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The Misaligned Leadership Team

December 12, 2022
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Do you ever feel like your leadership team is out of sync? Do you see some members thriving while others are struggling to keep up?

A misaligned leadership team can quickly become a significant issue when leading an effective organization. In this case study, we'll look at how one leadership team overcame its challenges with fragmented and misaligned execution by creating greater alignment on successful outcomes and decision-making. Team coaching is a valuable strategy for helping leadership teams achieve enhanced performance by building greater trust, alignment, and collaboration. It differs from team building since the goal is to empower members of the team to develop the awareness and skills to manage their own team processes. This blog presents a case study of a client I recently worked with as a team coach.


Situational Background

The leadership team consisted of four leaders in the division of a small consulting company that was recently recognized they needed to meet the needs of their clients better, improve their profitability, and ensure the sustainability of their practice. The senior vice president and team leader enjoyed taking charge and was typically very personable, but tended to overpromise to clients and others and avoid conflict. The other three team members - vice presidents - were frustrated with not having a say in reorganizing their practice. Team members were so focused on delivering client projects that they ignored necessary team functions such as decision-making and communication. Finally, coming out of COVID and faced with challenges to improve their financial viability, the team struggled with diminished resilience.

Team Coaching Approach

For this engagement, I used a multiphase approach to assessing the current functioning of the team, partnering with the senior vice president to help him navigate the journey and coaching the team to develop critical teaming skills. 

Phase 1: Leadership team project kickoff

I started the project by developing a trusting partnership with the team leader. An essential part of any effective team intervention is sustainability once I wrap up as the team coach. Therefore, I explored the leadership strengths and weaknesses of the senior vice president by administering the Hogan Personality Assessment. Using an assessment tool, we identified skills he wanted to develop through the team coaching process.  

Phase 2: Leadership team assessment

I assessed the current realities faced by the leadership team with an electronic team survey to identify team strengths and weaknesses, interviewed each of the four leaders, and engaged lower-level managers to provide feedback about their collective effectiveness. I also attended a regularly-scheduled leadership team meeting to observe their interactions. 

Based on this assessment, I discovered several team strengths:

  • Members felt accepted
  • Viewed each other as being well-intentioned
  • Felt comfortable discussing challenging issues

Weaknesses as perceived by the team included:

  • Issues impacting their commitment include inequitable allocation of resources and overly drawn-out decision-making.  
  • Implementation factors such as a lack of alignment resulted in the fragmented execution of their strategic plans. 

Feedback from middle managers about the senior leadership team noted a need for more alignment on business practices and policies, a lack of clarity about their roles, and poorly managed meetings.

In analyzing the assessment results, I identified several themes impacting alignment: 

  • Ineffective communication, usually taking the form of talking at each other instead of listening
  • Unproductive leadership team meetings that rambled without a timed and prioritized agenda
  • Lots of discussions but no efforts to summarize agreements and action items
  • Team members get stuck on tactics but allocate little time to discuss and align on strategic priorities and plans

Phase 3: Leadership team kickoff retreat

I facilitated a kickoff retreat with the four leadership team members to debrief the assessment results, explore the elements of a high-functioning team, formulate a team vision, and clarify two goals for improving how they function as a team. This session also allowed me to observe how well they explored their challenges and navigated conflict.  

Phase 4: On-going leadership team coaching

The engagement included six two-hour leadership team coaching sessions. The team members and I jointly facilitated each session and invited each member to reflect on their progress and lessons learned in their journey. Most sessions involved team members exploring a business issue while I observed their interactions and provided real-time feedback. In several sessions, I invited them to experiment with new teaming behavior, such as giving feedback to each other. 

Phase 5: Leadership team post-assessment

After the engagement, I administered the same team survey I distributed in Phase 2 to collect additional feedback and determine any improvements. I also interviewed middle managers to assess their perceptions of progress in the functioning of the senior leadership team. In the final team session, we explored the post-assessment results, identified the next steps in their collective development, and celebrated the successes they achieved. 

Leadership Team Coaching Outcomes

Based on interviews with each team member and the pre-to post-survey, the team achieved several gains:

  • Increased trust due to developing skills in surfacing and navigating conflict, enhanced listening skills among team members, and achieving greater team results.
  • Increased alignment in several domains - overall direction, decision-making processes, and outcomes.
  • More synergy and discipline in executing their strategic plan.
  • Strengthened team management skills for each leader.

Finally, the quality and impact of their weekly meetings significantly improved due to greater clarity about their goals shared meeting management responsibilities, and the use of an agenda to stay on track. Middle managers noted similar improvements in the senior leadership team.

Team coaching can be a precious strategy for helping leadership teams achieve enhanced performance and increasing alignment. By building greater trust, alignment, and collaboration within the team, leaders can avoid many pitfalls that lead to fractured execution, inconsistency, unproductive conflict, and wasted efforts. 

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Dr. Kevin Nourse has more than 25 years of experience coaching leadership teams to help them succeed. He is the founder of Nourse Leadership Strategies, a coaching and leadership development firm based in Southern California. For more information, contact Kevin at 310.715.8315 or kevin@nourseleadership.com

(c) 2022 Kevin Nourse

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