Coaching Perspectives – All Together Now

May 10, 2024

Claudine Menashe-Jones is an executive coach and leadership team facilitator with more than two decades of global strategy and delivery experience, and particular expertise in public sector reform. Claudine has her own consultancy and is one of a number of highly skilled coaches who work with senior leaders on Future Vision, our flagship leadership development programme. The Leadership Centre has a long history of helping leaders connect and collaborate to explore and address the most complex issues facing communities. In this blog, Claudine unpacks the reality of generating collective leadership and explains how she helps leaders make the shift from co-existence to real collaboration.

The team walked into the room and took their usual seats. I handed out a series of picture postcards and asked them to turn them over. On the other side was the name of one of their colleagues also sat at the table. We started our weekly catch-up – the quick fire meeting where we would go through our dashboard to flag big achievements and discuss what needed action. But this time they had to play the role on the card instead of reporting on their own areas. Most of them were stumped. They weren’t working closely enough to understand what their colleagues were doing or facing. They hadn’t been listening. Finally they could see what it was like for me sitting at the centre of it all trying to bring us together into more than the sum of our parts.

One of the most frustrating things about being a leader of leaders is when your top team isn’t working together. You’ve finally reached this senior position, scaling the heights only to find the main thing your new vantage point gives you is a view of frustrating gaps and avoidable overlaps. You spend much of your precious time just trying to connect different parts of the team or organisation. The thing that most senior leaders I work with crave is genuine collective leadership. This includes how they connect with their own peers as well as how their direct reports collaborate.

Taking responsibility for generating collective leadership is a critical expectation as you step into a top role. You need to represent your people while working in the interest of the whole organisation. The ‘top of the office’ expects senior management teams to take joint responsibility for taking and implementing corporate decisions, be it restructuring, implementing tough performance management criteria, or moving resources across boundaries to respond to priorities.

But collective leadership shouldn’t mean lowest common denominator consensus or ‘doing what you’re told’. The best leadership teams will value challenge, diversity and creativity. Now that you’re in a top position, you need to offer ideas on what the organisation should be doing. You need to take part in robust debate with your colleagues and then commit to the decision and be held accountable for action. No more carping from the sidelines if things don’t go your way.

Easier said than, done, right? So, how do we do it?

⚔ Encourage conflict: if we all agree all the time then somebody somewhere isn’t speaking up and that means you’re not getting the full value from everyone at the table (and you’re probably making bad decisions as a result). Productive conflict is a key characteristic of high-performing teams. Say that you want healthy debate and role model it in how you respond when someone disagrees with you. You can even appoint someone to watch and call out unsurfaced issues… and when things get uncomfortable, remind everyone of the value of disagreement.

🤗 Be nice: encouraging conflict doesn’t mean being rude to each other – saying what you really think, no matter the cost. Candour will only work if you have built a foundation of trust and mutual respect as a group. In fact, we should engage in productive conflict because we want to deepen our understanding of each other and strengthen our relationships. Starting with that intent means we can be honest while also being nice.

⌚ Make time for it: one of the best pieces of leadership advice I ever received was to never miss a team meeting, ever. That time together is sacred if you’re going to build the relationships of trust – and conflict – that you need for strong collective leadership. Build in different kinds of team time together and don’t neglect regular time away from it all to step back and reflect on how you’re working together.

🚀Inspire with the goal: alongside trust, a clear sense of shared purpose is essential if you’re going to move your team from mere co-existence to actual collaboration and, if you’re lucky, towards genuine collective leadership. How will you know? Reflect on the way your team works now: do you feel bound together by aligned values and an exciting shared vision? Do you see different people stepping up to shape activity at different times, with the rest of the team supporting them and being happy to follow their lead?

🐾Take small steps: if deep trust, productive conflict and shared vision seem light years away from where you find yourself and your team, don’t despair. Look around for glimpses of these – moments when you see people sharing their views, disagreeing and getting to a better result, or getting excited about something they’re working together on, however small. Reflect on what’s going on in those moments – Who’s there? What are you doing? What helped that happen? And find ways to take small steps that make it happen again. Do more of what works and soon it will start to add up.

What has been effective for you in building trust in a senior team? What do you think distinguishes real collective leadership?


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