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Case Study: Senior Management Team Intervention

Posted November 3, 2014 • Case Story • by Jennifer Goldman-Wetzler, Ph.D.

The problem: Linda, the CEO of a global software development company, knew she needed to have a tough conversation with her senior management team about how they were working together – or, more precisely, how they were not working together. Communication on the team had broken down because different team members had varying perspectives on important issues, and were not finding productive ways to address them. Some were angry but silent, while others were fighting openly – and loudly. The team knew they needed to discuss how to communicate across departments, how to make decisions together as a team, and how to manage the hand-off from the Sales department to Engagement Management once a new client had been signed on, a process that had been historically unclear and was getting more and more fraught with confusion over time.

The underlying problem: We conducted our initial round of diagnostic interviews with each member of the 6-person senior management team. We discovered that there was a long-running history of miscommunications and turnover on the leadership team that contributed to the current difficult team dynamics.  In particular, two members of the team represented opposite views from one another on a series of topics facing the team. These two team members, the Chief Marketing Officer and the Chief Technology Officer, had very different perspectives on how certain decisions had come to be made, and how those should now change. Linda, the CEO, was unsure how to manage the quickly deteriorating relationship between the CMO and CTO, but she knew something needed to be done.

The solution: After the initial interviews, we helped the CMO and the CTO explore the nature of their relationship, their different roles in the company, as well as their different management styles and personalities. We enabled them to listen to one another, and to share their own perspectives, reasoning and interests. While they still disagreed on some topics, they discovered that some of their initial disagreements had been the result of misinterpretations and stylistic communication differences. This helped them give one another the benefit of the doubt more readily than before, and to agree on two major decisions that had previously been deadlocked and were holding up the team. They recommended those decisions to the CEO.

As the relationship between the COO and CTO improved, we facilitated a series of team-wide meetings. We put the thorny issues facing the team on the table for discussion, one by one. The team discussed its communication and decision-making processes and the hand-off from Sales to Engagement Management: how did these happen at the company today? What worked, and what didn’t? How did this team want these to work going forward?

Results: Through the team-wide meetings, each of the officers made a series of commitments for actions to take in the next 3 quarters to follow up on the solutions the team had generated. The CEO committed to being more proactive when disagreements on the team arose, and to tracking everyone’s commitments over time.

Over the next few months, the senior management team identified how best to make decisions going forward, how to communicate in good times as well as under stress, and they resolved the Sales/Engagement Management hand-off.  As a result, the company’s overall bottom line improved by 25% and the working relationships and satisfaction of the senior management team members increased significantly.

Process results: Through this experience, each of the team members also learned how to more authentically listen to other people’s viewpoints and how to calmly and more effectively express their own. They learned that sometimes what drives other people’s behavior is not what it seems on the surface. The CMO and CTO in particular learned that people’s viewpoints are impacted as much by the role they play in the organization as by their personality. They used this knowledge to minimize jumping to conclusions before trying to understand the other person’s motivations and perspective.