This week, much of our time has been occupied with the launch of a new collaborative squad, with ambitious goals, combining the Post*Shift team, a couple of experts from our associate network and client representatives.
Agreeing the what & how of the work we will do together has been important, but more important is how we create the right conditions for the team to form, bond and start work. Learning how to work through different lenses, different view points, looking at big trends affecting the organisation, quickly and in novel ways, means that working together can often feel anything but ‘together’.
In our quest to ensure diversity of experience and insight, and to do our absolute best work, we have to embrace and work through the challenges that come with it.
Avoiding conformity – especially in thought patterns!
In his opening summary on how power, silence and conformity lead to bad business outcomes, Stowe Boyd says:
“One of the enduring myths in business management circles is that groups are a great source of creativity. However, this is counter to what researchers have found: individuals, in fact, generate a much higher number of original ideas than groups”.
Balancing individual exploration, respectful team discussion and convergent outcomes is the job of a good team lead, who knows how to make diversity a strength and encourages all members of the team to have skin in the game and get creative. Research suggests teams that encourage dissent generate more original ideas, so we also need to be aware of the challenge of herd mentality in the workplace and how conformity can be a barrier to creativity and innovation. Our desire to fit in can make our work blend in too.
For leaders, conformity continues to challenge even the biggest and fastest growing organisations. The NYT published an insightful piece this week on Google’s ongoing leadership struggles as their CEO, Sundar Pichai works on further professionalisation and formalisation of the firm’s ways of working. Many of the long-serving leadership cadre are accustomed to fast decisions and unstoppable momentum. They are now in the position of having to compromise on both dimensions to ensure they make the right decisions – a deliberate new strategy from Pichai that is both admired and needed, but apparently not very popular. As the workforce continues to find it’s voice, and departing leaders speak publicly about the company, Google is in for a new round of growing pains on a scale few companies have ever experienced.
Further challenges for strained leadership / management dynamics
In large organisations that didn’t grow up digital, the mantra has been that middle managers are a barrier to transformation, but this shorthand for a broader set of problems is starting to be challenged. Strategy + Business this week looked at the problems caused by executive leaders not playing their part when it comes to doing things differently – a case of talking the talk, but definitely not walking the walk! Thought leaders and consultancies rely on old tropes to simplify a problem, making it easier to sell solutions without scaring the horses. But we need to stop pretending that everything about the organisation is as binary as lazy executives and heroic managers (or indeed, disruptive middle managers and driven emerging leaders). It is never that one dimensional, and our solutions cannot be either.
Some organisations have done away with the title and concept of manager altogether. But is retiring the term ‘manager’ enough to change the dynamic? Or, as we see with other transformation efforts, is new language only the start of the journey? In the Flat organisation space, HBR have shared insights this week from many interesting companies not often case studied (always a relief tbh, as the best known cases get rather over-played). Flat organisational structures are continuing to gain momentum, whilst they develop their thinking on structure, culture, ways of working and leadership models to better address common day-to-day challenges. For the biggest, oldest companies, this kind of flat org structure is so far from where they are today, that the route to achieve it must feel so daunting as to be impossible (of course, Google famously tried to get rid of managers a number of years ago, and ended up bringing them back!). But working from the grass roots up, enabling your workforce with more autonomy, removing bureaucracy, putting the what and the how back in the hands of those who know what they are doing is an empowering first step.
Team issues as a reflection of leadership issues
A final thought, triggered by this read from David Bailey, one of my most challenging personal lessons when I began leading teams was that sometimes the issues being raised about how the team were performing could be traced back to my own behaviours. In all of the leadership coaching and early career mentoring I do, one of the most important skills I encourage is reflection & self-awareness. Small benefits are often felt immediately, but this investment in self-awareness is more akin to an investment strategy that relies on accruing compound interest over the long-term, rather than just short term gain.