Monday, April 20, 2009

Operating guidelines for senior management teams.

A good way to get started building senior management teams is to involve executives in examining the reality and the consequences of how they interact together and to then reach agreement on guidelines for more effective interactions in the future.

Senior managers sometimes feel a little foolish creating operating guidelines spelling out how they should work together as a team. Surely, they think, we’re all adults and have years of experience working in groups. And that, of course, is the problem. Everyone has practiced dysfunctional behavior for years and this is one of the first things that needs to be changed. If other employees don't see and experience change at the senior management level, they're not likely to adopt more cooperative behaviors as they won't believe this is necessary and they won't have any examples to follow. In addition, their executives won't understand the dilemmas that other employees are grappling with and won't be able to coach them since they haven't experienced these issues themselves.

United Parcel Service discovered that many of its managers fell short as coaches and teachers. When surveyed, only 48% of UPS employees gave their managers favorable marks for helping them develop new skills. John Wooden, the legendary former head coach of UCLA basketball, once observed that, “A coach must prevent, correct or help, and not punish. He must make those under his supervision feel that they’re working with him rather than for him. He must be more interested in finding the best way rather than having his own way, and he must be genuinely concerned about his players.”

Operating guidelines should be explicit, simple, clear and concise. Here are some typical examples:

- Speak honestly. Make clear and direct requests. Be willing to surface issues or take positions that may result in conflict.

- Anyone can disagree about anything with anyone, but no one can disagree without stating the reasons why.

- Listen for peoples’ contributions, rather than editing with assessments, opinions or judgments.

- Support each other. Operate from the point of view that, “we’re all in this together.”

- It’s not OK to win at someone else’s expense or at the expense of the company.

- Support people in fulfilling their commitments and hold them accountable for results.

- Show appreciation by giving, receiving and requesting acknowledgment from others.

The material on senior management teams comes from a presentation I gave at the EEC Conference on “Innovative Work Organizations Operating in a Global Context,” in Dublin, Ireland, which was subsequently published as “New roles for everyone” in The Journal for Quality and Participation, Vol 21, #1.

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