Companies have long realized that interdepartmental integration and cross-functional communication are critical for breaking out of the old information silos, which do not yield positive results. This is an age-old problem with no easy fix the moment people become fearful of losing their share of influence. Leaders must have the ambition to break down these barriers.
Once a corporation reaches a certain size, communication and integration become vital, since professionals at any level tend to safeguard their expertise, falsely assuming this makes them more indispensable than they actually are or that a lack of interdepartmental integration will act as a protective barrier for their potential inefficiencies.
Of course, for business, this type of practice is a definite hindrance. When Lee Iacocca took over as CEO of Chrysler, he immediately realized the company really could not be considered as such: Organized like isolated kingdoms, where people in one department had no interest in the work of others, with everyone working independently.
The type of leadership structure most commonly found in companies is focused on solving current problems.
Although there are still examples of such obsolete practices, these days it is less likely for them to take root in companies. They are passed over in favor of the more habitual ones, with the leader basing their decisions on data and the information provided by their direct reports.
Still, it is essential to consider, firstly, that in this collaborative model the working group is representative of functions and operational units, which normally have a status quo to defend. Secondly, their experience and know-how are based on the company’s current capabilities and competitive advantages. Their knowledge is minimal in terms of generating new opportunities that stray from the operational and functional norms they are used to. And, lastly, the interests of the professionals reporting to the leader may be personal, self-seeking, aimed at standing out in performance reviews or earning a raise for their achievements.
As we can see, the type of leadership structure most commonly found in companies is focused on solving current problems, which cannibalize the time of the best managers. What does all this say about the future of business? Every company is created with the intention of lasting for generations. How can they meet their long-term needs to ensure survival?
An international media enterprise that managed to successfully transition from print media to digital saw its subscriber base hit all-time highs at a certain point. Despite the success, its CEO decided the company needed to double that figure over a five-year period. To make that happen, the head of strategy and the CIO decided to form a circle of pairs comprising eighteen members from across the organization. Their task for the next six months would be to identify what they considered the fundamental strategic issues for achieving the outcome established by the CEO.
The team must include 15-18 professionals from the company with various profiles, to increase the diversity.
The Circle of Leadership
Creating such a circle does not imply a corporate restructuring, nor does it mean that the company has created a new level in its org chart. It’s about bringing together professionals, irrespective of their roles and responsibilities, to set their sights on a very specific goal: identify the opportunities that are essential for the long-term development of the business. Their mission is to think differently and shake the foundations of the company, to look for something more.
In short, the circle of leadership embodies one of the characteristics that makes a great leader: any professional, no matter how high they may be in the company hierarchy or how excellent their performance, must realize they are not going to find all the answers on their own.
To have an effective leadership circle, several issues need to be kept in mind. In terms of training, the team must include 15-18 professionals from the company with various profiles, to increase the diversity. Company executives are potential members of this group, whereas the board of directors and CEO are excluded.
They will be active for about six months, sharing their perspectives and exploring new possibilities related to no more than three key issues for the company: for example, what kind of changes are happening in the market and among competitors, what products or services can the company offer to penetrate a brand-new market. In any case, anything related to operations and day-to-day issues are not considered in their reflections.
All the professionals in this circle of leadership are equal and the opinions they contribute to it are not tied to their respective departments. It’s about having open minds and being honest and respectful of the opinions of other members. That lays the groundwork for them to work for the common good, which is the future of the company.
In these types of groups, diversity is the greatest ally of creativity and the search for new ideas. Originality will emerge from a healthy conflict that must be managed and leveraged. An idea will be followed by its opposing view—both equally valid—and the ensuing reflections will be richer than those that would emerge from a homogenous group. The team members must see themselves as company executives and respect disagreements that arise with their peers.
In these types of groups, diversity is the greatest ally of creativity and the search for new ideas.
A New Window Into the Future
Circles like this are valuable for their potential to create ideas never mentioned before and to enrich boards of directors and top executive boards by contributing new reflections and points of view. The fresh air and innovative thinking will bring new vistas to the horizon.
After all, companies share a universal need: to find new avenues that allow them to harness their current capacities and redirect them or acquire new ones that support the development of the business. For this, leadership circles may very well be the answer.
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