To formulate and communicate a common purpose and direction a leader wants to take their team, it must first start with a people-centered approach. In the Q&A below, McChrystal Group senior advisor Julie Felgar shares her first-hand experience leading through change and how she goes about communicating a consistent message to her teams.
Q: How do you gauge the people on your team to get an idea of what work rhythm and cadence works best for them?
A: Long before the Covid-19 pandemic, I managed a team that was based in different areas around the world and that also had global travel requirements. I lived in one city but managed a team in another. I set up a rhythm of travel to be with them often. My team was young and diverse. They gave their all every day to their jobs. In return, I needed to be as flexible with them as possible. I had to have several conversations with leadership vouching for my team to give them the flexibility they needed and deserved. Hybrid work was frowned upon. For me it comes down to the fact that if they are getting their work done and have the relationships they need to have, why dictate to them where they need to do that work every day. I set certain expectations and trusted they would follow them.
The other piece of this, to be successful, is information sharing; the cadence and type of information. When employees get out on islands, they feel super isolated. They can be starved for information because they are disconnected from the central team. It is incumbent on the leader to make sure you are spending the time, digitally and in person, to make sure your employees and supporting teams understand the bigger picture, that they were getting information in a timely basis, and getting it in the context that helped put their individual work stream into perspective.
Q: As a leader, what was your approach to bringing teams together and ensuring there was a real benefit from doing so, particularly those who may be scattered across the globe?
A: I was always looking to find time to connect with my people and with the adjacent teams that support the organization in one way or another to help provide that context to them. With the more hybrid work environment that we are in, it is going to take a lot more intentional focus on finding a regular and efficient rhythm to be with your people and bring your people together. I believe it may take experimentation and very transparent two-way communication with your teammates to find that balance.
This does NOT mean MORE meetings. It means smarter meetings. Leaders need to have their teams audit standing meetings. Are they necessary? Are they accomplishing the goals they are intended to do? Can they be run more efficiently? Time is your most precious asset.
From there, the conversation about what are our forums where we are going to come together to make this possible and what do we need to do to make those forums intentional will fall more seamlessly into place.
Q: Particularly when bringing people on your team together, did you allow for conflict or tension to spur productive conversation and change? What was your approach to doing that?
A: Conflict is necessary and good for organizations to thrive. It is where ideas and innovation are bred. We do not teach our youth how to have constructive conflict. When I talk to people about processing conflict constructively, it is about how to disassociate strong emotion and make sure they are going into conflict for the right reason. The more emotion you bring into a conflict, the more difficult it is for all parties involved to hear one another.
Think through the rationale behind why conflict exists. What is the ultimate reasoning behind that? What is the ultimate purpose behind that? Does it serve the larger organization, or does it serve you as an individual? If it serves a larger organization, gather your information, get your facts straight, and pressure test it with other trusted folks around you. Only then should you go forward and approach the situation with the lens of constructive outcome versus outright conflict. Disagreeing is 100% okay. However, put a time-bound process around it; respectfully lay the opposing rationales out on the table, process it with your team, gather alternate opinions, set a decision framework in place, and move forward.
Q: You were at the forefront of change, both within your organization at Boeing and within the industry itself. How did you manage that change and ensure your team was a part of it?
A: As a leader, your goal is to influence your organization to be able to go in a certain direction. You have to wrap your arms around this idea of the common purpose, what it is we want to do, why it is we want to get there, and how we are going to do that. You must develop the narrative and be incredibly consistent with it with your people over time.
That common purpose needs to be informed by your people. You must open your ears to be able to listen to other people and distill what they are saying so that you are able to take in the valuable information that is coming to you.
Being consistent is a foundational aspect of this approach. Consistency does not mean that you don't adjust. Consistency means that your core leadership behaviors and expectations remain the same, yet based on the inputs from the external environment and feedback from you team you adjust to meet market needs.