Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Establishing Ground Rules for Your Team

I've finished reading Bill Vlasic's most recent book on the auto industry, and I highly recommend it.  As a journalist, Vlasic has covered the industry for decades, and he really understands the key players and the firms.  Some of you may remember his terrific book about the Daimler Chrysler merger (Taken for a Ride: How Daimler Drove Off with Chrysler).

In the book, Vlasic writes a fair amount about Alan Mulally's turnaround process at Ford.  I found several stories particularly compelling.  For instance, Vlasic describes how Mulally changed the culture of the senior management team at Ford.  Prior to his arrival, the top team experienced a great deal of infighting and dysfunctional group dynamics.  Mulally instituted a new business plan review process centered on a crucial Thursday morning meeting that took place weekly.  The new Ford CEO quickly established some new ground rules for how executives would behave during these meetings.  He called these shared norms and ground rules the "working together behaviors" of the senior team.

According to Vlasic, these ground rules included no smart phones, no encyclopedic briefing books, no aides, no jokes about colleagues, no side conversations, and most importantly... facts, not opinions, would rule the day.  Mulally announced to the team that this code of conduct would be strictly enforced.  If someone couldn't comply, Mulally told them bluntly, "You'll just have to work somewhere else."  He went on to explain, "The important thing is that we are all accountable to each other. You are accountable to the team, and the rest of the team is here to help you." 

What a fantastic leadership moment!  Too many teams suffer because leaders don't outline the ground rules and expectations EXPLICITLY.   Leaders need to be clear about the shared norms and ground rules which will govern behavior.  If leaders are explicit and clear about these "working together behaviors," they will find it much easier to encourage candid dialogue and to keep conflict constructive.  Moreover, they will find that explicit ground rules will enhance their odds of achieving alignment and shared commitment among the team members.

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