The purpose of this proposal is to outline briefly our suggested approach for achieving a relatively challenging transformation: How to effectively help nurture the evolution of the leadership executives at XYZ, a group of functionally talented professionals who in many respects work reasonably well as a group – into a truly high performing team (HPT).
Context and history is important in project like this. XYZ continues to enjoy significant business success despite a period of turmoil and change at the top. Its’ senior executive group, in fact, has functioned reasonably well with an interim/ acting head following the sudden dismissal of its’ former long-term top executive. Some eight months ago, _______ assumed the role of President/CEO and has brought stability and a renewed sense of vision and positive momentum to the organization. Importantly, daringly bold and truly ambitious strategic growth goals have been established for the organization. These appear all the more challenging given the competitive and regulatory environment the company faces. Suffice it to say, _________ realizes that the skills and processes that got the North American Company to today will most likely not be sufficient to manage and drive the kind of growth he envisions. He expresses discomfort with the current leadership team’s operating culture and norms, and it’s seemingly low esprit de corps. Most importantly, he perceives it to be in a relatively early evolutionary stage in terms of becoming a truly HPT!
XYZ”s executive team is currently composed of eight direct reports to the President/CEO. They are reported to be an interesting mix of highly experienced and functionally seasoned professionals, as well as impressively credentialed high potential talent. The issue (or presenting problem) is that the group does not really work as well as a cohesive and aligned team – but instead, more as a group of talented professionals who fail to collaborate with each other or fully leverage their combined abilities.
Senior management at XYZ believes the team currently demonstrates some important strengths, among them:
- The right job and role structures seem to be in place
- Functional expertise is strong, both technical and strategic customer relationship management
- Equal participation, along with open and frank conversation and debate
- Demonstrated skill in anticipating and reacting to change
- Access to relevant information and leveraging of IT resources
At the same time, however, a number of deficiencies or development opportunities also seem to exist within the group, among them:
- There are insular or territorial issues that tend to encourage inconsistent communication and coordination -- essentially behavior that is the antithesis of a shared sense of mutual accountability
- Fundamental and serious trust issues exist between certain parties – based upon past experience and/or perceptions of competence and contribution
- Personality and style issues are present, specifically preference to “gain the glory” and recognition for oneself, or just to be self-involved and/or in control
- Conflict is not always managed well, with behavioral norms lacking for healthy ways to express disagreement or disapproval (e.g., insidious passive aggressive responses, as well as outright attacking behaviors with others which erode trust in, and within, the leadership team).
Suffice it to say, the team at the top seems to resemble a group that works together reasonably well (and perhaps even most of the time) – but one that is not operating cohesively and aggressively to best leverage and help each other and the group as a whole. Given the complexities and challenges that lie ahead, this suggests that the skills and functional expertise that got the Company to where it is today are most likely not going to be adequate to drive XYZ to where it aspires very strongly to go.
SOME BASIC ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT TEAMS
Our model of what constitutes a high performing team is both experience and research based. Please note that we define “high performing” relatively conservatively – it exists when a team or organization achieves sustained and distinctively superior performance relative to other teams and organizations with whom it competes over time.
Here are the critical minimum requirements (we consider these “table stakes”) for achieving HPT outcomes:
- Strong but collaborative leadership at the top
- Well conceived strategies, along with truly stretch/demanding performance goals
- The right roles, clearly defined, along with task relevant and complementary competencies
- A clear process for resolving differences so they do not become impasses or generate negative energy
- The right reward philosophy, structure and processes – including a shared collective stake in the outcome
But the one really interesting and ultimate differentiator between HPTs and “also-rans” (“normal teams” or “groups that just work together” -- and presumably why HPTs are so relatively rare) is that it is essential that the members must also trust and respect one another. [Note this does not necessarily mean just being “nice to each other”, i.e., instead and more basically, they truly understand each other’s roles, skills, and challenges, and are inclined to be supportive and helpful].
That reality – the need to build trust and shared understanding -- suggests strongly that there is no simple method or “pill” to becoming a true HPT. At a minimum, a very careful assessment of the players’ history and situational context is required to tailor truly effective outcomes.
In a broad or general sense, the foundational elements of effective teamwork are quite clear:
- Clear, Bold and Audacious Goals and Direction
- Shared Problem Solving
- Agreed Upon Decision Making Methodologies
- Team Self-Assessment/Focus on Group Process
- Constructive Conflict Management
- Equal Participation
- High Trust & Risk Taking
But then on top of these foundational elements, our experience as consultants and organization change professionals suggests strongly that most organizations are confronting significant and accelerating change. Thus executive and organizational agility is becoming more important as the key, and building that agility into the team at the top needs to be a top priority. The complicating factor is, experience teaches that executives and operating cultures, for a wide variety of reasons, most often tend to become counter-productively “set in their ways” -- they become remarkably insular and short-sighted (– ironically this tends to be most true to those organizations that consider themselves and/or are widely perceived as “successful” today). When that happens, classic patterns emerge:
- Strengths may become weaknesses
- Flaws may suddenly matter
- Current strengths may be less important in the future
- New skills will certainly be required
These fundamental issues are well understood by XYZ’s new CEO. Thus we believe that to build the leadership team at XYZ into a true HPT, we need to answer two fundamental and compelling questions:
(1). What is our team’s work that only the team can do?
We borrow from the Katzenbach and Smith’s important work The Wisdom of Teams about the difference between a work group and a HPT: “The key judgment is whether the sum of individual bests will suffice for the performance challenge at hand” (work group), “or whether the group must deliver substantial incremental performance requiring real joint work products” (HPT).
