What Role Do You Play?
Issue 72: Sept 8, 2022
Here’s a real-life scenario. Recently there has been friction and dissension within a management team. Managers are struggling to help manage a disruptive economy, guide strategy in an ambiguous marketplace, rein in a headstrong CEO that is resisting authority, and manage multiple powerplays among members who believe they have all the answers or who are afraid to reveal themselves and what they don’t know. This is not a fictional drama. This is what happens when an organizational culture has become dysfunctional, rudderless, and fails to set, or has lost its North Star.
Human beings can appear to be many different people throughout the day dependent on the situation or environment. We assume different roles based on the situation at hand, although our core values don’t change. These roles may blur from time to time, but it is critically important to recognize which role we are assuming and what is expected of us. For example, although we may be natural leaders, we may choose to play a subordinate role when we feel it is needed or it appears appropriate.
Throughout our professional lives, we may assume the role of a board member, team member, parent, friend, supportive participant, customer, counselor and/or advisor. In each instance we morph, and change based on our view of acceptable behavior, expected action or communication in that role, and how we respond in a situation or setting based on the real-time dynamics.
Add to the mix in the roles we play, the subconscious and unconscious bias we carry with us is constantly acting and reacting to the stimuli in the situation or environment that we are in. With ingrained values and biases, everyone must manage constituents’ expectations (who have their own values and biases) in whatever role he or she assumes. To add to the complexity of how we assume and emulate roles, leaders’ actions and behaviors also need to be monitored by individuals in terms of how these actions influence decisions and whether they should follow the leader.
It’s human nature that executive management comes to the table with their values and beliefs baked into their conversation. One of the biggest threats to any organization is the statement, “This is the way we have always done things.” Seconded by members who say, “This is how we did it at my former company when I was there.” These attitudes are made even worse when the outcomes are continually disappointing. We frequently state that each organization is unique in its complement and diversity of individuals that comprise the workforce and stakeholders. Thus, an organization uniquely serves its stakeholders. Customers also assume a role in their relationship with an organization. Holding onto legacy practices, seeking to emulate what others have done and failing to understand an organization’s unique attributes, are a death knell.
Authority bias is also an issue when there is too much deference in favor of one or more people on the leadership team. Authority bias can be amplified by confirmation bias when individuals overvalue evidence that confirms their own beliefs. Bias is also at play when team members get off track and take meetings down rabbit holes. These detours tend to serve the egos of individuals who resist an agenda, often try too hard to prove themselves, become too obvious (and disingenuous) in aligning and conforming with organizational goals, or believe they have something to prove on their own behalf.
Tension is a fact of life for management teams. Disagreement is inevitable and tension in interactions is not necessarily a bad thing when it can be leveraged for the greater good. Dissension is healthy when it’s not bombastic or strident. Power can also be abused when a manager feels he or she is backed into a corner and comes out fighting with the battle cry, “I run this division.” Body language can reveal all. When an individual demonstrates discomfort and even anger, the tenor in the room (or on-screen) can turn subversive and counterproductive. What is alarming is when any team member is unaware of these emotions. This is a case of extreme subconscious or unconscious bias. The challenge is balancing tension with the need to maintain mutual respect, trust, and support.
An effective management team needs to have highly engaged members who are talented, independent thinkers, open-minded and masters of their operations. Good communicators who are experienced team players are key. They should be intellectually curious, empathetic, and have common-sense judgment. What is a nonstarter is a team that reflects the CEO’s viewpoint — without question. What is also destined for failure are managers that do not educate themselves to stay current with the changing dynamics of the market sector.
A management team is an ecosystem and as such requires inclusivity and diversity. The process is to use a systems thinking approach that examines every issue and opportunity holistically, without bias. Critical thinking, open, honest discussion, and mutual respect result in high-performance results. Flexibility and the ability to pivot and embrace change is paramount in today’s highly dynamic marketplace.
Ask the Right Questions
What’s often missing is the “why” of what team members are asked to debate. Teams are only as good as the information they have access to and objective data and analytics are key as sources of unbiased information. Accountability is also essential to maintaining a functional team. A healthy workplace culture is one where employees feel empowered to contribute and speak up and have appropriate access to management.
It’s important to have the tough conversations about the human factors. We live in a fractious society and employees have a lot of power over their organizations regarding diversity, inclusivity, and social and environmental issues. Human capital is literally capital resources. Team members need to be aware of, and sensitive to, the critical concerns of employees including mental health, work/life balance, and burnout. Team members also need to be assertive about understanding what talent and skillsets the organization will need to be prepared for the future.
Finding Your North Star
You can maximize your team by managing expectations, providing clarity, and fine-tuning procedures that lead to positive outcomes. Central to the success of any interaction is a solid understanding of human behavior and group dynamics. This includes the recognition of the roles we are expected to play or the roles we assume without conscious awareness as to why. The goal then is to build a team that balances the needs of a group designed to lead an organization, recognize the necessity to have critical conversations, the courage to speak to both downstream and upstream issues, and stay true to its North Star.
Our just-released book, The Truth About Transformation takes a deep look at role playing and all the complex dynamics that influence how management interacts and performs. Order your copies today for your own teams to use as playbooks on running a modern organization that is progressive in its vision, empathetic with its workforce, and highly functional in its skill to balance the art and science of high performance.
Get “The Truth about Transformation”
The 2040 construct to change and transformation. What’s the biggest reason organizations fail? They don’t honor, respect, and acknowledge the human factor. We have compiled a playbook for organizations of all sizes to consider all the elements that comprise change and we have included some provocative case studies that illustrate how transformation can quickly derail.