Connecting Leaders at All Levels
The explosive growth of start-up, local exchange carriers following deregulation of the telecommunication industry in the late ‘90s brought intense demand for a test equipment maker’s products. Everyone was scrambling to fill orders.
Then the frenzy subsided. Consumed by getting products out the door, systems had taken a back seat as had planning for the next stage of growth. My job was to frame a decision and feedback system that could encourage creation of the next generation of products.
- The company lacked forums for exploring ideas and exploiting opportunities. The executive group met infrequently, was too large to share confidential information and be decisive, and too easily distracted by immediate and non-business matters.
- The lack of an efficient, fluid process meant too many decisions defaulted to the CEO. Structure can bring clarity and efficiency if done correctly but can add confusion and delay if not handled carefully.
To encourage company-wide exchanges and free up decision-making, I organized three groups representing three spans of vision and authority.
At the senior level, I formed an Executive Council
Members were responsible for strategic priorities within which others could develop new products. I worked with the CEO to create each meeting’s agenda and facilitated the discussion to keep the group focused and time-efficient. I also tracked implementation of the group’s decisions and followed up on individual executive assignments, as well as worked with individual members on leadership skills.
At the middle-management level, I formed a group, which members decided to call the Management Review Team.
Their mission, as a group, was to:
- encourage company-wide exploration and exchange of ideas;monitor and streamline initiatives within the company;
- clarify technical and product development issues;formulate profit-minded action plans; and
- present new product proposals to the Executive Council.
At the product level, I pulled together a Team Leaders group.
Since everything flowed downhill, members were frustrated by having to fix others’ problems. I let them vent their frustrations, but also required them to suggest and debate solutions. Beyond that, the Team Leaders moved to suggesting improvements to the system, which I then brought to the Management Review Team and Executive Council.
Building structure on flow and participation rather than on strict procedures and titles focused everyone on ideas rather than problems.
- The more narrowly defined structure and focused agendas of the Executive Council freed up the CEO to comfortably discuss important and often confidential matters.
- Ideas and commitments that flowed from the Executive Council shaped the agenda, feedback, and commitments made by the middle management group.
- And because production leaders realized they were being listened to and had a channel to the top, they increasingly believed they could influence decisions that ultimately affected their work.