Today, I'm sharing thoughts on something that every leader has a vested interest in: getting their executive teams to work better together. This can be a real challenge, can’t it? And in a way, it makes sense.
So Many Hats
First, each of your E-staff members is always wearing at least two hats:
- As a member of your team (aka, you are their manager)
- As the leader of their own team (the people they manage/work with regularly).
Another way to think about this is that they have their “functional” hat and their “company” hat. They may also have other hats as well -- and here I am using ‘hat’ as a metaphor for a role where they have significant responsibility.
Second, many functional leaders are held more accountable for (more rewarded for) the performance of their unit than they are for the performance of the whole organization. If their functional areas ever had little interdependencies, this might have once made sense. But very few functional areas really operate independently.
And third, we get into siloed habits for many good reasons, including expediency. I’m sure you’ve heard “Ask for forgiveness, not permission” -- this suggests leaders should forge ahead with their own action plans, rather than taking a lot of time to ensure their plans align with those of their peers. When we are chasing speed, it’s a natural default.
What to Do Now
Here are three ways you can shift the leadership culture in your organization toward more productive collaboration:
Encourage Generosity Among Leaders
A study from the London School of Business found that one of the key factors in achieving effective collaboration is executive investment (time and money) in “signature relationship practices.” When executives actively support cross-functional relationship building (including coaching and mentoring), and when they demonstrate collaborative behaviors, the entire organization will follow suit. One subtle effect: you’re helping people build networks and trust.
When your leadership team is discussing taking action, be the first person to ask “Who else could be affected by (or offer significant insights into) your proposed actions?” Encourage all E-staff members to join you in this. The trade-off? You’ll spend a bit more time imagining various stakeholders’ perspectives; and, you’ll get action plans that are better considered, and face less resistance. Stick with this practice and you’ll generate a virtuous cycle of executive collaboration.
Promote Executive Interchangeability
OK, not the most elegant phrase, BUT. This is another powerful way to encourage perspective-taking. Ask your leadership team members to present one of their peers’ perspectives. Have your CFO bring forth the Sales leader’s perspective. Ask the VP of Engineering to represent the Customer perspective. By intentionally taking broader views across the organization, your executive team will naturally improve their collaboration skills and their understanding of your business. And you’ll have confidence that your leaders can wear the Company Hat.
Because you’re still reading, and because I like you, here’s one more tip to build greater collaboration:
Make leadership team decision-making transparent to more people in your organization.
When others see and hear how decisions are raised, considered, and made, you get two bennies (benefits, if you want the formal word):
- team members will practice what they observe, and make better decisions themselves
- organizational trust will grow (openness, respect for others, productive conflict) and will increase confidence in your leadership team.
In these days of the Great Resignation, the greater the confidence your employees (including other leaders) have in your executive team, the better off you’ll be.
What are you doing to improve collaboration on your E-staff?
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