One of the many critical roles of the CEO and the leadership team is to build trust and collaboration throughout their company. If everyone is rowing in the same direction, the boat goes much faster.
Even in the smallest of companies, I’ve seen office politics and division ripple through a team. The CEO has to watch out for this problem, and they must do all they can to squash it before it infects the entire organization.
This happens primarily because a company has finite resources that require the prioritization of initiatives. If your team is judging winners and losers in terms of how those resources are allocated, versus how decisions affect the overall prospects for the company, you’re going to start to see factions develop.
Your team will sit in your weekly meetings and appear to get along, only to go back to their desks to strategize on how to get a larger share of the resource pie.
Whisper campaigns will start. The intentions of others on your team will be questioned. Your finance team will be pitted against various departments as different groups request analysis to either support one department, or knock down the point of view of another.
This can happen in companies with only 15 or 20 people in it. This is not just a big company problem.
There are a few steps you can take to build greater trust across your organization.
- Regularly revisit and reinforce your company’s mission, strategic direction, and measures of success. It is vital that there is consensus on where you’re going, how you’re going to get there, and how you’ll know when you’ve arrived. If your employees all have a different perspective on the journey they are on, it’s going to be impossible to build consensus around the best route to take.
- Set ambitious but achievable goals, and connect each teams’ efforts to those goals. This starts with avoiding a purely top-down budget process that represents a wish list of unachievable revenue and profit targets. It also means that if you get halfway through your year, and every part of your organization is missing their targets, you need to reset the goals and adjust course. There is nothing worse than having your team working around the clock only to consistently fail to meet targets that were set months ago. Sometimes it’s the failure of the team. Sometimes the goals were just wrong. Either way, if everyone feels like they are losing all of the time, despite their best efforts, cracks will develop within your team and trust will quickly break down.
- Air disagreements publicly and often. Bring your leadership team together. Encourage disagreements. If you don’t do this, you’ll have them huddled in conference rooms, trying to create aligned factions. And this will ripple down through their teams. I’ve met many founders who hate dealing with disagreements within their management team, particularly in a group setting. They will meet one on one with executives, let them air their grievances, and promise to help sort it out. Those 1:1 discussions will go on and on until the disagreements become a real crisis. That’s a trap. You need to be able to get your team in a room, enable a spirited discussion around strategy, tactics and funding priorities, and then bring the team together around decisions.
None of this is easy. Starting a company around solving a big problem in the world, and building the product, tools, and services to solve those problems, can be exciting and fulfilling. Leading the team that is going to bring that vision to life is an entirely different challenge, and if you don’t figure out how to navigate that challenge, your company will fail to live up to its full potential.