The One With the (Almost) Teamless CxO

In today’s episode, this CxO belongs to a bank that looks they are doing good – they’re growing YOY, a mobile app on point, no scandals to report, mid-sized European organisation with a strong reputation but he says he feels defeated and doesn’t believe in the future of the organisation. He says all the problems they have are being swept under the carpet and the higher you go, the more issues he sees.

“You know how these things are…”

“Oh?”

“Come on, we aren’t the first organisation in this situation – what do you call it? People debt?”

“HumanDebt.”

“Yeah that. I read about that. We have loads of it.”

“How do you reckon?”

“It’s just a mess in particular amongst us in the leadership team. To be 110% honest no one says what’s on their mind, no one cares about the mothership as we used to when we started, politics is rampant and there are cliques everywhere and TBH the board is full of career banker characters who have very little to add, are desperately clinging to their seats and who I don’t much trust.”

“Are they unqualified?”

“No, maybe not, but I’m not sure, don’t know enough about them but they sure don’t get tech or Agile.” 

“Are you guys a team?”

“Sure, the leadership team.”

“Yeah no, are you an actual team?”

“We meet every week, we have common OKRs so yeah, a team.”

“Well it’s not that straightforward – do you work together from the same backlog and need each other to get things done?”

“In a sense, I suppose we do on some level to make this big organisation run.”

“This isn’t a philosophical distinction – is there a common backlog, if so what software do you use for it, what do you keep your backlog in? I don’t suppose the board has a Jira board.”

“Oh no, nothing like that, we know what the big epic is though at the bank’s level, we worked on the draft of the CEO’s address to shareholders together after all. We meet to see what we’d each accomplished to make that happen.”

“Do you depend on each other to make it happen?”

“No, not really, we each have our lane.”

“So you’re more a workgroup, not a team.”

“Are we?”

“Yes, workgroups get together periodically to hear and share information but have no specific project they work on together that requires them to depend on one another.”

“Well ok apart from the entire bank as the project.”

“Sure, at a conceptual level but at a practical one we just established you don’t function as a team – if you did “The Entire Bank’s Success” would be the title of the board and you’d have “Becoming Agile” or “Lowering HumanDebt to go faster” or “Making only features that clients love” be epics and then there would be a Backlog.”

“I guess… Are you saying we’re not a team so that’s why we don’t have Psychological Safety in our leadership workgroup?”

“It seems so. Have you asked them if they think they’re a team? Do you guys talk about it?”

“No, I can’t say I remember when we last had an actual conversation. We take turns with progress reports and announce shiny new initiatives only really.”

“Ok well let’s park that.”

“Why? Shouldn’t we try to get more Psychological Safety and have a higher, stronger team?”

“Having a team is a prerequisite of having PS, you’ll have to become a team at the top first, yes, but I’m not quite sure what that would take – perhaps one super-honest-from-the-heart conversation about the difference and writing a quick backlog in a Trello board but perhaps it takes 2 days in the woods immersed in team-building exercising and coaching for months before anyone will overcome impostor syndrome, impression management, fears of all kinds and an aversion to being open and vulnerable before you’ll manage. Only after that could you have them read and comprehend the Agile manifesto and want to build a backlog. No idea how bad it is or how far you are in the management workgroup. You should have a think about it all.”

“Sounds like a lot of work and I have a day job!” 

“It is but riddle me this: if you’re not a team member in the leadership team as there is no team really then what team do you belong to?”

“Well, that depends.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah there are various critical project and strategy teams I’m part of and I have all the direct reports (VPs and heads of departments) in my team.”

“Which one of these is the closest to the definition above? Where do you brainstorm, where do you grab tickets, feel like you make an impact and belong while trusting and needing everyone else?”

“Hmmm not any of them, all status reports for me…”

“So you never do any work towards a common goal or specific project yourself?”

“Yes I do, actually we have an awesome little squad for the D&I stuff.”

“A what?”

“A committee to think of ways to get better at Diversity&Inclusion.”

“Cool – what do you do there?”

“Well this means a lot to me after my own struggles so I am invested, it’s only 8-9 of us from various parts of the bank and we’re determined to move the needle so we’re identifying any gaps in what hasn’t been investigated by HR or where people have gripes and implement quick POCs of projects that could make a change then throw them back over the fence – I’m the only one of us with any customer research and IT experience so I grab a fair share of tickets in our kick-offs.” 

“Sounds fun.”

“It IS! The kind of stuff we’ve accomplished in just the last few months is mad! These guys are an awesome lot!”

“So that’s your team.”

“What? No, that’s a committee, we’re not even called a team much less are we on the org chart!”

“But you trust them.”

“Sure”

“And you’re making things together.”

“Ah yes, I see what you’re doing there. I suppose so then. They are my team as well”

“No, they are your only team, the only one of all the other groups you mentioned that makes you feel this way. How cool would it be if you had that in the management group and in the direct reports team and the other project groups too?”

“Good one. I guess I should make this my own ticket “Turn the leadership group into an actual team” – where’s that reading list on books about squads and successful teams? I bet once I speak to them they’ll be a fair few of them career bankers or not who will feel the need to make that change too”

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