In early 2011, I facilitated a one-day leadership offsite for a group that all worked together in the same organization – some for several years – and were dependent upon each other for achieving revenue targets and meeting organizational goals. The objective of the meeting, as directed by the Sr. VP, was to have the leaders work together to create cross-functional objectives for the upcoming year.
The offsite flopped.
People didn’t understand how to move from granular group objectives to cross-functional objectives, and couldn’t easily articulate (or necessarily admit) that obvious dependencies even existed. The twenty or so leaders sat in a room for much of that day wrestling within themselves. They struggled, argued, fought and, finally, declared the effort a complete waste of time. People were angry – mostly at me – and wanted their day back. The HR Manager generously declared the day a “false start.”
Upon reflection I realized that, although these leaders had worked together in some important ways, they hadn’t ever really taken the time (or been given the time) to really get to know each other, to build relationships and trust. Therein was the problem and, as a facilitator, I should have pushed back from the very beginning.
I called a “do over.”
Here’s what we did: We scrapped the idea of building cross-functional objectives for the year. Instead, we built a plan for the leadership team to dedicate time, away from the office, aimed at building relationships and trust, understanding their interdependencies, and engaging in solving problems together.
1. First, we created a “design team” comprised of one leader from each of the functional areas. This team, under my guidance, had a series of meetings aimed at a new offsite scheduled for a few months downstream. This process created a “core of trust” and started the path to working together across functions.
2. Based on that core of trust, the leaders were able to use the next major gathering for a specific exercise we use with many of our clients, one we call Customer-Supplier Mutual Relationship Mapping ™. This exercise has each function see themselves both as “customers”, allowing them to declare their “needs,” and then as “suppliers”, allowing them offer their “gives” to the other functions. The teams matched their needs and gives, and then identified where gaps existed. Eyes opened, light bulbs lit up! This exercise opened the door for authentic conversation and understanding across the functions. We captured the matches and gaps and decided to use the outcome of the exercise as a living document for the next major meeting three months later.
3. In this next meeting, a new design team developed and facilitated the agenda and activities by themselves, with my role primarily as an observer. The meeting resulted in a deeper analysis of dependencies and roles. Most importantly, I observed great dialogue, strong agreements, and team-based problem solving with very little input or guidance from me. It was clear that the team was moving to functioning as a high-performing team. A new design team volunteered to take the reins for the next meeting and the team and I agreed that my role was no longer required.
As we closed out this third offsite and I looked back at the time we had spent bridging what at first seemed to many like “a complete waste of a day,” I realized how far we had come. The next step? A suggestion was made for a next meeting topic in Q1 2012: to use the time and create cross-functional objectives, ones that will ensure that the functions are tightly aligned and integrated.
And, so they grow…