Coaching for executive teams

Team Building is one of those emotive terms. It conjures up images of executives either building bridges out of logs somewhere in the highlands of Scotland, while being bawled out by a former sergeant-major, or else having heart-to-heart conversations about their ‘issues’ with each other in what one HR Director I know called “a festival of inappropriate disclosure”.

It doesn’t have to be like that, though, and I am a believer in team coaching for many of the reasons given in this article. As the author says, you can get so far by coaching individuals but there are some ‘roadblocks’ that need to be dealt with by the team as a whole.

I would add another roadblock to the six that Doug Riddle identifies. It’s the silo mentality.  In organisations with the silo mentality, when you get chatting to an executive and ask him how he gets on with his team, he almost always talks about himself and his direct reports, rather than his peers on the executive management team. These managers come to the executive meetings not as members of the team but as representatives of their various functions and business units. The suggestion that they, along with their peers, should be collectively managing and leading the business instead of just looking at their own bit of it is, surprisingly, a revelation to many managers. Usually, it’s not because they are being deliberately territorial, it’s just that it hasn’t occurred to them to do anything else.

Often, that simple shift in understanding what the executive meetings are for and what the members role in them should be can lead to changes in attitudes and behaviours. When you reach that level of the business, you are no longer just a functional specialist, you are a business manager too. Sitting in a meeting and zoning out until your bit comes up for discussion is not just lazy, it’s a neglect of your duty as a senior executive. It’s also a lot more fulfilling to manage the business rather than just be, say, the IT Director.

In my experience, getting management teams to shift from this silo attitude to one of a joint approach to managing the business can only be done through team coaching because the whole team needs to sign up to the new way of doing things.

None of this is to say that team coaching is the cure-all for dysfunctional teams. It isn’t and, as Dan McCarthy warns, “it’s never effective to try to use team development to address individual performance problems!”

Alas, I have seen this happen too. An executive team sits in an off-site meeting discussing any number of issues, while the one it needs to tackle, and keeps avoiding, is whether some of the team members should be there at all. It is often in situations like this where team events become, as Dan says, excruciatingly painful.

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4 Responses to Coaching for executive teams

  1. Robin Stuart-Kotze says:

    I agree with you Rick. My experience of working with and in management teams over 40 years confirms what you say. But of course there is a reason why managers have a so-called silo mentality and it’s that they tend to be rewarded for performance in their silos and not for overall corporate performance. Managers see their roles in teams as their “night job”; their “day job” is in their department, division, function, etc. A conversation with a senior tax partner in a global accountancy firm illustrates this. When I brought up the issue of the management of his team his comment was “Robin, that’s what I do on Friday afternoon.”

    The other issue here is that “teams” are most often nothing of the kind. They are simply groups of people who are artificially put together by a quirk or the organisation chart. There are a number of specific things that exemplify high performance teams and the most fundamental of these is a unanimous commitment to a common goal. Without this no team works really well.

  2. Rick says:

    Robin, my experience of the big accountancy firms is that they are rather like the medieval Holy Roman Empire. Power is diffused among the various principalities, dukedoms and baronies that make up the organisation. The Chairman, like the Emperor, is merely the head of an unruly bunch of magnates.

    Your point about remuneration is well made though. It’s always a good question to ask a CEO who moans about the lack of teaminess among his exec members. “Do you pay them to work as a team?” It’s no good complainin that people don’t do something if you are rewarding them for doing the opposite.

  3. Jo says:

    Hi Rick, I am late finding you. Well be subscribing promptly.

    What is fascinating is how long businesses can run with a dysfunctional top team. Or maybe we are finding out about it now?

  4. Hi Rick,

    Great blog you’ve got here – pleased to have found you.

    I have seen team building used where the issue is lack of leadership. It then turns into either a scrabble across rocks or launching eggs out of windows etc as a way of avoiding tackling the issue at hand. Quite good fun, actually, but rarely particularly useful back in the workplace.

    Having said that, there’s a lot to be said for the drinks in the bar after a long day’s hike or egg-chucking. The relationships built while winding down can be really helpful.

    Back to the leadership thing – the team will be functionally disfunctional (!) if they don’t have some kind of common goal around which they can pull together and feel united. If the leader does not create this common goal and real sense of purpose to achieve it, I think the team building is a bit like wallpapering to fix a derilict building.



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