What would happen if you could increase your senior team’s effectiveness by 20%?
An effective senior management team will make a great difference to the success of your organisation. If learning to work together is good for junior teams, imagine how much you would gain from a senior team that worked together more effectively?
However, can’t just throw a bunch or managers together and hope for the best. You also need them to have a foundation of skills and experience to share; they need the ability to step outside your functional responsibilities and think strategically about the whole organisation. For a newly promoted senior management team this is a challenge. In particular, it can be quite a challenge to move from being an effective functional manager, with day-to-day operational responsibility, to thinking about long-term strategy and having the future of your whole organisation in your hands
Few teams operate as well as they should. The more senior the team – the greater the stakes and the greater the impact of mistakes. Any dysfunction will impact on the speed and quality of decision making, derail progress or even paralyze your organisation.
Here are some tips to help you make that improvement.
1. Senior management is not functional management
Many years ago, I was a respected IT manager. Now I‘d always thought I was a natural manager and leader, and to some extent I was. After all, I’d been involved in many voluntary committees, worked in collaboration with other people and had delivered a number of projects involving other people.
As I moved into more senior positions, I found I had to delegate more of the day-to-day operational activities, taking on a role as mentor. I learned that in order to function effectively at those senior levels, I also had to collaborate on creating a vision of the organisation in which IT was just a part. I was not alone. Other functional heads had similar difficulties too. We spent a lot of time arguing about how ‘our’ function was the driving force behind the future of the organisation, before realising that we had to think of the organisation as a whole, not a collection of functions. It is a fundamentally different way of thinking from that that gaining you promotion to functional head.
2. Thinking strategically isn’t always easy
Maybe you’ve agreed the common goals. But you can sure that while Fran in Marketing thinks strategy means a whole set of fancy presentations showing sales projections, Jag in IT thinks it means adopting the latest technology.
People often get confused between strategy and planning. Essentially, your strategy is your high-level plan of what you are going to do to achieve your goals. Strategy defines how you will bring your organisational resources, skills and competencies together to achieve success. It determines the medium to long term and scope of your business. For example, your strategy might be to focus just on one key niche, because you have limited resources and do not want to spread them too thin. Your plan is how you will determine what that niche is and how you will exploit it. Your strategy guides your plan.
How detailed your strategy is will depend on your industry and how fast it is changing.
3. A well-formed team makes better decisions
When the top team is not working together well, the whole organisation suffers.
There are thousands of articles written about the importance of leadership, and how the CEO needs to have superlative leadership skills. In my view, there is not enough emphasis on the
importance of having a well integrated top team as well. In almost every success organisation you will find BOTH a strong leader and an effective management team. There are also many examples where flying in a heroic leader has little impact. It makes sense, if you think about it.
Many senior management teams are made of strong individuals who have are used to being the king-pin within their own functional sphere. It may have been some time since they were required to act in concert with other people in a team, so it is not surprising that they find this difficult. Team building at this leve, if it exists at all, is often focussed on a quick fix or some sort of simplistic activity. The best way to create a team is to choose team builiding activities that focus on joint decision making, preferably on real and relevant issues.
(And remember everytime you add a new manager to your team, the dynamics will change. Team dynamics matter. Being a senior manager is stressful and hard work. Being undermined because you don’t work well with the rest of the team can be disastrous.)
4. Check for knowledge gaps
It is easy to assume that because you have assembled a team of function experts, that you now have all the skills you need to carry your organisation forward to success. It is worth considering that some will have a broader understanding of the business than others. Some may have a very narrow but deep understanding. Perhaps you have gaps in everyone’s understanding if you organisation or team is newly formed. It is worth spending time to consider where you may have gaps. Working with an external expert to review this can be very helpful in ensuring that you don’t make the wrong assumptions.
5. Great communications is essential
Good communication skills are a key element of doing business today. This means that you need to engage well with your colleagues, communicate well with your team, listen to your customers and stakeholders to get your message across – whether proposals, plans, budgets, recovery actions, self-defence or purely dissemination of information. If you have good communication skills then you are able to influence people effectively, motivate them towards their goals and inspire the confidence that you can achieve them. These are all skills that an effective senior manager needs.
Many people struggle with business communication and avoid developing their presentation skills in particular. According to a poll in the US, public speaking is a greater fear even than death! But presentation skills are just like any other skill – which means that anyone can learn to overcome their fear and present well.
There is a difference between communication within your own function and communiating acoross the business at senior level. Within your function, people will understand and even expect, you to use that function’s jargon. Once you are at senior management level, you will be expected to communicate in more general, business terms.
6. Think about training
Most managers have had no management training. It is almost as if we don’t even recognise management as a skill. Yet one of the most complained about aspects of working by employees is poor management! Strategic management is not a skill that appears spontainiously when we promote people into senior management positions. You wouldn’t let an engineer loose in a shed full of power tools and metal without training, so why do it with managers?
If your managers are good enough to be in senior management positions, they are valuable enough to train properly.