One of the principle causes of cross-functional dysfunction is a lack of trust and healthy conflict among senior leaders. One client who suffered from the effects of this did not have the right forums in place to encourage interaction. Mistrust was high, and people “tip-toed” around each other. Conflict was considered inappropriate. Change initiatives failed regularly; one failed change initiative disabled a manufacturing division for several weeks. They called me in to help them drive greater success.

We implemented two councils to help them drive greater accountability for change. The first council was a regular meeting of senior leaders to monitor the progress of the change and interact to resolve conflicts the change team brought to them. Time didn’t allow for trust-building sessions; we dove in and facilitated their interaction to have dialog in ways they were not accustomed. The common goal was a looming deadline.

The second council was a group of lower level managers who would ultimately be responsible for implementing and institutionalizing the change. The first meeting or two were rocky – they also were not accustomed to working in this way. After a few meetings, they began to interact and experience the give-and-take necessary to be successful.

With another client, we had more time to build the leadership team. This was a newly formed senior leadership team who had not worked together previously. Trust was low primarily because they had not worked together, and healthy conflict didn’t exist. They asked me to help them develop a stronger leadership culture.

We held two workshops with focused, facilitated exercises to increase trust among team members. We used Myers-Briggs to help team members understand how each other approached their work. We conducted real-world exercises to help them engage more effectively in healthy conflict. Within 60 days, people outside the organization commented on how the team appeared more aligned.

Call to action:
-As in the first example, you may not have time to conduct team effectiveness sessions. Identify a common goal, such as a looming deadline, and call on your team to work together to solve problems standing in the way of success.
-As my mayor, Rahm Emmanuel, once said, “You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.” Use it to drive a culture of healthy conflict. This will require you to call out harmful behavior, avoidance, and obfuscation.
-Build team development time into your agenda. Use this time to work on trust and conflict issues. Perform candid health checks, “how are we doing?”
-Reinforce trust and healthy conflict during your one-on-one meetings with your team. When one of them begins complaining about another, challenge them to take it directly to their peer.
-During team meetings, balance the agenda by providing time for healthy conflict. Allow members to disagree with each other, but watch for over-advocacy and grandstanding. You may not resolve the conflict in one meeting – this can be good to give members time to consider other positions.

When your top leadership team trusts one another enough to engage in healthy conflict, this enables greater alignment, which in turn helps employees see more clearly the future state, and eliminates cross-functional dysfunction

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,
Steve

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