The Myth of the Management Team

Every business has problems. That is why the average life span of a large industrial company is 40 years. Some are learning disabilities where companies are not prepared to learn from their mistakes. They insist on doing the same thing every time. Even when problems occur no one examines the cause of the problem. The problem is an embarrassment that should be swept under the rug and forgotten rather than be used as an opportunity to learn. Handling these dilemmas and disabilities is the Management Team. Below is a quote from Peter Senge’s book “The Fifth Discipline – the Art & Practice of the Learning Organization.” Does this sound like your company? If it does start worrying!

The Myth of the Management Team

Standing forward to do battle with these dilemmas and disabilities is “the management team,” the collection of savvy, experienced managers who represent the organization’s different functions and areas of expertise. Together, they are supposed to sort out the complex cross-functional issues that are critical to the organization. What confidence do we have, really, that typical management teams can surmount these learning disabilities?

All too often, teams in business tend to spend their time fighting for turf, avoiding anything that will make them look bad personally, and pretending that everyone is behind the team’s collective strategy – maintaining the appearance of a cohesive team. To keep up the image, they seek to squelch disagreement; people with serious reservations avoid stating them publicly, and joint decisions are watered-down compromises reflecting what everyone can live with, or else reflecting one person’s view foisted on the group. If there is disagreement, it’s usually expressed in a manner that lays blame, polarizes opinion, and fails to reveal the underlying differences in assumptions and experience in a way that the team as a whole could learn.

“Most management teams break down under pressure,” writes Harvard’s Chris Argyris – a long time student of learning in management teams. “The team may function quite well with routine issues. But when they confront complex issues that may be embarrassing or threatening, the ‘teamness’ seems to go to pot.”

Argyris argues that most managers find collective inquiry inherently threatening. School trains us never to admit that we do not know the answer, and most corporations reinforce that lesson by rewarding the people who excel in advocating their views, not inquiring into complex issues. (When was the last time someone was rewarded in your organization for raising difficult questions about the company’s current policies rather than solving urgent problems?) Even if we feel uncertain or ignorant, we learn to protect ourselves from the pain of appearing uncertain or ignorant. That very process blocks out any new understandings which might threaten us. The consequence is what Argyris calls “skilled incompetence” – teams full of people who are incredibly proficient at keeping themselves from learning.

So how does your company stack up? If your company is what Senge describes as a ‘Learning Organization’ then there is no need to protect your turf, no need to accept compromise, no need for management to know everything. In a Learning Organization the knowledge that employees have is used and each member of the management team is there to support the other. They realize that everyone wins if the team does well and they also know that a failure is just another term for a learning opportunity.

Wouldn’t you like to work in an organization where your opinion counts and where you CAN make a difference in the companies success? Where you don’t have to pretend to be busy, or pretend to know everything. So how do you create a learning organization? It starts with creating learning individuals in learning teams which then cascade into a learning organization.

Through an effective facilitated process team members learn to work collaboratively, learn from their mistakes and continually challenge their assumptions about reality. Above all they work together as a team to solve problems and improve results.

A Learning Organization is possible!

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