A few years ago, I dealt with a situation where Jessica, the newly promoted head of an organization was unaware that one of her section heads was not behind a decision that had been made. The consequences were ultimately destructive for the entire organization. Here’s the context and how that situation unfolded:
Jessica was promoted to the executive director position of a medical group. Initially, she was unable to get alignment for her decisions, particularly with Jim. He was the director of one of her leadership teams and tended to have an autocratic style.
Everyone knew Jim had wanted the executive director job. He saw the job of executive director as his last chance before retirement to run the organization. When Jessica got the position, he proceeded with a chip on his shoulder and attempted to discredit her at every turn.
In his own meetings, Jim didn’t allow much time for discussion. He was a powerhouse in his own right. Jim had strong opinions and was often at loggerheads with Jessica.
Unfortunately, that message cascaded down to his medical team. He would tell them what the executive team decided and that they had to implement it. He let his team know he disagreed with the decision. Not only that, he bad-mouthed the executive team and specifically Jessica.
As these things go, word of that got back to Jessica and the executive team.
You can imagine the net effect of that on the executive team, his team, and the teams they managed. The impact looked like this:
- People on the executive team didn’t respect or trust Jim. He lost credibility.
- Jim appeared as a victim and disempowered to his medical team. The “they’re making me / us do it” mentality.
- Jim’s team became blockers instead of enablers to forwarding implementation of programs for the larger organization.
- Jim’s team (and the cascade of employees) were getting mixed messages from the organization’s leadership and from Jim and were confused.
- Morale dropped. People did not feel and believe they could contribute and make a difference; they did not feel they were moving together toward common goals.
- Jim didn’t set up his team for success, and the individuals on his team were seen as complicit.
- Skepticism in the larger organization increased, along with this smaller team’s resistance to change.
These were the consequences for Jim, his team, and the company. Jessica, however, in her role as leader, could have headed off the damages when she took her new role, by implementing a few leadership techniques.
Upon reflection, Jessica asked herself whether she had rushed things to achieve her goals, rather than take time upfront to build a strong team foundation. Did she:
- Explicitly discuss her decision-making model or process … how the decisions were going to be made. (Core issue: Team operating principles.)
- Work to build team trust? When people are afraid to speak up and give their opinion. (Core issue: Team trust.)
- Create a problem-solving environment that allowed for productive conflict where differing opinions are surfaced, expressed, and discussed and a diversity of ideas are encouraged? (Core issues: Trust, facilitation, team operating principles, meeting agenda.)
- Allot enough time for a meaningful discussion about decision? (Core issues: Facilitation, agenda.)
- Make sure people were aligned and committed to the decision before they left the meeting? (Core issues: Use of alignment process, facilitation.)
- And finally, did she or other people on the team railroad others into a decision? (Core issue: Team operating principles, effective communication, facilitation, trust.)
Getting the alignment required to function well as an organization takes rigor, effective facilitation, and time upfront. The price paid up front is far, far cheaper than the downstream costs and unintended consequences of a leadership team that is not aligned behind decisions.