Why you shouldn't make a plan for successful management team development
Updated: Jul 18, 2021
– No, I am not going to reveal the agenda.
Before a management team development activity, participants often like to have a schedule or daily program of events. Although I obviously don’t respond as harshly as the opening comment above, I do insist that I don't want to provide a detailed daily program. The reason? Well, if the purpose of the exercise is to transform a management team so that it is equipped to achieve its goals, a predetermined schedule is counterproductive. This might sound suspiciously odd. Doesn’t the consultant have a plan? The answer is, of course, yes. To explain, let’s discuss what an individual coaching session usually looks like and then apply the same rationale in a management team setting.
In a one-on-one coaching session the client usually highlights some kind of problem or issue. When the client finds it hard to define the problem, which is most often the case, my job is to ask exploratory questions so that we can more clearly distinguish the issue at hand. Often, when the problem is clearly defined, the client immediately sees the solution in front of them. It can be tempting in my role to take the client's initial description of the problem at face value and start asking solution-oriented questions, or even advise the client which solution is the right one. Whenever I have fallen into the trap of adopting the role of self-appointed expert, the result has always been that the client's energy levels drop. My well-meaning suggestions are met with different variations of "yes, but…”
Energy levels peak, however, when I don’t take on the role of ‘subject matter expert’, but instead trust that with the help of appropriate questions the client can solve the problem once it has been correctly defined. The feeling of ownership of the solution also becomes stronger. Furthermore the solution is invariably better because the client always has a broader and deeper insight into the problem than I can ever have. The reality is, with the exception of people experiencing crisis, that I almost never know better than the client. The expertise I should primarily apply is leading the process. If you agree with me so far let's see if you agree with the rest of what I’ve got to say.
The principles described above also apply to the development of a team, with the practical difference that team members need to know how their colleagues think. Slowly but surely the team then forms a common picture of what the problem really is. And, in my experience, when this happens the team always has an idea about what steps to take next. Encouraging this type of conversation does, of course, require attentive process leadership.
By process leadership I mean, among other things, helping the team stay grounded in reality as opposed to speculating, nudging team members a little when the communication climate is not functioning well and challenging them when they become passive. And also to know when it is time to take charge as opposed to letting the team speak freely. This approach and these methods must be driven by the purpose of the assignment and by what the participants need help with in the here and now (for example, to break out of entrenched positions in an emotional debate), and not by a predetermined agenda.
So when I meet the management team in the morning and the question is raised about what we are going to do, I usually jokingly reply that I have no idea. As I have already pointed out this is not entirely or even partially true. I have a very clear idea of where we are going, but how we get there is a process that can involve a lot of forks in the road. What is about to happen is a function of what has just happened. Apart from being the most meaningful way of working, it is also exciting. Having established a climate of exploration, team members will be more curious about one another. The number of “please elaborate” comments increases, while the number of "yes, but…" comments decreases. This leads to the team entering the unknown (which you can interpret literally) and gaining access to all the wisdom that it never knew it had.
And I, for one, see absolutely no reason in interfering in this process by talking about what's going to happen before it actually does.
If you belong to a management team where you see room for improvement, I recommend the 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.