Friday, October 12, 2012

The Challenge of Multiple Purposes For Management Team Members

Recently, when talking with a client it became evident that when in Management Team meetings he was first a representative of his department, rather than first seeing himself as a leader of the whole organisation. Below is the dialogue from that conversation.

GR: "How do you believe the other members of the Management Team view their roles?"

Client: "Based on their behaviour, I'm one hundred percent confident that they would have the same perspective as me. None of them would see themselves as leaders of the company first."

GR: "When there is a problem that exists within the business, how is that problem approached from a Management Team perspective?".

Client: "Well if there was a problem with my area, for example, I would be asked what I was doing about fixing the problem."

GR: "What if you didn't know what to do?"

Client: "I'd have to work it out, or at least that would be the perspective that I would take."

GR: "Being brutally honest, if your colleagues continued to question you about the problem but you didn't have an answer, what would happen to your level of defensiveness?"

Client: "Oh, that's easy. It would go through the roof!"

This conversation highlights a dynamic that exists in far too many Management Teams. The team members see themselves and their colleagues as representatives of departments, not as leaders of the whole organisation first.

Such a view can lead to the following behaviours that can hinder an organisation from achieving high performance:
  • When problems arise they are to be solved from within the area from within which the problem arose
  • Team members wait for their turn to speak to the issues that relate to their department
  • Team members do not actively participate in attempting to solve problems that arise from departments that are external to their own
  • Avoidance of discussing issues that might reflect negatively on the performance of the managers themselves
Senior Managers need to be able to work from the perspective of dual purposes at the same time. While they are responsible for their department they are also responsible for the whole of the organisation as well, including the departments of which they are not directly responsible.

When Senior Managers are able to do this then they are able to genuinely inquire into and offer suggestions for problems that arise from departments outside of their own. In fact, they wouldn't even see the problem as being, "...out of their area". Rather, they would understand that due to the interactions and interdependence between departments that they would have an equal level of responsibility with their Management Team colleagues to solve these types of problems together.

This is not to say that Senior Management should abdicate responsibility for the problems within their own departments. Of course they need to be doing everything they can to solve them. At times, however, the problems will be of a type that require the assistance of their fellow Senior Team members if the problems are to be solved and/or effectively managed.

As Russell Ackoff used to say, it is not the efficiencies of the parts of a system that lead to high performance, rather it is the quality of the interactions between the parts of the system that matter the most. At a Management Team level this means that problems need to be addressed by the team as a whole, rather than being pushed back to being solved at the department level from which the problem was believed to have originated. The issue with the second approach is that just beacause a problem appears to have originated from a particular department, doesn't mean that it actually originated from that department.

What capability does your Manatement Team have to manage the challenge of multiple purposes?

Are problems at the Management Team level in your business addressed as team problems, or are they addressed as problems for the respective departmental managers to solve?

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