‘We should have had this discussion a long time ago. It would have saved us a lot of time and a lot of useless frustration.’ This was the feedback I received from executives during an executive team alignment session I facilitated not so long ago. The team was satisfied and relieved by the outcomes. They had not expected these results. They had even doubted the value of such a session. In fact, team coaching had never been high on their priority list.
A change is taking place in today’s business environment regarding teams and team collaboration.
Not the need for teamwork itself is changing, but the requirements for successful team collaboration are shifting. Economic and market changes require companies for instance to create new business models, to merge with other companies, to build alliances (with suppliers, competitors, or even with customers). Organizations feel the need for more flexibility and adaptability of people and teams in order to be able to keep pace with the developments. The need increases for more flexible ways of connecting people and building networks. Teams function much more cross-departmental. Functional and hierarchical structures are no longer the sole basis for teams. And on top of that organizations operate in an increasingly multicultural environment and face cross-cultural challenges (see earlier article on cross-cultural alignment).
Executive teams have the job to guide their organizations through these changes.
It is their job to stimulate people to create teamwork that successfully addresses these changing circumstances. In fact, they are the starting point of a successful change process. The executive team’s behavior is a vital example to the rest of the organization. Their level of alignment as a team is crucial. However, I frequently witness executive teams struggling with creating real alignment within their team. Why?
I experience three tendencies that hinder executives in creating team alignment:
- The tendency to perceive the building of team alignment as a rather technical and rational activity. Putting the focus on defining and clarifying tasks and responsibilities between each other. Setting and dividing goals and targets, and deciding on reporting procedures.
- The tendency to see individual coaching as the solution for a lack of team alignment.
- The tendency to underestimate the effect of a lack of executive team alignment on the rest of the organization.
Executive teams that put special focus on team coaching, and actively promote team coaching throughout the organization do not only improve their team effectiveness, but also initiate cultures that foster people connectivity, flexible networking, and successful cross-cultural and cross-departmental collaboration. They develop the competence to recognize the behavioral mechanisms that hinder mutual trust and openness. They create the ability to influence and change these mechanisms positively. I certainly do not minimize the effect of executive coaching on a 1-on-1 basis. This proves to be very useful, no doubt about that. But to create real team alignment team coaching is essential.
With the right approach and experienced facilitation executive team coaching provides the following benefits:
- Better understanding of the team dynamics that are taking place
- Better understanding of the different perceptions, ambitions, values, concerns, fears, aspirations, and irritations that are present
- Increased level of mutual trust
- More openness
- Better decisions
- Faster decision-making
- Deepened connections between the team and the rest of the organization
- Stronger basis for consistent execution throughout the organization.
In this interesting article Manfred Kets de Vries, professor of leadership development at INSEAD, describes the power of team coaching. I love the Hedgehog metaphor he uses to explain the dilemma between needing each other to accomplish things and at the same time wanting a certain amount of distance to escape from unknown/disagreeable behavior and qualities of others. I experience this dilemma more than once when working with executive teams. I witness over and over again how team coaching brings teams to a next level and creates breakthroughs in terms of mutual understanding, trust and openness and therefore boosts the team’s effectiveness towards the organization.
What is your experience with creating successful teams? How do you use the power of team coaching? Please leave your comments below.If you want to receive upcoming Leadershipwatch articles and news in your mailbox, don’t hesitate and register at the top of this page. Your personal information will be kept strictly confidential. Photo: Lady-bug/Flickr (Creative Commons)
Aad is an international business advisor, business transformation & people alignment expert, leadership team facilitator and executive coach. He works with C-level and executive teams of multinational companies and focuses specifically on four topics: ‘leading complex change’, ‘cross-cultural leadership’, ‘post-merger integration’, and ‘amplifying business performance’. Find out more about Aad and his services. If you would like to invite Aad to your organization or team feel free to contact him here.
- Leadershipwatch Anniversary (leadershipwatch-aadboot.com)
- Team Alignment: What if Your Team is Stuck? (leadershipwatch-aadboot.com)
- Organizational Alignment: The Power of Cross-Organizational Networks (leadershipwatch-aadboot.com)
- Creating Team Alignment: Team Development Initiatives Should Fit Today’s Business Reality (leadershipwatch-aadboot.com)
- Leading Change: How Focus Creates Sustainable Change (leadershipwatch-aadboot.com)
- The People Alignment Compass – Part 3 (leadershipwatch-aadboot.com)
- Cross-Cultural Leadership: How to Avoid Making People Lose Face (leadershipwatch-aadboot.com)
Aad, completely on target. Thanks. Well done. I especially love your observation that execs (and non-execs too) tend to think that team alignment is a rational process of distributing roles and goals. This describes about 99.9% of us.
I’ve come to use the term “enlightened leader” to refer to the person who realizes that their mind is more than a logic processer, and that, in fact, it is part of any problem they are trying to solve. Take that to the next level — of a collective mind of a leadership team — and adding in some effective coaching can usually offer high-leverage breakthroughs.
Thanks for your clear leadership and teachings about this.
Christopher, I like your term „enlightened leader”. Focusing on creating a collective mind of the team can definitely bring great results. Thanks for sharing.
This TEAMwork philosophy is exponential in the results it can create on positive impacts on the entire organization. The acronym used in ‘TEAM’- Together Everyone Achieves More, needs to be equally as transparent as transcendent for all members of the organization to believe it’s ‘for real’.
This idea is also applicable across all organizations from businesses to schools of all sizes.
Bottom line, everyone should be coachable, and those that internalize that expertise really means that they’re never finished learning and growing are the ones that you want coaching everyone up alongside you.
Another fantastic article, thank-you. One thing I have noticed when working with senior teams is that while they might be content to go for individual coaching themselves (not always the case of course) they often consider themselves to be good at teamwork and that it’s everyone else in their organization that needs ‘help’. Sometimes the egos on executive teams really do get in the way of progress.
Paul, thanks for sharing your observation. I follow you, egos can really hinder teams. I believe that it starts with building awareness. What can help is approaching it from the rational/technical side (business issues) and discuss in what way their team operating mode is helping them (or not) in tackling these issues, and why.