In Blog Articles, Monday Memo


In a world of fast-changing technology and remarkable innovation, it is clear that the 21st Century is in full swing. However, many of today’s businesses still rely on organisational structures and strategies developed in the 19th and 20th centuries. This is particularly perplexing when you consider that today’s most common organisational structures were built around the ethos of predict and control, which is completely at odds with the post-knowledge era that is fast becoming known as the era of collaboration, an era that requires collaboration to ensure flexibility, adaptability and agility.

The predict-and-control paradigm brought with it a hub and spoke pattern of leadership with the leader or manager in the centre and her reports around her. In order to deal with a world that is complex and ever changing, top teams divide their world into separate functions and assign individual executive responsibility for those functions. The key task of the executive team is then to integrate these departments and functions into a strategic whole, bringing individual executive contributions together to create shared leadership which constitutes more than the sum of its parts. If it doesn’t, the top team fails to add the value required of its strategic leadership and the differentiation at the top sets a pattern of divisions and silos that foster unresolved tensions. This pattern is often replicated down the organisation between departments and functions.

In order to help a top team develop its shared strategic leadership, the focus of our attention needs to shift:

  • From the leader to the connections between team members in their leadership capacity;
  • From the team as an isolated entity to the team engaging in leadership in the wider organisation and stakeholder context.

When this starts to happen, we start to notice:

  1. Energy and alignment around a clear purpose, strategy and goals;
  2. Team members taking responsibility for leading parts of the team’s work;
  3. Individual members holding each other accountable for agreed actions;
  4. Consistency between team members in how they represent the team to stakeholders;
  5. All members showing active commitment to the growth and development of the team;
  6. A flow of support and challenge between all members, including the team leader, that enables constructive conflict, demonstrates respect and develops trust.

In order to be flexible and agile, organisations have to adopt management systems that harness the power of every human sensor (a term borrowed from Holacracy by Brian J Robertson) – the people who monitor the business environment and know how to deal with or communicate relevant changes within it. Since every employee, at every level, has a unique role and perspective, they’re privy to vital insights that top managers simply don’t see. And it is crucial today to have as much info as possible. Since most companies don’t use this, they simply don’t have the capacity to evolve and adapt n today’s business climate.

You may recall that I wrote about the notion of teams of teams recently in which a similar structure was posited. It seems to me a far more sensible way of dealing with today’s complexities than the outmoded hub and spoke / predict and control method. What is likely to happen if we don’t make this fundamental change in our teams and organisations?

(I am indebted to the work of Peter Hawkins, of Renewal Associates, especially his book, Leadership Team Coaching, as well as the methodology of Integral Coaching Canada, which I have integrated for purposes of this series and in developing my Systemic Leadership Team Coaching process.

Some of the other books that form a foundation for this series are:

Systemic Team Coaching by John Leary-Joyce and Hilary Lines

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni

Team of Teams by S McChrystal et al

Seeing Systems by Barry Oshry

Flawless Consulting by Peter Block

The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook by Peter Senge et al)

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