The request came from a client whose leadership team I had worked with this June; the team had a consultant come in earlier and diagnosed them as dysfunctional. What to do about that dysfunction? That wasn’t part of the program.
The work the team had done with me followed the Road Trip model, and predictably some things had popped up in terms of prime improvement opportunity areas. Most of that team coaching work we’d done had been surrounding how the chief executive worked with the direct reports, and the behaviors of one of the team members with her peers.
While goals were clear and milestones mostly evident, roles and responsibilities had been a little cloudy as had how team members worked with each other. It was work that had been surfaced through collecting some general feedback through interviews on areas of the greatest opportunity for improvement.
It was very good, solid team coaching work, and the offsite we’d held got the team up to speed with some simple tools to improve their effectiveness.
The phone call that came in from the client this week was straightforward. Could I collect feedback for everyone else on the team and share it with the team at an offsite?
The earlier work it turned out had not just been effective (it worked) and durable (it took hold and lasted) but people liked the results. A lot.
So what did I say about the follow-on work suggestion? One word. No.
There is always tension between building your business and knowing and doing what you do well. I know a least two prominent SF companies that have had consultants bill out millions (yes, millions) in fees for work that was not only out of their consulting sweet spot, but mediocre – not very effective, not durable, and not highly helpful. The consultants did the work I suppose because the client really wanted them to, and the billings were – to put it mildly – attractive.
In the case of this leadership team that request would have been a lot of work (and a lot of billing) but frankly inappropriate. A team that is just now moving from a crawl to a walk in the areas of trust and candor was not ready to dance. The work in a feedback session sharing everyone’s beauty marks and warts would have been memorable – but not in a good way. Like the classic Thanksgiving-gone-bad movie Home for the Holidays, it would have been talked about for years to come.
Teams form and grow in mostly predictable ways; knowing what to do, and when to do any work with teams (just like individual coaching) is part of any good, effective consultant’s skill set.
Candor and trust, when they’re absent, can be grown with work and practice. This leadership team was moving in that direction but it wasn’t ready for a bad game of 20 questions. While trust and candor can be developed within teams (and cultures), it’s grown, not transplanted. In the end – like making fine red wine – you can’t turn on a switch and have a great product instantly.
I pitched the chief exec and my HR business partner a different option. Continue the direction and work that we’d started in June. It sounded like the team had accomplished much in moving from highly dysfunctional to more effective. My experience (the advantage of 30+ years in the business with lots of gray hair) is that there was more work to be done in expanding on a solid foundation.
There are a number of things you can do to accelerate leadership team performance effectively. While I believe as a consultant it’s important to give a client what they want, it’s perhaps more important to give them what they need.
After all you can’t hurry love. And if you try, you usually end up with heartbreak.
Life Back West is an occasional set of writings focused on ways people, teams and organizations can be both more effective (doing the right thing) and more efficient (doing the right thing well). More about executive, career and team / leadership coaching services can be found at the “About J. Mike Smith and Back West, Inc.” sidebar or the “Hire Me” tab above. You can also read an online interview with me at WhoHub, as well as participate in my learning community courtesy of KnowledgeCrush.