Conflict. Lack of clarity. Unclear process for decision making. Blanchard consultants Lael Good and Diana Urbina have experienced all of the above in their work with senior leadership teams.
“Surprisingly, even though senior leaders are highly experienced, they often operate as a group of individuals rather than a team of people working toward a common purpose. There are a lot of reasons for this,” says Good.
“First, you have senior executives coming in representing the individual divisions or the departments they lead. Second, you have leaders who are used to running their parts of the operation and doing it independently of one another.
“And third is the lack of feedback,” says Good. “At this stage in a leader’s career, it’s highly unlikely they are receiving the kind of feedback that would help them be more effective.”
Coming together as a team
To address these challenges, Good and Urbina begin by having senior leaders leave their departments at the door.
“Once they are in the room, their job as a leadership team is to serve the organisation as a whole and focus on what they do interdependently to create an environment where people are set up to succeed,” says Good.
“Next, the focus is on ‘the system,’” says Urbina. “This includes how this leadership team interacts with other systems in the organisation as well as the internal processes of this team.
“There's a lot of observation of what Lael and I love to call ‘the system at play,’” Urbina continues. “We look at team dynamics through the lens of the Blanchard Team Leadership model. You could think of the model as a 360-degree assessment for how the team is behaving and what the leader needs to do to enable team members to reach high performance.
“The Blanchard approach creates a learning and development experience based on where the team is. We combine an initial assessment with interviews and observations to explore how team members are interacting with each other as well as some of the dynamics at play.”
“Our team assessment consists of 24 questions sorted into the four research-based building blocks necessary to create a high performance team,” says Good. “The four building blocks are Aligning for Results, Communicating during Conflict, Building Team Cohesion and Sustaining Team Performance.”
Dealing with conflict
One of the biggest issues the two consultants work with in helping client teams is dealing with conflict.
“For many people, conflict feels dangerous. For others, conflict is natural because they were taught conflict is necessary to get what they want,” says Urbina.
“A lot of times, managing conflict is about learning communication strategies for dealing with people who are too candid and out for a win in their communication style, compared with those who minimise their opinions to maintain harmony. It’s finding the right balance for the team so that everybody has a chance to be heard.”
“It’s reframing conflict as a natural part of the process,” adds Good.
Providing feedback to team members
During the development experience, the two Blanchard consultants use a combination of facilitation, consulting, and coaching approaches. They use team observation methods to provide feedback to support team members in changing their behaviour. They often do this by sitting in on a team’s regularly scheduled staff meetings, where time is reserved at the end of the meeting for the Blanchard consultants to give feedback and hold the team accountable.
“Sensitive feedback can be a little uncomfortable, so we are careful to do this one-on-one after the meeting until a level of comfort is reached—and we always get permission before giving it live in real time,” says Urbina.
“A couple of months in, after we have built trust with an individual team member, we’ll ask the person, ‘May we have your permission to call you out during the team meeting on this behaviour? Do you feel safe enough with me? Do you feel safe enough with your team for us to give you feedback in the moment?’
“Gaining permission and trust accelerates a team toward being accountable and behaving better. It also creates an environment where it is psychologically safe for team members to work on their issues with each other.”
Team development workshops
Good and Urbina recommend the use of ongoing team acceleration and team development sessions, held quarterly, to increase the team’s effectiveness.
“Team acceleration workshops are focused on defining and aligning on the team vision, purpose, norms, role definitions, and goals,” explains Urbina. “Whatever the assessment results reveal as top priorities for the team to succeed are identified as actions and strategies for the ongoing work.”
“Team development workshops focus on bringing to the team additional skills they may need to become more effective. They include application within the real work of the team,” says Good. “Content areas such as Building Trust, Conversational Capacity®, Emotional Intelligence, and Leadership Point of View™ enable a team to develop additional interpersonal skills and an understanding of team dynamics, ultimately leading to high performance.”
Three critical elements for success
The process of assessment, observation, and feedback works well, say the two Blanchard consultants—but some prerequisites are critical.
“There are three essential ingredients to set the foundation,” says Good. “The first is ensuring a strong chemistry between the consultants and the team leader, and then, ultimately, with each of the team members. We work hard to make sure there is a connection between team coaches and the team.”
“Second, the team leader needs to be a strong sponsor,” says Urbina. “An initiative can fail if a team leader does not make this work a priority for the team or is not willing to listen to feedback and be fully engaged in the process.”
“The third criteria is to have someone on the senior leadership team working in partnership with the Blanchard consultants to manage the assignments and follow-up that come with the initiative,” says Good. “It’s a process and a journey that needs to be intentionally prioritised and managed. This role is often played by a senior organisational development or L&D leader who has been assigned to the team to assist them with their ongoing development.”
Some best practices
In addition to the three critical elements for success, Good and Urbina also recommend a set of best practices.
“We suggest using a facilitating-consulting-coaching methodology,” says Good. “Combining this methodology with a research-based framework helps teams move through the journey of becoming a high-performance team. That's the underpinning.”
“Then, uncover what's driving this team right now,” says Urbina. “That kind of information comes through assessment, observation, and interviews.”
Urbina and Good also believe that having two consultants, working together, is optimal for most engagements.
“Having two people work with a senior leadership team provides the best opportunity for observing team dynamics and building the effectiveness of the team,” shares Urbina.
“We firmly believe high-performance teams spend as much time on how they work together as on what they do,” adds Good. “When you combine these best practices together with a sound methodology, you can help all of the teams in your organisation—especially senior teams—perform at a high level.”
About the author:
David Witt is a Program Director for Blanchard®. He is an award-winning researcher and host of the companies’ monthly webinar series. David has also authored or coauthored articles in Fast Company, Human Resource Development Review, Chief Learning Officer and US Business Review.