The Colluding Team

Leadership Coaching

The Colluding Team

October 10, 2011

The CEO of an international consumer packaging company met in Europe with his company’s divisional presidents to roll out a new global strategy. The initial response was enthusiastic, but one executive kept raising doubting Thomas-type questions. And, whenever this occurred, several of his fellow team members interjected with, “Good question” or “That’s a good point.” Listening with two ears, his colleagues heard only the words, which indicated that he was engaged in a legitimate search for information.

Listening with his “third ear,” the Guttman team coach heard something different: All the questions were a veiled challenge to the CEO and his new strategy. Before the underground opposition could corrupt the discussion, the coach wisely stepped in to confront the situation. To the doubting Thomas he said, “I’m getting the message that you’re not on board with the new strategy, but it seems as though, rather than stating your objections, you couch them by posing questions. Why not just say that you disagree?” And, of the other team members, the coach asked: “Why the collusion? Why are you pretending that he’s asking the questions in good faith—to get information rather than to sabotage the rollout?”

The coach’s questions cut through the subterfuge, and after honest discussion the colluders admitted that they had been willing to play along with the aggressive questioner in the hope that he would come around to the CEO’s way of thinking. The doubting Thomas admitted that he had some private concerns, and he and the CEO agreed to discuss these “off line” if they continued to trouble him.

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