A while back, a retired operations executive asked me an interesting question: “What’s most challenging about getting a leadership team aligned and moving on a direction?”

I stopped for a minute to think.  I had recently been working with an IT leadership team from a very well-known company.  There were many of the usual challenges – getting people to slow down long enough to gain perspective on their situation, prioritizing the most important issues from the typical laundry list, and so on.  But after a moment, it struck me: one of the most pervasive barriers to moving a leadership team forward is almost always a deep underlying skepticism that leadership team members usually have.  They’re skeptical about the process, about their team leader’s true intent, about their team’s ability to actually get anything done when they work together.  And of course, they’re skeptical about me and my team.

Skeptic  What’s this really all about?

It’s tempting to try to fight this skepticism, to get cranky about their attitude.  But I’ve found that it’s better to embrace their skepticism.  After all, it’s usually well-founded.  How many days of our lives have we wasted in pointless meetings that never produce anything? Why do you think Patrick Lencione’s book, Death by Meeting, was so popular and greeted with wry smiles everywhere.

Team members don’t always get converted, but when they do it’s when they see a process with a few characteristics:

  • They are co-creators of the insights and the output.  People own what they create and when they see that they have a stake (instead of this being a consultant-driven or boss-wired project searching for “buy-in”) they usually get more engaged.
  • There is a clear path to focus – a few things that will get the lion’s share of energy after the “planning” is done.
  • There is a clear plan for taking focus and turning it into action (in other words, someone will really be accountable for executing on the plan).

Even when these things are true and are well-communicated, leadership team members are cautious.  They’ve been burned before.  But when the actions match these words, the momentum usually builds.

What else makes you skeptical about strategy work? What would help you get over the skepticism hurdle?