In meeting with a prospective client this week, an all too common issue presented itself: The client wants to tweak the organization's culture. The leaders want to enhance their managers' and front-line team members' ability to work together, communicate with one another, and generally create a more comfortable workplace. Wonderful. However, to achieve this, they believe leadership training for their supervisors and managers is the answer. Not in this case. Well, at least not yet.
Leadership training isn't the answer to this client's issue or the answer for a number of other organizations. Not when the cause behind the tense culture, lack of teamwork, and poor cross-departmental communication stems from tensions between the top two people in the organization. The tension between the two of them was subtle but clear to me -- and I was meeting them for the first time! As I shared with the two of them, "If your differences in leadership styles and perspectives are apparent to me -- believe me -- they're apparent to everyone who works here. Because of these differences, the organization has probably broken into unspoken teams -- one for you, the top dog and one for you, the second in command." They looked at me somewhat stunned. How could I know that without them mentioning that as one of their issues? Incredible intuitive insight on my part? Sorry no.
Employees are not stupid. Employees watch everything -- and I do mean everything -- their leaders do every day. It only takes two or three situations to occur for employees to spot a trend. It only takes the top dog usurping the second in command's directions two or three times for team members to starting thinking: Why bother doing anything until we're told by "Numero Uno" what to do? She's going to stick her nose into our departmental issues sooner rather than later anyway. In fact, you know what we should do? Why don't we start limiting what information we provide to "her people" and to her so she can't butt in and mess up "our guy's" plans? Why don't we protect ourselves and him from "her"? Do you think this sounds childish? It does, but it happens more often than you may believe. When leaders clash, their respective teams clash.
So if you have leadership clashes in your organization, don't expect the 'fix' to the tensions to start with team building and communications training for the front-line staff or managers. If you do, be ready for them to resent the training; they're not the ones who need to be "fixed". The "fix" needs to start at the top. Training isn't your solution -- not yet. Executive coaching and consulting is. Several off-line conversations facilitated by an executive coach or consultant need to occur to align perspectives and behaviors at the top. Until the top leaders recognize the negative impact their individual behaviors are having on the organization and agree to support one unified vision and subsequently change their behaviors, things won't change. These conversations and work sessions may work - they may not. At times, transitions in staff need to occur.
But don't 'force' your employees to attend any training session to change their behaviors until you -- as the leaders -- change yours.