(2). What is the true potential of individual team members (and the team as a whole) to adapt or change their behavior and demonstrate appropriate learning agility?
HPTs are formed in the real world by addressing challenging problems – not by exercises that focus exclusively on teaming, or building “kumbuyah.” But if team members are not open to reflection and learning and change (i.e., essentially not capable of agile change) – then team building projects are essentially analogous to squeezing water out of a rock!
There is more, of course, to building a HPT than just answering those two questions – but in our approach we believe strongly that answering those questions appropriately and wisely is the key to effectively driving a team’s performance and behavior to the next level.
The balance of this proposal outlines a recommended and carefully phased approach to “move the needle” on XYZ’s leadership team as a team!
Phase One: Creating a Sense of Urgency and Shared Expectations (What is the “Gap?”)
Phase Two: Assessing Team Potential and the Obstacles to Trust
Phase Three: Collective Crafting of Team Standards and Norms
Phase Four: Sharing Early Wins, Key Learnings and Reinforcing New Norms
PHASE ONE: CREATING A SENSE OF URGENCY AND SHARED EXPECTATIONS
We suggest carefully planning an off-site meeting for the purpose of developing and communicating a compelling business case for critically examining how the team functions currently, and to build cognitive awareness of where the gaps may be from the standard we seek in terms of how the team functions. The deliverables at this stage are to create a clear perception on the part of team members that standards are changing: (1). There is a gap; (2). That reducing this gap is quite important and things cannot stay as they are; and (3). Here’s what a HPT looks like!
We envision this meeting as a highly collaborative and facilitated discussion structured around real-time critical incidents and challenges. We would present material about what is known empirically about high performing teams to help stimulate reflection and self-awareness. A one-day off-site should be sufficient to accomplish this, but a two-day off-site may be more appropriate depending on other agenda items that need to be addressed.
We expect a half-day of advance planning with Messrs X and Y would be necessary to craft a detailed and relevant agenda for the sessions. To help start the process of reflection, we usually administer a questionnaire about perceptions of the team’s current level of effectiveness. [Attached is an illustrative questionnaire that we would recommend carefully tailoring to focus more specifically on team effectiveness issues relevant to XYZ: This would also be accomplished during the pre-planning meeting and entails another half-day of pre-work].
Our professional fee for this phase would be $15,000. In addition, Piccolino Associates LLC also bills 1% of professional fees for indirect costs associated with materials, telecommunication and administrative expenses. Out of pocket expenses normally associated with incidental travel and lodging are billed monthly at cost.
PHASE TWO: ASSESSING TEAM POTENTIAL AND THE OBSTACLES TO TRUST
Sustained behavior change in a team is a difficult goal to achieve. Thus we normally recommend a more rigorous assessment of team members be part of the change management plan. The idea basically is to more rigorously profile the key strengths and development needs of each team member, and with particular focus on how their style and personality contributes to how effectively the team at the top functions. The key deliverable at this phase is a well crafted Individual Development Plan (IDP) for each executive that describes key behaviors they are working on to both grow as a professional, and as a contributing team member. Another key deliverable is we would offer an objective third party assessment of the executive teams’ potential as a team to accomplish XYZ’s longer-term business goals.
We take a comprehensive approach to the assessment phase. We administer several psychometric tools, most notably the Hogan Personality Inventory which measures domains like an individual’s key drivers or sources of satisfaction, as well as potential derailleur’s or tendencies which may emerge under conditions of high stress. We also administer the Perth Inventory, an innovative on-line tool from the emerging field of behavioral economics that predicts and profiles a team’s (and each executive’s) nose for profit and financial acumen; their underlying propensity to take risk, consume resources and innovate; and importantly – their demonstrated agility to learn or shift behaviors. We also conduct in-depth interviews, and collect small sample 360 data to help develop a well crafted executive profiles for each team member.
We normally recommend that the assessment data collected and profiled be kept confidential and shared only with the executive being assessed. However, we strongly encourage appropriate socialization and sharing of the executive’s IDP, particularly with regard to their learnings about team performance (and how they contribute or potentially detract from the team operating at a higher level of performance), as well as the team’s overall profile. This typically helps generate a very intense and constructive discussion.
Our professional fee for this phase would be $7,500 per assessment, inclusive of a feedback session with each, and inclusive of feedback sessions with senior leaders. It may not be necessary to conduct full assessments on every member of the team, e.g., perhaps only focusing on those members who seem to have disproportionate impact on the team’s performance as a priority.
Three professionals are available to conduct these assessment sessions (bios attached, myself included), and we will collaborate as a team to develop an overall assessment of the team’s potential as a team against the goals and tasks they will be expected to achieve. Piccolino Associates LLC also has a wide network of coaching professionals available both domestically and globally, if necessary, due to geographic considerations.
PHASE THREE AND FOUR: CRAFTING TEAM STANDARDS AND NORMS, AND REINFORCING NEW NORMS
Our experience suggests that it is often productive to carefully monitor and reinforce a team’s progress as it evolves over time as a more effective collective. This involves tracking and communicating short-term wins, further empowering broad based actions, reflecting on missed opportunities or failures. Net net, the deliverable is to reinforce positive changes in the team’s behavior, and to anchor-in those desired changes.
Piccolino Associates role in this phase is to help facilitate team meetings and self-reflections, and to carefully support the Company’s top leader in driving the new standards of performance. We also, on as needed basis, provide follow-on coaching to individual executives when and if it is warranted.
Our professional fee for these follow-on phases is normally negotiated on an hourly or per diem basis ($5,000) tailored to the need.
Proposal prepared by:
Edmund B. Piccolino, Ph.D.
Piccolino Associates, LLC