When working with leaders I often run them through the Six Leadership Styles and use these as a basis to help them identify their Leadership Philosophy. One of the styles is the Commanding Leader and, unfortunately, this style is still all too common in our organisations. However, whenever I ask for examples of what this looks like people often say it’s the model of leadership the army employs. Although this might have been true for centuries it’s no longer entirely true today. Even the armed forces recognised that this style is detrimental to its success. This played out in real time during the war on terror being fought in Iraq and Afghanistan when the US Army came face to face with Al Qaeda.
Al Qaeda had poorer technology, less weapons and poorer training but yet they were winning the war against the largest and most well-funded military force the world has ever known. Al Qaeda didn’t have a rigid top down structure that the US Army had; it moved away from the traditional hierarchy and took the form of a dispersed network that was devastatingly effective. They were more fast-paced and less predictable; a style of fighting from which we can draw a parallel to the world we live in – fast-paced and less predictable – and how our organisations need to adapt. No longer do we live in times of predictability. Everything is moving and changing so much faster than in previous eras and, in order to be successful, our organisations need to change. In order to win the war against Al Qaeda the US Army needed to change its approach. This change was less about new technology and tactics, and more about changes to its culture and internal architecture; in order words, similar to changes that many organisations need to make today, it needed to change its approach to management.
The traditional approach to management often follows the reductionist approach to getting work done. What I mean by reductionist is that big goals set at the top are broken down into smaller goals at the next level and smaller goals at the next level until the goals are reduced to tasks that individuals perform at a daily or weekly level. In order to do this, organisations need to be structured in what’s termed MECE; an acronym that stands for “mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive”. Simply it means that departments are neatly catagorised by function or area and there are no overlapping lines… because that’s messy, right? Information Technology doesn’t need to be across what Marketing is doing, Human Resources doesn’t need to know what Procurement’s strategy is, and so on. Organisational charts are tidy and MECE. Unfortunately, while it’s easy to categorise things, teams are not MECE, they are MESSY.
In this environment the trust and purpose required to be effective is missing, not only within a team (mini-MECEs), but across teams. This is something I see every day working with teams and organisations. It’s the top-down vertical structure that many organisations adopt (everything fitting neatly into a box) that leads to a breakdown of communication and trust, ultimately leading to office silos and collectively poor results.
So what’s the answer?
Well, like all solutions, the answer lies in the problem. Putting people in boxes and clear categories doesn’t work. If we want our teams to be highly adaptive and efficient we, like the US Army was forced to do, have to change our approach to management. You might argue that sharing responsibilities creates overlap and redundancy – it’s wasteful, you say. However, it’s these inefficiencies that make a team more adaptable, efficient and effective. As General Stanley McChrystal states in his book Team of Teams, great teams are not “great machines”; great teams are “great organisms”.
If you recognise silos in your organisation and you see the challenges that these bring, where do you start? The answer is, it starts with trust. Harvard Business School expert Amy Edmondson explains, “Great teams consist of individuals who have learned to trust each other. Over time, they have discovered each other’s strengths and weaknesses, enabling them to play as a coordinated whole.” In short, without trust, teams are just a collection of individuals.
If you’d like to know more about how to achieve more as an individual or as a team, or if you’d like to explore how coaching can help you become a better leader (of others or yourself!), or even if you’re just generally curious about what professional coaching can offer you, please contact us at any time for a free consultation.
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