Leadership Development – Executive Teambuilding at Regional General Hospital

THE ISSUE

A recent employee survey we conducted for a client showed that conflict and lack of unity within the executive team were diminishing employee morale and satisfaction. Employee morale and patient satisfaction had always been high at this hospital and it was a key management goal to sustain them. Individual vice presidents started calling us to talk about their concerns, but only under the condition of strict confidentiality. Many of their concerns revolved around rampant political behavior within the team, peers vying for the CEO’s approval and involvement in mediating their conflicts, sabotage, and other destructive behaviors. Another problem was their use of email to “discuss” controversial issues or voice concerns. They explained they did so to “document” their discussions so their words could not be changed or misrepresented to others. What resulted was repeated volleying of emails between executives, at times copying the CEO or various other individuals in the organization– whether or not they had relevant interest in the topic. Executive team meetings had also become increasingly ineffective. Issues generated only mild and brief discussions and most decisions were made outside of meetings. There was little attention to strategic matters and the group had more and more difficulty focusing on the team’s role and purpose to the hospital. There were also similar problems cropping up among the Directors and Managers. The CEO eventually called us to talk about the continuing executive team problems and his growing belief that the only solution would be to fire several of them.

THE STRATEGY

We spent time with the CEO hearing his concerns and exploring various options. We knew from our experience that terminations like this could trigger dramatic reactions throughout the organization from the resulting vacancies, restructuring etc. Additional turnover in the executive team and the rest of the organization would likely result, further reducing employee morale, instead of helping it. We also realized that each of the executives were bright and talented individuals with skills needed by the organization. Thus, we recommended an intensive intervention with the executive team as a last effort before terminations were resorted to. The CEO agreed and we designed an intervention geared to understand the team’s problems and help the executives learn to function as a cohesive team.

THE RESULTS

The team responded beautifully to the intervention and made solid progress over the three-month period. All the executives embraced the team cohesiveness model. It gave them a needed vision of what they were doing wrong, how to improve and it stayed a constant theme in their discussions.

Specific achievements included:

  1. Developing a code of conduct for management. This articulated what team behaviors were acceptable and which ones were not. This was a critical step because it fostered discussion about what behaviors had been the most damaging to their cohesiveness.
  2. Identification of performance goals for the remainder of the year. This was an important step because it provided focus for their efforts and an opportunity to track their performance as a team.
  3. Improved team dialogue. The executives got better and better at having candid and honest group discussions and tolerating and participating in healthy conflicts. Meetings became interesting again.
  4. Individual self-exploration. Most made significant attempts to identify personal areas for behavioral change. The obvious changes made by the CEO served as strong motivation for the other executives.
  5. The team remained intact. Once poised on the brink of being dismantled, the team embraced the intervention, with renewed ability to provide the high performance and leadership needed by the hospital.