As an individual contributor, every member of your senior leadership team is probably a rockstar. Those rockstar characteristics likely made them stand out as candidates for senior leadership. But sometimes, individual contributors have trouble adapting those stand-out qualities to a team environment. How can you encourage your senior leaders to work as a cohesive unit without suppressing those qualities that made them rockstars in the first place?
One way to start encouraging collaborative, high-performing team development with your senior leaders is by asking questions that give plenty of opportunity for innovative conversation and problem-solving. Here are four questions to begin:
1. What are the Top Three Business Challenges our Organization is Facing?
This question helps take the focus off the team and redirect it to the organization. It allows everyone to provide input on the company’s goals and strategies as well as external challenges through their own individual lenses. By sharing these unique perspectives with the team, others have the opportunity to learn and evaluate challenges they may not have considered. Putting these challenges in front of the team allows the team to prioritize and discuss solutions together.
2. What are the Top Three People Challenges the Organization is Facing?
Once the team agrees on general business challenges, ask the same question about the people. Focus this question on broad challenges rather than individual people. Some people challenges might include:
- Widespread conflict between teams or people
- Lack of integrity or transparency within the company
- Insufficient training
- Limited facilities or resources for development
- Poor employee experience results on surveys
- Unclear or inadequate management structure/hierarchy
By looking at people challenges from a broad, general perspective, team members can collaboratively share ideas and possible solutions. Each senior leader probably has years of experience managing teams, and discussing people challenges openly can allow everyone to share individual knowledge and experience. In this way, the team can focus on goals and solutions together.
3. What is the Senior Leadership Team Doing Well?
Once the team has discussed overall organizational challenges, bring the focus in tighter and ask them to look at their team. Start by talking about strengths. Identify and address what they are doing well and where they excel. Include both large and small victories and successes, and encourage positive conversation and feedback toward other team members. While the idea is not necessarily to praise individual contributions, it’s still important to recognize how they can feed into the team’s overall success.
4. Where can the Senior Leadership Team Improve?
This question may be the toughest to discuss in a dispassionate, objective way. As the inward team focus turns toward the negative—that is, things the team isn’t doing well—it’s easy to see how even professional senior leaders might bristle with emotion. It’s okay to acknowledge emotion; your senior leaders are human, after all! Try to bring the conversation back to concrete, specific team issues rather than individual issues. Once your leaders have agreed on some of the specific team issues, you can take time afterward to follow up and address individual challenges.
As your senior leaders progress through these questions, keep a few tips in mind to help guide the conversation in productive ways:
Keep the end goal in mind
The primary goal of asking these questions is to help your team move from “storming” into “norming.” These rockstar individuals will likely bring strong emotions to the table, especially as you move into questions that focus on their team. Friction will occur, and conflicts may arise. This is all part of “storming,” and it is a standard team development stage on the way to “norming.”
Remember that your Team is Human
Your senior leaders are human, bringing human emotion to the table. Some of these emotions will be positive, happy, encouraging, hopeful, and enthusiastic, while other emotions may be angry, doubtful, cautious, anxious, or frustrated. All of this is normal and expected. Don’t minimize or ignore the emotion. Instead, acknowledge it, and then redirect focus back to the team and company goals.
Focus on Impact and Behavior
If emotions start to get heated, bring the team back to focusing on the company as a whole. How do the challenges the team has identified impact the company? What behaviors should the team encourage or discourage throughout the organization to improve performance? By refocusing the team back toward the company rather than individuals, you’ll help keep the conversation dispassionate and objective.
Whether your senior leadership team has been working together for some time or just recently formed, these questions will help them focus on overcoming company challenges and becoming a stronger, more cohesive organization.