It was during the evaluation of a management team development project that I received some feedback that means I now confidently know the career I want to pursue in my next life.
The feedback captured the essence of the challenging process that most management teams I've ever worked with has gone through. But before I tell you about my next life, let me first set the scene in this one.
If it was up to me to decide, I would like every management team development initiative to start off over two consecutive days. This is because there is a threshold of fundamental questions that every team would benefit from crossing – and that threshold is usually not met on the first day. By saying benefit from, I mean two things. One is that when the management team has agreed on its most fundamental issues, such as its purpose and an engaging vision, a profound change occurs. The members go from being some people who for unclear reasons meet every two or three weeks, to becoming a management team with a mutual understanding of their raison d’être. The second thing that happens is a shared self-confidence and mutual trust emerging as a result of going through this process together.
If we spend the first day focusing on issues that all management teams commonly need to deal with, we’ll then spend the second day on any challenges that are specific to the particular team. If it hasn’t happened already, it is at this stage that differences become visible. Examples include different perceptions of reality and definitions of problems as well as different interpretations of goals and roles. In addition, when team members discuss a specific issue, you’ll often find different opinions on what is central to that issue.
Beneath the surface of the team a lot of things are going on. Members might be preoccupied with questions such as who welds the most influence in the group. Is the process a fight or a cooperative endeavour? Are members being listened to? Why is John so quiet? When is Jane going to stop talking so the rest can have a say? Will colleagues think I am stupid if I admit I have no clue what we are talking about right now?
As you can see, a lot is going on and in my consultant role I employ several radar antennas, monitoring these barely visible processes: One antenna watches over the topic – is it relevant? Another antenna observes the group process and communication climate. I continuously assess whether I need to make the members aware of dysfunctional communication style and then nudge them toward a climate of curiosity and encouragement. Yet another antenna looks at the individuals. Who do I need to encourage to listen more? Who doesn’t say much and why, and do I need to do intervene? A fourth antenna monitors the head of the management team. Is this person too forceful or too passive? Are they being vague or clear? How do I find the balance between my task of leading the workshop and at the same time, supporting the leadership and authority of that person? All this time I need to keep an eye on the clock and consider what we should focus on when the issue we are working with right now, is finished. It is indeed demanding and I'm usually just as exhausted as the participants when we part ways.
In the assignment I mentioned at the beginning of this article, the team worked intensely on their differences during the second day. I felt that the group was on track, addressing appropriate topics and they contained their frustrations. When a team is working well there is no need for a consultant to intervene, so I sat a little to the side of the group and stayed quiet. But my radar antennas continued spinning all the time, obviously.
When we finally were a the end of the workshop, the head of the management team made an interesting comparison. She described the experience she had of giving birth when, amidst all the pain and contractions, at some point she wondered where the midwife was. Turning her head she saw the midwife standing there, ready to intervene if necessary. She instantly felt safe and could focus on the birth. I think this description is fantastic. It resonates a lot with the labour (pun intended) associated with the birth of a team as it struggles with discriminating and integrating its differences. For my part I felt my efforts were being recognised, she understood that even though I may look passive on the surface, I was there beside her, fully present and ready to intervene if necessary. So pass the towels and hot water please, because apparently in my next life I'm going to be a midwife!
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.