The power of the pre-mortem
— Great executive teams keep learning together

“Great things in business
are never done by one person;
they’re done by a team of people”
– Steve Jobs

Great executive teams are always learning. This means they have the professional skills and emotional maturity to engage in the kind of dialogue that produces real results.

Too often, dysfunction kills teams. Conflict. Fear. Power struggles. Lack of trust and accountability. Poor leadership is too common and it is expensive, time consuming and soul-destroying.

Dialogue dies without safety and trust

Psychological safety is feeling that you can be open and honest without fear of embarrassment, pressure, shame or punishment. You know its okay to be vulnerable as you can trust the group to remain curious, rather than assigning blame and making snap judgements.

This is not about just being nice and avoiding the negative. In fact the opposite is true as healthy disagreement and robust dialogue is a necessary part of group learning. Otherwise the group is doomed to make the same mistakes over and over again.

What’s vital is curiosity and candour — the free exchange of ideas, exploring possibilities for improvement through productive disagreement, suggestions, concerns, and fresh ideas. In this way speaking up, even when difficult, is to be encouraged and celebrated.

The executive team pre-mortem

When a project crashes there are always those who knew deep down this was headed for trouble. A project reaches a point where, culturally, it difficult and embarrassing to say ”no, this was a dumb idea.” Everyone steams ahead pouring in more money and resources all to save the embarrassment of acknowledging the flaws or the retribution of criticising the leadership.

Great executive teams need to be able to have the difficult conversations about what is best for the company, not just best for themselves. Dysfunctional teams cannot do this. There isn’t enough trust, and there’s too much fear of failure.

Pre-mortem discussions imagine what we would change now if we knew this project (or division, or company) would fail in two years. If we had a time-machine and, knowing hindsight has 20-20 vision, what are the things we would wish we had raised?

Facilitating regular “key learning” meetings

At The Colloquium Group we regularly host executive key learning meetings. As external facilitators we can navigate a way though the turbulent sea of relationships, ego, pride, envy, fear and other subtle barriers to openness and learning. We calm the seas so challenging conversations can take place in placid waters.

With skilled hands we create safety to enhance the learning experience and get to key, top level questions like:

  • What are we learning together?
  • How can we improve what we’re doing?
  • How can we support each other more?
  • What would we wish we had said if we knew this project would die?

The Key Learning Experience is fluid and flexible, using an action learning approach using iterative cycles of (1) observing what is happening now, (2) reflecting on the effectiveness of the actions, (3) planning how it can be improved, and (4) acting on what needs to be done.

Healthy executive teams produce great results

While we know this is true, too many of us have had negative experiences in teams that are toxic or unproductive. This is frustrating for everyone, and very expensive on the bottom line.

Great leaders will intentionally take up the problem. They will pick up the challenge and work towards safe team gatherings focused on positive mutual learning.

“Individually, we are one drop.
Together, we are an ocean.”
– Ryunosuke Satoro

For more information how The Colloquium Group can assist you by showing you how to host your own regular Key Learning meetings for your executive team contact us here:

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