Building a High Performing Management Team

In my line of work, I get up close and personal with the people running businesses, starting businesses and growing businesses. I have tremendous respect for the entrepreneurial spirit that motivates people to take the personal and financial risks associated with starting a business, and I love my clients. They inspire me, they teach me, they challenge me and they allow me to feel useful.

When my clients struggle, one of the most common areas of struggle is managing within their own organizations. Particularly difficult for founders, but certainly common in lots of other places in organizations, is a struggle over responsibility, accountability and the ability to commit the company (or part of it) to a course of action. When you start something, it is natural to want to guarantee success. For many people, this means managing the details, cutting off “interference” or “distraction” from others, or sometimes just shouting loud enough to “motivate” others.

Organizations with walls and lack of trust build up when the people running them resort to any of these behaviors, and walls mean lack of efficiency, insufficient communication, and resentment. If you think you are “protecting” your organization from distraction or interference, or driving performance by building fear, make sure you are not ignoring good business ideas from the rest of the company, allowing lack of direct and honest communication to foster distrust and suspicion, or pursuing goals that are not commonly shared.

Here are six signs you have trust issues:

1. The major issues for the business are not subject to open discussion. You may hear phrases like, “we’ve been over this, and we’re not talking about it again,” or “that decision’s been made. end of discussion,” or “that’s my problem, leave me alone with it.” Are there questions that can’t be asked? Sacred cows in your organization that are beyond examination? Is there an group in the organization that is held less accountable for their deliverables than others?

2. Problem-solving is done by the fewest number of people possible. Do groups “hide” issues, and try to manage them without letting anyone know there is an issue? Is a critical function (like production, or IT) frequently left out of problem-solving that will affect them?

3. Any layer of management “reaches through” another on a regular basis to get status reports. Does “the boss” skip through layers of management to talk to the “field” and measure their performance directly on a regular basis? Does regular reporting ignore the management structure in place?

4. Planning is done in isolated groups, and not for the entire organization. Do you have a “plan” for each group in the organizaton (i.e. an R&D plan, a marketing plan, a sales plan, a production plan, a finance plan), and lack an overall plan that defines common goals? Do you establish strategic goals before creating the organizational ones, or the reverse?

5. There are no processes for getting new ideas aired, or the processes are ignored. Do new ideas, processes, products, services seem to materialize from thin air, and it isn’t clear who approved them or how they got the green light to be implemented? Do you have management processes for reviewing new ideas, but no one has ever seen them in action? Do you ignore the processes you have because they are too cumbersome or don’t lead to good discussion and decisions?

6. Any group blames another group for the organization’s problems. Do you find members of one team constantly pointing out the faults of other teams rather than addressing their own shortcomings? Is there a scapegoat team in your organization? a team beyond reproach?

All of these are signs that your organization is behaving dysfunctionally, often due to personal conflicts in your management team. The key to improving performance is building trust and breaking down those “silos” of responsibility to get everyone behind a common vision of where you are going and how you are going to get there.

Building trust and building a common vision and plan are not easy, short processes. A management team has to invest time, money and energy in hashing out issues with the current business, developing a vision for the future, and agreeing on what it is going to take to get there. Points of view have to be articulated, understood, and incorporated into the plan. Compromises must be made, and everyone must be committed to the final result, have an action plan, accountability and regular mutual review.

Without this, organizations can flail without significant progress as individuals and organizations work at cross-purposes and the benefits of teamwork are not realized.

How can you start? I recommend that you begin with the team at the top, with team-building exercises, and strategic planning based on industry trends, SWOT analysis, definition of a source of competitive advantage and a 3-5 year plan based on realistic expectations of the organization. Agree on where you are going, how you are going to get there, and who is going to do what, and get back together to review progress on the plan. Adjust it if necessary. Discuss how it’s going. Don’t be afraid to share information, good or bad. Repeat the whole process annually at least. Once it’s working, consider rolling it out to the next level of management down… rinse and repeat!