In the continual white-water conditions of global commerce, capable CEOs must not only have enormous resilience and stamina (intellectually, emotionally and physically), but also excellent communication and listening skills, too. Yet why do some leadership teams turn out to be riven with destructive conflict or simply incapable of working as a team?
A few fundamentals come immediately to mind. I’ve seen highly intelligent CEOs assuming that convening a group is identical to building a team, and who seek leaders who resemble their own competencies rather than complementing them.
We learn through exchanges with different perspectives. Surrounding ourselves with people who share the same perspective might seem reassuring but it also creates a kind of bubble that insulates those on the inside from perturbing yet vital information from the outside. Being perturbed isn’t necessarily a bad thing: it can open the gateways to new awareness, new learning and new capabilities.
When I’m invited in to improve performance through team coaching, I aim to help the team members recognise the behaviours that enhance their work as well as the behaviours that undermine it. That often means stepping in to deter the use of inflammatory language during discussions and maintaining an active respect for different members’ role boundaries.
However, it doesn’t mean suffocating the expression of conflict. Differing viewpoints often lose their adversarial quality when they’re aired in a safe and containing space. When I’m coaching teams, I ensure that the fundamental rule to be respected is this. As soon as the session begins, all contributions are to be treated as food for thought, not provocations for the resumption of habitual sparring activities.
That may on occasions involve actively but politely interrupting a dominant member’s monologue to encourage someone who is “loudly silent,” (prominently not contributing), to give expression to what he or she is thinking.
In Part Two, I’ll describe the beginning, middle and end phases of team coaching.