A visionary CEO alone is no longer enough
Traditionally, training has always been an individual matter. Yet today, we can see a number of gradual changes that have fuelled the importance of training and supporting teams, particularly at management level. ‘The current business climate and the intense competitive pressure increasingly force managers to look beyond the boundaries of their own responsibilities and to seek out synergies with other members of the management committee,’ says professor and leadership expert Katleen De Stobbeleir. ‘This also means a change in the CEO’s managerial role. Instead of presenting a vision for all members of the organisation to pursue, the CEO needs to encourage collaboration and create relationships of trust.’ Vlerick Business School has therefore developed an innovative training course for executive teams that combines individual learning with a group approach.
Getting rid of the silo mentality
‘In the past, particularly within a business context of innovation and renewal, it was sometimes enough to simply have an inspiring CEO at the helm who could inspire the rest of the company and the management team with his vision. Although the CEO still has the last word and makes decisions, he or she is also increasingly aware that to remain competitive these days, you need a full team,’ Katleen De Stobbeleir explains.
Reaching outside your own silo is becoming ever more important, but it is not always straightforward to achieve collaboration and trust between members of a management committee. Indeed, every manager has his or her own clearly defined responsibilities and individual targets. ‘In order to be able to make joint decisions in the interest of the organisation, you have to pool your strengths and put an end to the healthy competition of the past,’ De Stobbeleir suggests. ‘To stimulate collaboration, you need a relationship of trust. However, both the CEO and the individual team members lack the tools or even the common language to approach this as a team.’
Moreover, there is another key advantage to taking a training course as a team: everyone is immediately on the same track. Indeed, it is not because a senior manager or CEO has taken a course that he or she is therefore capable of integrating and implementing this knowledge in the rest of the team. Walking down the same path together means that the training has greater impact, and enables you to achieve much more.
A parallel focus on ‘hard’ skills
As well as the need to collaborate in order to dispel the silo mentality, executive teams face the additional challenge of working out the details of a common strategy. Extremely hard work does not always result in a competitive advantage over rivals, and many companies therefore now face huge dilemmas when it comes to making strategic choices. Whilst other programmes focus either on strategy or on coaching, Vlerick has resolutely opted for a combined approach. ‘Using case studies and exercises, professor Kurt Verweire demonstrates how various different strategies can be successful, and the importance of making strategic choices. Therefore, as well as providing strategic concepts, we also take a predominately practical approach.’ Finally, we also look at change management: how should you implement your chosen strategy and how can you facilitate this change?
From coaching to action plan
Working on trust and a group dynamic is mainly achieved through coaching, both at individual and group level. A 360% feedback system is used for this. De Stobbeleir explains: ‘As a result, not only will the line managers be providing feedback; the team members will also be evaluating each other’s performance. The results are then discussed during an intensive day of coaching. We mostly start off with a creative exercise in which everyone is asked to introduce themselves by focusing on aspects of themselves of which their colleagues may be unaware. This enables people to get to know one another at a slightly different level. After this, we dive into the results of the 360% feedback. This process not only strengthens every individual in the group, it also brings the group as a whole closer together. Thus we not only focus on individual strengths and challenges, but also on evaluating those areas in which the team scores well, and those in which it lacks competencies. The feedback is facilitated by specially trained coaches, who bring with them a wide range of experience in working with other companies and management teams. At the end of the day, all this results in both an individual action plan, and an action plan for the team as a whole.’
Learning as a group taken to a whole new level
Finally, the combination of learning as an individual and as a group is given an extra dimension, as management teams from different companies follow the programme together. ‘It goes without saying that each team is coached individually, but for strategy and change you can learn a great deal from the way in which other management teams approach things. The teams hold up an external mirror to one another, as it were. This programme for executive teams therefore takes learning as a group to a whole new level.’