Article by Jim Jensen...
Are discussions in your leadership team meetings consistently dynamic and interactive? Do people listen, challenge ideas and come up with new ones as a result? Can you make good decisions… quickly? If your answers are no, might it have something to do with the size of your team?
During the initial conversation with a leader who is exploring a development process with his or her leadership team, I’ll eventually ask about the size of the team. If the response is anything over 11 or 12, I find myself feeling a bit of a cringe. Why is that?
In my years of doing corporate culture work I’ve seen very powerful and successful experiences with groups of 18 or even 20. Sessions of this size can be successful if the objectives are leadership development, bringing two groups together, or exploring cultural norms for a new work group, for example.
However, if I’m working with an intact leadership team, it’s different. The bottom line is that it’s just harder to have substantive and critical conversations with larger leadership teams. There’s a limit to the depth of the conversations. There’s also a limit to their potential effectiveness.
Reading a blog posted by Patrick Lencioni a couple years back titled Right-sizing Your Team, I was introduced to two new terms that helped me further articulate why the size of your leadership team matters. Those terms are Advocacy and Inquiry.
Here’s an excerpt from Lencioni’s post:
So what is the right size for a leadership team? Somewhere between three and eight. Why? Because groups larger than this almost always struggle to effectively use the two kinds of communication that are required of any team.
Chris Argyris, a professor at Harvard, came up with the idea years ago that people need to engage in both ‘advocacy’ and ‘inquiry’ in order to communicate effectively. Advocacy amounts to stating an opinion or an idea, while inquiry is the act of asking questions or seeking clarity about someone else’s opinion or idea. Frankly, one part advocacy and two parts inquiry is a mix I like to see on teams.
However, when there are too many people at the table, inquiry drops off dramatically, mostly because people realize that they’re not going to get many opportunities to speak so they weigh in with their opinion while they have the chance. Like a member of congress or the United Nations, they aren’t going to waste their precious time at the pulpit exploring the merits of a colleague’s proposal. Where is the glory in that?
But when the team is smaller, two things happen. First, trust can be exponentially stronger… Second, team members know that they’ll have plenty of time to make their ideas heard, even if they do more inquiry than advocacy. This leads to significantly better and faster decisions. That’s worth repeating. Better AND faster. Those large teams I referred to before often take three times longer to arrive at decisions that prove to be much poorer, often the result of a quest for consensus. - Patrick Lencioni
The terms Advocacy and Inquiry are now part of my vocabulary when I work with leaders and teams. I agree with Lencioni’s perspective that smaller, more manageable teams have discussions that are more dynamic and effective. I also find that having these terms as part of the team’s vocabulary helps develop the critical skill of reading interpersonal dynamics. It gives team members another tool to help them find that challenging balance of being fully engaged in their interactions, while at the same time pulling back and evaluating their effectiveness. “How are we doing as a team now?” “Are we really listening to each other?” “Am I really listening?” “Are we challenging ideas and asking the right questions?”
I hope Chris Argyris’s concept of advocacy and inquiry in discussions resonates with you like it does with me, and I hope you found this helpful.
Here’s a link to the original post if you’d like to check it out.
Right-sizing Your Team, by Patrick Lencioni
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