When ‘soft and fluffy’ is business critical for leadership teams

by | Feb 8, 2021

To provide a little bit of context is important. I do not do ‘hypothetical’ when I work with teams. The invaluable pillars of trust and credibility have some very tangible links to context. So, I use live business issues as the context to support teams in their journey through transformation.

This client is a global brand you would recognise through its rich legacy and unique business model. I work with a leadership team who have responsibility for a complex region made up of multiple countries. As a team, they reflect the regions variety of cultures and languages but use English predominantly, even though it is not their first language.

Their context is complexity and significant challenge, their numbers are down, and the Board are relentless about requesting daily reports, figures, and updates.

So, you may be thinking how exactly is ‘soft and fluffy’ business critical for leadership teams?

In this example it was the ‘soft and fluffy’ that enabled the truth to ‘show up’ for this leadership team. The ‘soft and fluffy’ is transforming how they work together and is also influencing their organisation.

Enabling honest, courageous conversations is a process.

The work is undertaken remotely using virtual tools you would be very familiar with. I emphasize ‘show up’ in this example as the truth emerged with time, it was not a ‘light switch’ moment. What I mean by that is that the truth or the real issue(s) did not suddenly get spoken to because of an agenda item. These issues emerged through a process that each member of this leadership team bought into.

This process led them as a team to start having honest, brave authentic discussions, calling out the real issues. This ‘elephant’ showed up when one member of the leadership team, simply said to the rest, ‘Based on what we have just discussed and realised, I don’t trust your numbers!’…

It was a beautiful moment.

There was no decent into the host of dysfunctional behaviours that can undermine teams. That unfortunate reliance on invulnerability reflected in avoidance and silence. Or the more damaging personal and political positioning, interpersonal conflict, or ritual desertion of espoused corporate values to name just a few.

Enabling ownership and accountability to sustain change.

That sentence was met by contemplation, shortly followed by broad acknowledgement reflecting the relief and gratitude that a major issue had finally been surfaced, acknowledged, and discussed!

That one sentence led to a deep realisation through the team, that the opportunity for real change had emerged. That a different type of discussion was needed with the Board. To shift thinking and culture beyond ‘simply’ defending the numbers. Instead, there was appetite for working together to engage the Board on this and other related business critical issues to influence a different discussion and embed a growth mentality.

Was there heavy lifting, late nights, and tough questions to follow…absolutely! Did it mean they had to go back to their numbers and put a lower number on the table and explain this to the Board. Absolutely.

Had they arrived at a point in which they realised how to work effectively as a team to influence a change that would benefit the organisation. Yes. Did that have credibility with them? Yes. Did they acknowledge and accept that they may induce significant change that could impact their organisation and themselves? Yes.

There was still uncertainty and no clear answers and if anything, it was more ambiguous than ever before.

When soft and fluffy is actually authentic, brave and highly effective.

However, the realisation was that together they could enable a change for themselves that had credibility and that brought self-respect.  The key transformation that was realised around that ‘table’ was that by working to listen to each other, they reduced multiple assumptions. By holding ‘space’ to diagnose the issue effectively and not run with multiple solutions they started to become far more effective. By being vulnerable, compassionate, and authentic with each other, through bravery and courage, trust was reignited.

As individuals they were engaged. As a team they enabled their own psychological safety ensuring that the real issues would be addressed, and these behaviours could be demonstrated and cascaded to and through their organisation as they continued on their journey of transformation.