3. Collective Leadership: Lessons from a Leadership 'Trio'
Developing Teaming and Collective Leadership with a Leadership ‘Trio’
This post describes learning from working with a leadership trio - Medical Director, Ops Director and Nurse Director - to explore and develop their collective leadership approach.
The focus of this work was to enable the trio to explore and articulate their shared purpose as a leadership group – a conversation they had never had before. This also led to intensive development work on why they do what they do as leaders, how they spend their time and attention and how they work purposefully as a collective rather than simply as three individuals trying to pull in a similar direction.
Embedded within this work was an exploration of how this trio intends to model and create the conditions for a culture of psychological safety, team-based working and partnership. What do they need to pay attention to in what they say and what they do, to engender a norm of Aim High, Feel Safe, Team Up, Fail Well, Learn Fast?
A few learning points
As in the wider NHS, the norms, customs and practices of management in this service were still largely based on control and assurance, transactional relationships and formal processes within a bureaucratic system. At the outset, there was a low level of understanding about how a reliance on this approach to managing the system hinders and limits engagement, empowerment and transformation.
Introducing more systemic, relational, engaging and dialogic leadership approaches to over-stretched senior managers felt, at times, like being an interpreter from one ‘cultural norm’ to another.
The trio understood the essence of Aim High, in terms of the written strategic aims they had agreed for the service. More bemusing seemed to be how to converse and work between themselves and with others about the elements of Feel Safe, Team Up, Fail Well, Learn Fast. This seemed to be largely uncharted territory before I worked with them.
Exploring the human and social dimensions of leadership – including fear, vulnerability, compassion, trust, stress, emotion, relationships, honesty, conflict, values and behaviours – was a leap of faith taken by this trio, which I view as admirable.
Significant courage was shown by members of this trio by trying new approaches, and opening themselves up to unlearning as well as new learning.
An important aspect of the work was supporting the leadership trio to create and facilitate dialogue across all staff groups about the themes coming out of the diagnostic conversations. They began to appreciate that the ‘cultural’ problems could only be addressed collectively, by connecting with staff across the whole hospital. There was a constant, magnetic pull away from these kind of purpose-based leadership conversations into short-term, tightly-managed problem-solving.
Working intensively with the trio showed benefits, but was not sustainable. The limited resource available enabled some noticeable shifts of attitude, mindset, behaviour and leadership practice. However, I don’t believe that we reached a point of this becoming habitual, embedded, normalised or immune to the inevitable turbulence and pressure in these roles. The ultimate OD practitioner’s conundrum, when operating on a shoestring?
Since this intensive work finished, two of the trio have changed jobs, although still involved with leading the service. So the leadership trio is now a new collective, arguably needing their own space and time to develop their collective leadership approach.
The need to embed this culture development work highlights how important it is to build internal capacity and capability into the organisation. Outside consultancy support can often catalyse a crucial developmental shift, and this then needs to be resourced in such a way that skills and practices are developed among a critical mass of internal colleagues.
We also learnt lessons about developing Psychological Safety, Effective Teaming and Collective Leadership among wider staff groups. See my next two blog posts for this: Developing ‘Teaming’ in a Traditional Committee and Teaming for Everyone?
Image by Mona El Falaky