Every now and then, a client comes to us asking for a strategic alignment process and we know within a few minutes that it’s the wrong thing to do. Many factors can lead us to that conclusion. Here’s a dead ringer: sometimes the leadership team can’t have a productive conversation, much less a strategic conversation. Sometimes they don’t know each other well enough yet. Often, they know each other too well – and they just plain don’t like each other.
Leaders often chalk this whispered fact up to all sorts of things – “chemistry,” personality, whatever – but a little more digging usually leads to deeper causes. On the path from being a group of individuals to becoming a peak performing team, leadership teams may hit one or more of these predictable landmines:
- Interpersonal landmines: Let’s face it, sometimes there’s good reason not to like each other. Leader A may just prefer to interact differently from Leader B and that may rub both of them the wrong way. Add to that the amazing capacity we humans have for being thoughtless – for saying and doing things that are (sometimes) unintentionally crazy-making for our colleagues. Cap it off with the typically poor ways we handle conflict and (gasp!) hurt feelings at work, and it’s a wonder we get along with anyone.
- Systemic landmines: I worked a while ago with a team who believed that they were all to be stack-ranked at the end of the year and assigned bonuses, raises, and promotion opportunities based on their rankings. Then people wondered why they didn’t trust each other. Hmm… Another classic systemic landmine, especially for technical/staff groups: competing and misaligned stakeholders. Executive 1 tells them to pursue one course of action while Executive 2 advocates another. That can make any team look fouled up.
- Cultural landmines: And here are the sneakiest ones of all – those unwritten rules of behavior some call culture. Just try to create a collaborative plan when the unwritten rules say that you should “salute up” or “compete with peers at all cost.” You could spend days, weeks, or months on the plan, but the back-end execution will be seriously hampered.
Of course, the presence of landmines doesn’t absolve leadership teams from responsibility. Their job is to see the landmines, call them what they are, and de-fuse them. Then they can get on with the productive work of planning the future and bringing it to life.