Just as the CEO’s leadership style affects the whole organization, the culture of the senior leadership team serves as a model, for better or worse, for the whole organization. Many senior leadership teams are full of results-oriented leaders who have flown high on personal drive and ambition to reach their positions of authority. Results-oriented leaders tend to have strong opinions and controlling natures, often without the balancing traits of openness and patience. To withstand the pressures of shared decision-making and continuous re-alignment in turbulent times, they also need deep and resilient relationships – they need to ensure the yin of their team is as mighty the yang.
I have recently designed and facilitated several off-site meetings for senior leadership teams who aim to increase their effectiveness through developing the relationship-building capacity that they can apply in all aspects of their work. What follows are the keys to success that I have learned through this work.
The most important key to success for this kind of event facilitation is the capacity of the facilitator to be present. The facilitator’s primary role is to create and hold a safe environment for sensitive topics to be raised and discussed. Without this capacity, nothing else works. Conversation models, facilitation tools and program design are important aspects of creating an effective event, but none are sufficient without presence.
My style is to use a calm, non-judgmental stance to invite all views into the conversation and to slow down enough for new ways of thinking and speaking to emerge. Slowing down sufficiently may be uncomfortable for some leaders, so the facilitator needs to lead the slower pace with a sense of confidence. As one of my clients said, “You have a great way about you that makes everyone very comfortable talking about uncomfortable topics.”
When the leaders enter the room on the first day of their off-site meeting, how do they feel? As much as possible, I want them to feel clear and hopeful about the intentions of the meeting, and comfortable that they will be respected, heard and supported in the process. The most reliable way to ensure this positive mood at the beginning of the meeting is for the facilitator to create rapport one-on-one with each participant prior to the meeting. Usually this is done as part of the process of gathering information on the team’s needs. These individual meetings or conversations can also be part of a learning process related to individual leadership development.
To start a meaningful conversation about team relationships, assessment tools can be very useful. An assessment tool provides a focus for participants to begin thinking about themselves and their team relationships before the meeting, potentially learning and changing even before the meeting starts. Ideally the assessment tool provides relevant new individual insights as well as a framework for thinking about the team’s behaviour and culture in new ways. The team results provide an entry into a conversation based in the reality of the team as it is now, warts and all.
I have a range of tools I use depending on the maturity, sophistication and interests of the team, ranging from a simple set of customized survey questions to complex leadership development 360 surveys and models.
The space that we occupy and our positions in relation to each other are a subtle yet powerful aspect of communication. In group discussions, I use space as a resource for breaking through conversational barriers and creating deeper understanding about complex issues. Through space, movement and positions, sometimes using props or labels on the floor to represent relevant concepts or models, we can more easily explore complex organizational or relational systems and express and reveal deeper aspects of personal tendencies and habits.
For example, when you see that the person you have conflicts with is also standing on the opposite pole of a particular belief system, you may realize the true source of your conflict so that you can release the emotional charge. Sometimes the positions we are holding invisibly in our minds block us unknowingly and can be let go once they are revealed.
No matter how powerful or revealing the leadership team off-site is, not much will change unless the team members change their behaviours going forward. And if nothing is seen to change, the off-site meeting can even be counter-productive as team members become cynical about their ability to change.
Personal behaviour change is not easy, otherwise it would probably have happened already. Effective follow-up support is essential.
Successful follow-up begins with the quality of the commitments that each member sets during the meeting. Small, relevant, visible and regular behaviour changes that are carried out by all team members have a multiplying effect on the team’s development. It can be helpful to frame changes as experiments so that risk-taking is normalized. When everyone takes ownership for their part in the change, mutual success is more likely.
Individual coaching and follow-up group meetings are important components of leadership team development and can also serve as off-site follow-up. I have also been using a clever, practical, digital tool to support better daily follow-up while increasing the opportunities for self-reflection, mutual support and insight into what has been working and where ongoing challenges lie. Tools like this can help us get even better at continuously changing and improving to meet the non-stop challenges we face.
If you’re looking for facilitation and coaching support to build your leadership teams’ effectiveness, please contact me.