the Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget. He coined the concepts of assimilation and accommodation.
Assimilation is the process of incorporating new information into the framework of what we already know. If, for example, you talk to me about Lasagna al forno, Paella, and Fish and chips, I will probably not be confused, in spite of them being very different from one another. That is because the information you are giving me fits comfortably into the concept of food dishes, which I learned as a child.
Accommodation is the process of constructing a new conceptual framework in order to accommodate new information. My time at university is an excellent example of this. I often had the same experience of going to an introductory lecture or opening a new textbook for the first time and feeling confused. It was frustrating since there were always students who appeared to understand everything effortlessly. But at some point during the course, the penny would always drop. Once the framework of understanding had established itself in my head there was no problem absorbing new information pertaining to that framework.
Let me present another classic example that can be found in every management team I have worked with to date: The question of who the team’s primary stakeholders are. The answers usually include the owners, the board, the CEO, the employees, and the customers. Some respondents are initially sure of their answers, while others are more tentative. The complexity only increases when I ask the next question. One that is intimately linked to the previous one, namely: What is the purpose of the management team? I have lost count of how many times after these questions have been resolved, I have heard "I don’t understand why we needed 90 minutes to answer these questions." Afterwards, everything is crystal clear, but it goes to show that accommodation is a demanding exercise.
The second process, the group dynamic, can be contaminated by the cognitive processes. It is easy to feel stupid when others appear to have all the answers to the questions. Team members become quiet or act out their frustrations. Then there is the issue of whether people feel listened to or rejected. History plays its part too, because team members have experience of how meetings usually take place. Some members are just waiting for Jane to start one of her typically endless monologues, or for John to begin making bold statements that quickly kill any chance of reflection in the team. Once this happens members think "I knew it!" and, in doing so, they contribute to a vicious circle, since our thinking controls our behaviour. Mindreading is another phenomenon that occurs all the time. We presume how others think and feel, and we act on it as though it were true.
This adds up to fireworks of cognitive and group dynamic processes, and it is little wonder that what seemed so easy on paper becomes so difficult in practice. The good news though is that these fireworks can be managed. In a management team that gets proper introduction to group dynamics and problem-solving communication, the opposite of what I initially wrote can be true: That the overall wisdom of the team outshines that of the individual and that the fireworks rather are a display of productivity and job satisfaction.
If you would like to know more about how you can improve effectiveness and productivity in your management team, I suggest you check out my free guide: How to create a successful management team.
The clients who reach out to me are managing directors, management teams, and executives who want to realise the potential in their organisations and accomplish extraordinary results. They reach out to me because of my ability to transform individuals, teams, and organisations.