We were retained by management of a small technology firm to help them focus on clarity of objectives, strategic initiatives and tactics as they energize their team environments once they were funded by an investor group. We were cognizant of building team rapport to advance collaboration, establishing appropriate financial and other incentives based on performance and even exploiting technology to facilitate communication. We share a heightened awareness of task focus while achieving benchmarks that are tied to ROI attainment.
Post funding we were also tasked to advise on building a strong working relationship with the outside board which was comprised of management, outside investor representatives and independent business associates. However, it was apparent from the get-go that relations with the investor group were going to be difficult at best.
For example, the investors insisted on defining the primary target market for the technology different from what management intended and research supported. They further made demands on management to develop new products contrary to the plan of establishing the primary product until cash flow positive, then diversifying.
That project failed to reach or sustain any major objective despite the fact that each member of the group was a world class knowledge expert, motivated to succeed and for the most part, energized. What was overlooked in the process was the cultural (belief and value) system individuals within the team held. Those individual systems filtered, and affected, the interpretation or meaning of verbal and non – verbal communication.
We spent zero time pre- or post-funding exploring interpersonal value system differences even though the men and women were from several different cultures, lived in five different states, and grew up under different social systems and even different religions. All these factors influenced how the timetable-driven, ROI- centered project leader’s behaviors were felt and acted on by others.
The end result was a breakdown in TRUST. This experience, where two board members each held his own self-esteem as the priority value, was clearly out of line with what the balance of the team held as number one – shared achievement. This known but unappreciated reality continuously sabotaged the project.
Fortunately, we were able to replace the initial investors with ones that shared the original strategic vision and with whom we worked hard to assure a collaborative attitude. After several anxious years, the business in fact thrived and the technology is now well embedded in the industry it was intended to serve.
As a result, I am now personally, and recommend to client presidents and leaders that they be, conscious of the role trust plays in performance. The three basic components of trust must simultaneously be balanced: a) formal trust, that is title, and contract, b) informal, that is personal communication and/or friendship, and c) trust built around performance competencies.
When there is a breach in trust, behavior is affected. People grow frustrated, productivity declines, and fear and even hostility increase, all of which result in team conflict. Inter-personal barriers evolve and individuals disengage, ultimately crashing projects.
I see an evolving role of leadership and management in re-balancing the goal and task-timetable driven orientation to one where awareness of cultural and psychological underpinnings of trust are championed. As academic as it sounds, in our culturally diverse world, we need to foster agreement on the hierarchy of values as they relate to project objectives and ROI.