We were recently with a client whose industry is experiencing major disruption. Consequently, the company is facing possible failure. When we asked the CEO what was the most critical thing we could do to help his team during this difficult time, he responded: “The absolute alignment of my senior team around our strategy.” Is that what your CEO would say? Or is that what employees would say if asked? Andrew Carnegie said, “Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision; the ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.” An aligned senior team is a blessing to its organization. A misaligned senior team is a blight! And while alignment is one of the most powerful tools in change, it is also one of the most overlooked. Of course many leaders (like this CEO) talk about it, and some have the tendency to believe that because they have shared the issues, vision, goals and even strategy, that team members will become aligned. But to equate understanding and even agreement with commitment is a big mistake.
Research shows that less than 30% of change efforts succeed. In any other profession, a 70% failure rate would be unacceptable. One of the biggest reasons we have found for this failure rate is lack of senior team alignment. There are many ways to achieve alignment. We have found three levers that enable senior teams to change their behavior and accelerate performance. First, great teams change how they think and talk about change. This is by no means an exhaustive treatment of the subject, but here are ten questions that we use to help senior teams change how they have traditionally thought about change.
- What mental models and assumptions need to be updated to support the change?
- What behaviors need to be adopted to foster greater collaboration?
- How does the senior team’s work need to change to get better results?
- What team practices need to change to help us work together more effectively?
- How can the team make decisions more effectively?
- Who requires different skills, knowledge, experience, or motivation to do their jobs more effectively?
- How can the team get the right people working together?
- What needs to change so that rewards drive desired behaviors?
- How can employees get needed information more quickly, accurately, and in the right format?
- What is getting in the way of working together to implement the change?
Second, effective senior teams change the way they think about their team. Patrick Lencioni challenges leaders by asking them “Who is your #1 team?” Is it the senior leadership team or the functional area each leaders represents? Most leaders view their #1 team as where they work—their functional area. But that creates challenges in role priorities, accountability, decision making, and loyalties to name just a few. Paul R. Dannar said, “The change process [is] a group activity, and unless group norms and behaviors are also transformed, changes to individual behaviors cannot be sustained.” Changing how leaders think about their primary team enables them to stop leading only vertically in their area and work horizontally across all areas for the good of the business. The same is true whether you’re the leader or a member of the team. A cross-functional view enables better business performance.
Third, aligned senior teams work to upgrade individual team members’ ability to deal with and lead change. When business conditions require a change in the organizational systems and individual behavior change, leaders (and employees) with upgraded skills are better suited to handle the trauma of transition that is felt during times of upheaval. Dealing with change requires a complex behavioral skillset. In a fast-paced, high-growth situation, current team success won’t be enough to fuel long-term results. In these situations, it’s critical to build the change capability within the team so that it has the capacity to operate in an ever-changing and more complex environment.
Aligning people’s goals, interests, and the way they work can be daunting. But when a senior team is aligned and working together, the benefits are spectacular.
R. Kendall Lyman and Tony Daloisio are authors of Change the Way You Change: 5 Roles of Leaders Who Accelerate Business Performance. Lyman is a founding principal of The Highlands Group. Daloisio is founder and CEO of Charter Oak Consulting and a principal of The Highlands Group. Please visit www.ChangeTheWayYouChange.com for more information.