24 Mar Essential Future Skills (3) – Create conditions for collaboration
“If there is a group, someone will see the hole before you do.” said Richard, one of the leaders I interviewed for this article on Future Leadership Skills. Creating an environment where people can collaborate and feel a sense of ownership is a core leadership skill for the future. So, what are other leaders doing to create collaborative organisation’s?
Having a strong commitment to core values was very evident in the interview with both Errol and Dom. When all are clear about how people are expected to behave in the organisation there is common ground to start from. In Franki as an organisation, a core value is “Act with positive intent” in relation to customers, suppliers and colleagues. When people don’t subscribe to this (or other core values) then Franki can’t be their professional home. One of Errol’s leadership team left because of not behaving with positive intent. In Dom’s case, the core values are what attracted her to the organisation in the first place and she is dedicated to communicating these values and ensuring that they form an explicit part of the recruitment process. Over the last few years she has become more comfortable with people leaving the company because of their inability to live the core values: “Not everybody fits, and that’s ok.” What is interesting in both these cases, is that the core values are part of the essence of the organisation, not just good intentions displayed on the wall. You are expected to live the values and are accountable if you don’t. This creates a clear set of base behaviours that makes collaboration possible.
DUO Marketing is a medium sized business, and they adopt a very progressive and transparent approach to the financial position of the business. In their weekly Skype team meeting, all the employees are updated on the targets, budgets, figures to date etc. They are fully informed. This is both empowering and enabling for some, and a bit scary for others who are more used to being in their own box and coming to work to earn a pay-check. Transparency over the financial position of the company helps the team to delay capital expenditure requests or push harder to close deals. The transparency pushes the “worker bees” to know more and take more accountability for their actions and how they invest the time they have.
Creating forums for collaboration is common across all the leaders. The concept of a team meeting either weekly or bi-weekly was evidenced in all the leadership approaches. This complimented with regular 1:1’s with their direct manager creates another platform for collaboration. What struck me as useful to share were some of the questions that the leaders are asking in the 1:1’s and their approach to team meetings.
- What am I doing to slow your growth?
- What could I be doing more of or less of to help you?
- What are your priorities for the next week?
- What obstacles do you anticipate and how can I help?
Errol estimates that he spends roughly 50% of his time talking to people, nudging work and encouraging people. Whilst Kevin sees his role primarily as a people leader: being able to read people and adapt to their individuality is essential, and to galvanise them behind your vision.
Ps Richard has a lovely approach to help his team curate and then take creative ideas into implementation:
- What are you trying to achieve through this idea? OUTCOME
- How does it fit into the other activities already underway? CONNECT TO STRATEGY
- What values underpin this initiative? VALUES
Establish boundaries, and then let the individual decide on how it all gets done with as much or as little support as required by the individual.
Kevin holds a 32-person team meeting every other week with 2 core objectives:
· Transparency on the figures and performance
· Learning – learning about new technology and learning for their personal development.
His view is that personal development and fulfillment can’t be given to others, but as a leader you can lead them there. The key is progress, in them as individuals or in their jobs and he is cognisant that his role is to help them both make progress and recognise their progress to keep them motivated.
Collaboration also comes in times of crisis. Leaders need to create openness and trust with their teams so that they will be told bad news or uncomfortable truths. Creating this sacred space can make or break a leader and a business. If your employees know something has gone wrong or will go wrong shortly and are too scared to speak up or give you feedback, you are in a very dangerous space. In my experience, speaking up to the wrong leader can mean getting your head chopped off! But this isn’t the case with the leaders who are future fit. It is impossible to know everything and be everywhere, so you need to rely on people across the business to both “handle things” and to know when to speak up. Dom recounted her personal experience in a previous company where she was comfortably doing her job out on a client site, whilst the organisation around her was breaking. Facing the choice of whether to speak up and risk being either ignored, placated or silenced or stay quiet and sharpen her CV; she bravely skipped a layer (who was not listening) and voiced her concerns to the out of country regional director. Speaking up took courage and was uncomfortable, but the director who was wise enough to listen was then able to act. This lesson in leadership shaped Dom’s own eagerness to have an approach that welcomes feedback and uncomfortable truths.
Kevin is generally a very open person and is quite happy being vulnerable and showing his own weakness. With this example, his team don’t hide their failures. He has invested time training his team to use words like “we have a problem (details) and this is the solution I propose (details)”, if they don’t come with a solution initially, he will prod them to come back with a solution. This empowers them to be creative and to work collaboratively with others to come up with a solution. His own level of self-awareness means he controls his facial expressions and posture. In many cases our words say one thing, our bodies and faces are saying quite another. Shock, disgust, disappointment, and panic are all very easy to read on someone’s face and in their voice; so, creating an environment where people tell you the reality without fear requires leaders to be self-aware of what their faces & bodies are saying. Kevin likes to keep the bigger picture in mind in moments like these: do I want an empowered team who solve problems independently? Or do I want a scared team who I rescue on a regular basis and whose success rests on my abilities?
Errol’s crises and moments of truth can be life or death, with multi-story cranes collapsing or tunnels falling in. “The team has to trust me. Things go wrong, that’s life. Tell me; tell me the details; the sooner you do, the easier it is to resolve. We focus on the resolution, not the problem.” His world is far from being a desk-jockey, so his first question is always, “Is everyone ok?”; then his focus moves to getting the details and resolving the issue. The core value of “act with positive intent” is at the heart of the company and even more so when crises hit. “I really, really, really, really, really (he was very clear) want people to tell me the problems so we can solve them.”
- Collaborate on a shared set of core values that make expected behaviours explicit.
- Role model a respect for diversity and different opinions and expect the same from your teams.
- Create a space for collaboration to take place, be it virtually or in face to face meetings. Create both the container where collaboration can take place and adopt a coaching style.
- Be open to hearing uncomfortable truths and react with a future orientation.
- Errol Braithwaite is the CEO of Franki Africa.
- Kevin Derman was at the time of interview the Divisional Director at First Distribution, responsible for their Cloud Business. He is now CEO at Kaskade.
- Richard Laidley is the school principal of Dunvegan Primary School.
- Pastor Richard van Lieshout (Ps Richard) is the senior pastor of Edenvale Baptist Church. Richard took over as senior pastor at the age of 34, when he was the youngest person on staff.
- Dominique Pienaar (Dom) was the CEO of DUO Marketing. DUO Marketing is a niche player in the PR and marketing field specialising in technology companies.