Noted author and strategist Jim Collins popularized the idea that before leaders can move their companies in the right direction, they need to make sure they have the right leadership team in place. His 12 Questions tool, which is a guide for leaders who want to build enduring, great companies, addresses the topic head-on: "Do we have the right people on the bus, and are 95 percent of our key seats filled with the right people?"
Certainly, asking the question is a good place to start, but what can you do about the problem? It's not easy.
Most leaders actually know when there's a misfit on their team, but doing something about it is a tall order--especially when you personally like the person in question. And it's even worse when they're highly skilled--just not at the work you're paying them for. This gets right to the heart of the stuff most leaders shy away from: emotions, feelings, and confrontation.
Most leaders start heading for the hills when things get uncomfortable, but this is one of my favorite things about organizational health, the concept developed by Patrick Lencioni. In my experience working with companies on prioritizing team health, I have seen many misfits identified and a few even self-identify. It happened recently during a two-day off-site.
A colleague and I were working with a technology startup; we had planned a fairly standard two-day agenda focusing largely on developing the foundation for organizational health. The company had just raised some outside money and the CEO was bearing the brunt of extreme external pressure to get sales ramped up. He had also just spent the past six months wooing investors, day and night, so the state of the business was a little sketchy. It was a great time for the executive team to gather for two days in a room and take stock.
Before too long, it became apparent that the CEO had little confidence that the head of sales could meet the challenge before him. We could tell that the sales guy knew this (in fact, the two had been having long conversations to this effect), but he was sticking to his guns, saying that he would meet the targets. At the same time, he offered a variety (and bounty) of reasons why the current situation and strategy made his life pretty impossible.
Finally, the issue landed on the table with a loud thunk. The head of sales asked the other members of the team if they believed he would be successful. They courageously offered him many general compliments, but were honest in saying that because time was so short and the learning curve so steep, it was unlikely that he would get it done.
Let me tell you, you could hear a pin drop in that room. Talk about uncomfortable. But the sales guy actually seemed relieved. It was then--after a bit more conversation--that he said he thought he might be better suited for something else within the organization.
Both he and the CEO let out a huge sigh of relief. And my colleague and I climbed out from under the table. (Just kidding!) But that’s how it works with a team that's able to enter the danger together--respectively, constructively, and without personal politics. It rarely happens during a session like that, but often in teams that spend the time to get to know themselves and each other, this process of filling the bus with the right people is a lot less magic than it might otherwise seem.