Five Dysfunctions of a Team?

2016-06-24 10:09

If I had to pick one thing that epitomises the post-MBA apocalypse that is today’s modern circus, I mean, corporate it would be: PowerPoint!

Nothing illustrates how absurd things have become than the dreaded ‘Deck’. Deck prep for a big pitch to a new client, that’s one thing. Week-long, late-night deck prep by a team of highly paid professionals (who each spent 200-grand on a grad-school business education) for internal management meetings? That’s absurd. That’s bad culture.

Only an intensely inward-focused management culture expects teams of very smart, very expensive people to prepare yet another iteration of yet another 140-slide, picture-laden PowerPoint deck for yet another internal management meeting. Even Steve Ballmer, the CEO of Microsoft – the inventors of the bloody thing – doesn’t allow time and resources to be wasted on PowerPoint presenting in internal meetings. Meetings are for making decisions, not opportunities for ex-consultants to show off their animation aspirations.

The Microsoft Way?

Step 1: Prepare a very plain, concise, black-and-white, picture-free pack and send to the decision makers ahead of a meeting.

Step 2: Review before meeting.

Step 3: Attend meeting. With One-pager of pertinent issues. Make decision.

Step 4: Get on with adapting to an increasingly complex external environment.

The role of the executive class in a corporate hierarchy is principally the financial wellbeing of the firm – formulation of strategy, management of shareholders & regulators, raising of money, that sort of stuff. Next in the food chain is what Edward Schien calls the ‘Design / Engineer’ level. They are the policy and procedure people that sit in central. They design workflow, they supervise and appraise the Operators – the frontline and back office that actually grind out the results. In a perfect world, people would go to work to support the Operators – make it easier for them to serve the customer, incentivise them to be more productive, you know professional management.

The problem arises when managers start to think the real reason people come to work is to serve them. In one recent example, I spent time with a very senior client. For the first thirty minutes I had to sit patiently and listen to 5 different, well paid, highly educated people (and their support staff) desperately try justify why they were entitled to a special dispensation to fly business class. This after the CEO had recently decreed that no one except EXCO could fly business class for flights of less than 4 hours. Pretty clear to me. Apparently not. The time and money wasted by people trying secure themselves a symbolic privilege cost way more that the ticket price difference. My client then told me she gets about 10 requests for ‘special consideration’ every. single. day. Is that how professional managers spend shareholder’s time and money?

The thing I do love about studying organisational culture is watching self-described experts make complete totties of themselves. Not that I am an expert mind you; but I know enough to know how poorly misunderstood culture is. There are two dead giveaways: The first is when someone says, “Our culture is informed by our values”, they say. “Values?” “Yes, values such as respect, integrity, honesty, transparency, fairness, blah, blah, fishpaste”. That, and when someone uses the words “non-negotiable” when trying to describe their culture.

Nope. Culture is the stuff, the actual behaviours, that people believe increases their in-group status, gets them noticed and accepted, that’s ultimately rewarded. It’s the low-risk politicking; not the virtuous principled stand or the clichéd crap any Grade 7 pupil generates by Googling “Organisational Values” for their Economic Literacy homework assignment. Furthermore, the only ‘non-negotiable’ when it comes to human behaviour is that there is no such thing as ‘non-negotiable’. Just last week I was in a meeting in which a bigwig braggadocio confidently announced he was going to create a non-negotiable, high-performance culture; and anyone who didn’t buy into his vision could just f-off. Good luck with your ‘negotiations’ at the CCMA chap.

The real culture of a place is the posturing and politics, not the homage paid to ‘respect’ and ‘transparency’ written on the walls and encapsulated in blocks of Perspex buried in every middle manager's bottom draw. Rather it’s the degree to which the business is internally focused; the extent that senior managers wield power and entrench symbolic displays of managerial privilege. (I work in places where managers park closer to the door than the disabled customers do!)

Anyway....here are a few of my favourite culture howlers

1. We are a “Performance Culture”

When an organisation feels it has to state the obvious, then it’s usually performance of the theatrical kind. Performance? Yes, but not making budget. More trying to get noticed by sending emails at midnight; strategic name dropping; and insisting you only turn left when you get on a plane. It's when we get into meetings or just grab a coffee, that we are compelled to speak some in-house jargony gobblygook and consider the internal optics of who attends a meeting more important than the actual content of the meeting.

Hint: If you hear the words ‘internal optics’ more than three times a day, then the organisation you work for has little long-term chance. Seriously, no organisation that is so obsessed with something as frivolous as ‘internal optics’ is adaptive enough for the 21st Century – the external environment is too complex, changing too fast.

2. It’s all about the TALENT.

I mean who genuinely gives a sh!t about Customers or Shareholders anymore? After all, the organisation exists to attract and retain its talent, not attract and retain paying customers. Bonus pools are multiples of dividends paid to the people that take all the risk (aka the shareholders), and executives are more concerned with managing upwards than just actually managing…

3. Everyone Starts Talking like the Consultants They Keep Hiring to do their Job

because we can’t seem to make any of the decisions we are actually paid to make without them, and hey, it makes us look cool when we talk in acronyms, use verbs as nouns and pretend we actually know what ‘unconscious bias’ really means.

I mean when I hear people discuss their “Project BLEAT Play” – their Business Leverage Enablement and Tactics strategy or something to that effect – I can’t help think of sheep, actual child's play, and the power of group dynamics.

4. No One Takes a Decision

Micro-management by committee, yes I went there…because we talk about people being more ‘Accountable’ but crucify anyone who makes a mistake; are all world-class blame-gamers; and spend two-thirds of our time building excessive consensus and internal lobbying. Oh and heaven help you if you are a junior staffer that initiates contact with a senior boss, or if - shock, horror - you delegate your obscenely well-educated and competent sub-ordinate to attend a relatively unimportant meeting on your behalf. You'll put some serious noses out of joint if you don't grace other people's inane meetings with your hugely expensive presence.

5. No One Trusts Anyone

Because everyone is so desperate to prove their value, that they insist on being invited to every meeting, being copied on every email, and getting a title that makes no sense outside of their parallel universe. And refer to delegation comment in Point 4 above.

Although I have absolutely no hard data to back up my hypotheses, merely my observations, which you may or may not agree with, how many of the dimensions apply to the company you work for? No doubt, most companies don’t like it when people point out their shortcomings, and lots of executives get very cross when it’s suggested they lead by example. Even more lose their sense of humour when they're asked to take themselves less seriously.

Who knows? Me a bit. Not much. What I do know though is that at our core we're all still social animals. All self-interest and flawed assumptions.

It just seems an awful waste of taxpayers', I mean, shareholders' money.

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