A long-time member of my senior Leadership Team is retiring this week. I am truly happy for her as she moves into this next phase of her life. We have had what, on all accounts, feels like a good transition, and we have an extremely capable individual stepping into the role. I believe part of the reason our transition has been successful is that we realized from the beginning that the changes wouldn’t just take place between the retiring team member and the person taking her place . . . it would be a transition for our entire team
Teams, just like families, tend fall into patterns with certain people playing consistent roles. In our leadership team, one member typically plays the devil’s advocate, one can be counted on to name “the elephant in the room” . . . you get the picture. We realized, however, that it was not realistic to think that our new director was going to come in and automatically fill the role that the previous director had taken on because, while their titles might be the same, their personalities aren’t. As a team, we discussed the fact that in the past everyone might have expected our retiring director be the one to bring up the practical implications of a discussion (as in, “Now you realize . . .”). As our new director joined the group some of the rest of the team might have to, at least temporarily, wear that hat as our team “recalibrated” the roles we would play in processing a myriad of issues.
Challenging team members to take on new roles or perspectives shouldn’t just happen when there is a change in team membership. I tend to shift roles and responsibilities among my team members on a fairly regular basis — maybe their titles don’t change, but specific responsibilities might. This type of “shuffling of the deck” is often due to changing internal or external variables, specific gifts and graces of a team member that may benefit a particular situation, or new opportunities for efficiency or effectiveness. I also think such shifts increase both the nimbleness and the big picture perspective of the team.
Jack Welch noted that, “If the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near.” We probably all know of examples that validate Mr. Welch’s comments. And while I don’t believe that change for change sake is the best use of a leader’s energy, with the volatility in our industry today, it’s not a stretch (in fact, it’s probably quite likely) that the roles that worked best in your organization a year or two ago may not be best today. Maybe you have the right players around the table, but you might need to shuffle the deck a bit. As the leader, you hold the cards — the gifts and graces of your senior team — and it’s your job to deal a winning hand for your organization. It might be time to start shuffling.