When the C-Suite Goes “Survivor” — Approach Is Everything for Fixing Team Dynamics

When the C-Suite Goes “Survivor” — Approach Is Everything for Fixing Team Dynamics

The Hall of Fame football coach Vince Lombardi once said, “Individual commitment to a group effort — that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.”

For business, the converse is: when individuals aren’t unified, the team doesn’t work. It’s unlikely to reach its goals, and probably will suffer from poor morale and high turnover. These are just a few reasons why team dynamics are so important to organizations’ success.

When the team having problems is the C-Suite, the negative consequences are amplified dramatically. The cost of the team’s failure is higher, plus the impact can cascade throughout the entire organization.

This is precisely the situation an automobile manufacturer faced. Smartly, they recognized that the status quo was not sustainable, and that intervention was needed. They called in Connect the Dots for help. 

Let’s take a closer look at how this team dynamics project unfolded, and why the right approach is so important for surfacing problems and identifying the right solutions—whatever those solutions turn out to be.

The No. 1 Rule for Fixing Team Dynamics

Before we get to the particulars of the automobile manufacturer’s case, it’s critical to note that the No. 1 rule for fixing team dynamics is that one-size-fits-all “solutions” don’t exist.

Why? Each team is unique, with unique people, unique relationships and unique challenges. Often there can by multiple factors interacting. The Forbes Coaches Council identified 14 warning signs that a team might need intervention—from "a communication breakdown" to an "absence of trust"—and that's only a partial list.

Instead, a collaborative, investigative process is required to address the particulars of any team dynamics challenge. 

The Situation

Distrust. Miscommunication. Frustration.

Even alliances—like a season of the TV show “Survivor.”

These were a few of the problems facing the automobile manufacturer’s C-Suite, resulting in the following costs to the organization:

  • Inefficiency — Lack of cooperation and miscommunication led to high amounts of rework
  • Missed opportunities — In both product development and sales
  • Impact on other teams — Executive team members’ distrust led them to make their individual teams more protective and more siloed, reducing collaboration and innovation

Why was this happening?

It quickly became clear that some of the problems resulted from the hiring of a new brand president who worked in a way that was outside the company’s cultural norms. Compounding this issue, when the president brought in new executive team members with whom he had prior relationships, rifts developed between the homegrowns and newcomers that led to the alliances.

The Process

Proven assessment and measurement tools play a critical role in diagnosing problems with team dynamics and determining the proper solutions.

In this case, our process incorporated the following key components: 

  1. Assessments of the team and the leader.
  2. Team interviews — A lack of trust, a lack of transparency and the leader playing favorites each emerged as serious concerns.
  3. Individual assessments to help people understand their leadership and personality styles.
  4. Exercises to help the team determine desired outcomes. (What should our behaviors be? How do we want to be as a leadership team?)
  5. Gap analysis — The team measured where they were and where they wanted to be, allowing them to clarify the changes they wanted to make.
  6. Action plans — Both a team action plan and individual action plans were built and implemented in order to “close the gap” between the current state and the desired state.

The Outcome

While in general the ideal outcome is for all members to keep their jobs, that’s not always the right outcome for a particular team. In this case, the process helped determine that the best way for this C-suite to work efficiently together was to replace the brand president with someone less divisive, as well as change out several members of the executive team.

Connect the Dots’ process, which takes six to 12 months, provided several key areas of value to the company, including:

  1. Issues were surfaced, addressed and resolved sooner, reducing the consequences of the poor C-Suite team dynamics for the organization.
  2. The leader and the team members learned about themselves and how their behaviors were impacting the organization, and were able to make positive, lasting changes.
  3. The organization was able to use the data uncovered to make confident, evidence-based decisions about the team, and ultimately the leader. 

Approach Matters

Addressing team dynamics is a delicate matter. People can be resistant to criticism and change. Teams can want to focus on day-to-day tasks and deliverables. But when teams aren’t working well together, it’s critical to make changes. Teams we work with commonly self-rate their effectiveness from 4 to 6 on a 10-point scale. The business impact of moving that to an 8, 9 or higher, especially for executive teams, is tremendous.

The right approach makes a huge difference of the results of team dynamics projects. Here are a few components that are especially critical.

The team dynamics initiative should be tied to the needs of the business, so it’s not disconnected with operational work. Team members need to understand that the effort is connected with their day-to-day work, that improved team dynamics will help them and their team reach their goals.

An environment needs to be created where team members are comfortable talking about difficult issues. Experienced facilitators and proven assessment and measurement tools enhance participants’ comfort with and confidence in the process.

Experience. Consultants who have experience working with a variety of teams know how to best apply methodologies to a given organization and situation.

Neutrality. Participants are more likely to be open with sharing challenges and concerns with neutral parties. Plus, neutrality enables outside consultants to offer opinions without bias.

Support. Support plays an essential role throughout the process—from getting a team ready to prepare the gap analysis, to leadership support, to one-on-one support with action plans.

Interested in learning more about team dynamics and how we can help, visit our Teams page.