How to 'Unstick' your Top Team

5th May, 2017

How to 'Unstick' your Top Team

Last month we looked at the different ways organisations get stuck, just like people do.  In this article, we’ll think about how best to work with each type of “stuckness”.  As you might imagine, we’ll be considering how coaches might best interface and work with each particular situation.  Of course, even though we love models and they are very helpful in understanding what’s going on, each organisation is different and good coaches always start from the beginning and find out all the issues before rushing to a conclusion or classification.  As they say, if your only tool is a hammer, then all problems look like nails! 

Last month, we described the different ways in which organisations get stuck,  as originally outlined in an article by Critchley and Casey.  Here we explore the options for helping in each situation. 

The Suppressed Organisation

These outfits rely heavily on rules and procedures. The organisation seems to be in a state of emotional withdrawal with its people using bureaucratic behaviour as a defensive measure to avoid anxiety.  The temptation for the coach is to try to address the problem by encouraging them to explore their feelings and engage emotionally.  This won’t work as that is exactly what they are so good at defending against.  The better route is to focus on their behaviours and work to help them see that not changing will be a risk to survival.  If they don’t see an overriding need to change their behaviour, then they won’t.  Once change does start however, they may be more inclined to reconnect with their feelings but it’s probably not the place to start. 

The Hysterical Organisation

The people in this kind of organisation respond with emotional excitability.  In contrast to the Suppressed Organisation, they go overboard with their feelings and excitement but they find it hard to make sense of it in terms of the health of the organisation.  Therefore, the way forward here is to show them how to think through a diagnosis of their situation without offering a ready made solution.  Their feelings are the entry point but progress happens when they start to think and develop their own way forward.

The Knowing and Angry Organisation

These organisations are very strong on thinking and everyone will know what the problems are. Trying to compete with this is going to fail as they will play games and have probably thought it all through many times before but not taken any action.  Therefore the route to take is one that concentrates on helping them experiment with new ways of doing things.  This should help them start to feel better about the organisation and become less resentful, less resigned and more productive and influential.  If the process is maintained, not only will they feel better about themselves they will also start to believe in the organisation again and have confidence in what it can achieve.

The Frightened Organisation

These are similar to the previous examples in that they have an underlying passivity which is an unwillingness to solve problems.  In this case it is the unresolved fear of taking action that causes them to be stuck.  The potential trap for a coach is to try to get them to do something, as this is exactly what they are afraid of, with the little voice whispering in their heads saying “…be careful,…it’s not safe….you’ll be sorry…”.  In this case the aim is to try and rebuild trust and create safety around the key individuals.  This can be achieved by thinking carefully alongside them to explore the situation and how they might deal with it differently.  Diving straight into an emotionally focused team building event for example, would probably do more harm than good as people would feel exposed and the fear would grow, not diminish.

The Task Organisation

Organisations stuck here take themselves very seriously and do lots of things very efficiently but often miss the point and fail to make proper connections with clients and stakeholders.  Internal relationships are very task dependent and there is much efficiency but no joy.  Working with such outfits can be rather daunting as they appear to do everything really well already.  Many helpers may make the mistake of being drawn in by the organisation and asked to be “better than they are” by coming up with the latest bright idea or organisational development.  Instead, the best route would be to avoid being dragged into the tasks but concentrate on thinking, refocussing on process and consideration of how things get done.  The aim is to move on eventually to feelings and how these change and adapt as the tasks get done.  If they can use these feelings to really get down to the ultimate purpose of them as individuals and the organisation as a whole, then the frenetic task orientation may be diluted and they can move on. 

As you can see, dealing with top teams, organisational structures and senior people more generally, can be quite a challenge.  As we said at the start of this article, models aren’t reality but they are a useful way of trying to make sense of the data that flows all the time when working with individuals and groups.  Ultimately, the good coach or adviser makes the best sense that they can of what they are observing, hearing and feeling and then tries sympathetically to identify and then address the issues.   

If you recognise any of the situations or modes of behaviour in this article or last month's and would like to explore the issues in more depth, do please drop us an email or call us on +44 (0)1302 746430 to have a chat, as we would love to hear from you. 

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Steve HintonWritten by Steve Hinton

Steve Hinton is an experienced Executive Coach and Consultant working with Chief Executives, Managing Directors, Senior Executives and other leaders and can work with you to create exceptional and successful leadership teams.

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