The differences and the impacts of leadership by a team and by committees.
Many CEOs and senior leaders in companies with which I have worked with often believe, in all sincerity, that they have a leadership team or executive team which works together to help focus and drives the business.
This, in my experience, is rarely the case. More often than it is not a leadership or executive team, but a committee. This is true for all levels of the business but becomes increasingly more frequent the further you go up the hierarchy.
It is important to understand whether you have a leadership team or a leadership committee? The impact of each is considerable and quite different. Many problems that you may be experiencing with your leadership team have, at their root, the fact that the leadership team is actually a leadership committee.
Let me explain by looking at teams and committees in turn:
For the purpose of this article, I define a team as a group of individuals who are working together, towards a common goal or goals, in which they will either succeed or fail to do so together. There is a strong common purpose, common understanding and real alignment to which all members of the team are committed.
A team that is well-aligned and works well together only does so because there is a high level of trust. As such the team sets its own goals, and all the members share resources, information, and insights. There is open and frank communication between the members, with members, prepared to challenge each other in order to resolve issues and achieve the desired outcomes. Honesty and candor underpin the team allowing alternatives to be discussed and decisions are taken only after healthy and robust debate.
Here a group of people come together because of their title or role or function (and in a role as a representative of a given area or function) and agree to work together as long as it is individually beneficial, but at any time they can withhold information, resources, or not comply; also they can be rewarded differentially i.e. I win, you lose. The individuals participate rather than promising an outcome or a result.
There is a lack of trust and there is no common purpose or any alignment, or it is very weak if there is any. The focus of the committee tends not to be on achieving the outcomes, but on tasks and following process. Political battles and turf wars break out as committee members jockey for position. They can withhold resources and information from others in doing so, and people will work or collaborate with others only so far as doing so helps their individual interests. In a committee, people can win at the expense of the others. This means decisions are made on a sub-optimal basis and, although they can advance one area’s interests, may do so even though it causes damage to the business itself.
Which Do You Have – Teams or Committees?
So how do you know which you have? Chance is that you probably already have a pretty good idea, but sometimes the group may be in a “gray area”. In these instances, I suggest you apply the five criteria:
Andrew Cooke’s Five Golden Keys for Evaluating Groups
Look at the questions in the following areas. If the answers tend to favor the group over the individual you have a team, if it is the individual over the group then you have a committee.
- Individual and Group Intention – how would you describe the individual intentions for each group member and the group overall? Are they prepared to put the interest of others ahead of their own in advancing the group’s interests? Are the group’s interests shared or do they vary from each individual?
- Effectiveness – is the group and the members focused on doing the right things? Are there a clearly shared and understood set of priorities and outcomes? Is the group delivering progress towards the defined outcomes, or is progress being achieved in a multiple and conflicting directions against outcomes which may or may not be those which were defined initially? Are members participating or working to deliver outcomes.
- Communication –what kind of discussions and debate is there between group members? Do they focus on the issue at hand or the personalities involved? How well do they share with others what they are doing and why? Do they have a shared and common understanding which they can consistently and clearly articulate?
- Relationships – are they cooperative and collaborative, or is it a case of acting in the individual’s self-interest? Is the nature of the relationship long-term, strategic and aligned; or are the relationships short-term and transactional in their focus?
- Power – is power perceived by the group and its members to be vested in the group itself, and thus all members are subordinate to the group; or is it perceived to be vested in certain individuals for who the group’s interests are subordinate to theirs?
Do you have a leadership team or a leadership committee? Think carefully before you answer. If your team is exhibiting signs of dysfunction then it is likely that you have a group that is a committee or has strong leanings to some of the characteristics of a committee than a team.
Consider one of the dysfunctional teams you either have been on or are a part of now. Is your team a committee in disguise as a team? If so, can you apply this distinction to diagnose the problem and get your team on track?
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