The senior leaders of a large and successful technology company wanted to improve their overall effectiveness as a team, including their communications and meeting productiveness. The leaders acknowledged that their conversations and meetings were not where not effective and that included:
(1) The short-term financial updates and immediate fire drills always took over the meeting’s agendas and the team never got to discuss the more strategic topics of opportunity and change,
(2) When the leaders did get to the discussions the same few team members always dominated the conversation and other team members felt unable to contribute,
(3) The team debated issues endlessly without reaching conclusions, alignment and decisions,
(4) Important decisions that affected everyone were made behind the scenes with the same few inner circle team members, and
(5) When the leadership team did make a collective decision (especially change-related) people often didn’t comply, follow up and/or reinforce.
The senior leaders had frustrations with, and complaints about other colleagues in the team. However, for the most part they blamed their boss, the CEO for not “making the meetings productive”, and not “empowering the senior team to make the key decisions”
Meanwhile, the CEO was frustrated because his senior leaders were not having the necessary conversations with each other. They needed to work together and behind the scenes between the meetings to confront things, resolve issues, align on strategies and plans, and hold each other to account for decisions that were made in prior meetings.
Instead, people were escalating the tough issues to him, expecting him to resolve and make the decisions, even on issues the leaders were fully capable of, and empowered to solve. As a result, people felt the meetings were a waste of time because most of the time was spent on reviewing updates and reports, confirming decisions and other mundane topics that could have easily been handled elsewhere.
In short – The leaders were simply avoiding having the courageous conversations.
I see this dynamic at all levels of seniority in most (all) organizations. People want things to change, they want more empowerment, responsibility, involvement and authority, but they are not willing to step up and have the courageous conversations with stakeholders, team members and each other.
Yes, these conversations can be messy, unpredictable and uncomfortable; they could cause tensions, conflicts and even deteriorate trust temporarily or permanently. But the cost of avoiding them – for the leaders – is not being able to provide leadership, make the difference and drive change. And, for the organization, not functioning on all cylinders.
So, how do you change this?
It starts with people owning up to their avoidance of courageous conversations. In next week’s blog I’ll share a framework that works for teams and individuals for starting to take on the courageous conversations.
I will also share the end of the story of the technology leaders and how they generated a meaningful breakthrough in their courageous conversations.