Culturally we defer to individuals higher in the hierarchy. How is your team hierarchy affecting communication on your team?

The weekly staff meeting includes several levels of individuals in the organization. The meeting led by the CEO, includes VP’s and Directors to share updates, set the direction for the week, and make decisions. When decisions are on the table the CEO asks a lot of questions and solicits input. The responses are tepid, particularly on the more contentious issues as the CEO has shown she is not really open to discussion.

She has quickly jumped folks for challenging her or providing input that is contrary to her position. Several senior folks were publicly admonished in front of the team after showing disagreement and challenging her.

Over time the VP’s have begun having pre-meetings to prepare a strategy to deal with the CEO’s opposition to input. The meeting centers on how they can support each other to ensure important information is discussed, as she is not open to opposing views.

In this case, the hierarchy of the team is limiting input and discussion. Interestingly the CEO has stated numerous times she wants open discussion. However, her actions send a different message.

Leading the discussion, making her opinion and view known at the outset of a discussion, and being verbally aggressive, pushing her points are what the team sees. This is also typical behavior outside of meetings.

The hierarchy of this team is having a negative effect on team communication. Deference is the expectation and openness discouraged.

Deference: humble submission and respect.

Openness: lack of restriction; accessibility.

My opinion: leaders act on a spectrum ranging from deference on the left to openness on the right. Leaders who lead expecting deference are limiting their effectiveness.

Deference —————————————————————————————- Openness

Deference: I am in charge, do not challenge me openly. If you do, I will assert myself and show everyone I am in charge.

Openness: I am comfortable holding my opinion or view until I have heard from everyone else. Challenge me on my thinking and I will listen.

The Impact on Team Norms
In this case, the impact on the norms of team communication has been to restrict the flow of honest and important information. To preserve themselves the team is wasting time on strategizing how to communicate with the boss rather than actually communicating.

Frustration, posturing, and possibly withholding information have become parts of the norms.

Personalize this with your own story. Think of two teams, you are associated with; one led by someone else and one you lead.

Reflect on the hierarchy of the team you are part of. Where does the leader fit on the spectrum? What do the leader’s actions tell you? Do they expect deference or openness?

What has been the impact? Based on your answer take a minute and articulate to yourself the team norms around communication for that team. Here are some typical results.

Deference                                                                               Openness

Team members hold information                                      Sharing

Unwilling to articulate challenges                                     Challenges freely expressed

Team members on edge                                                       Team unity

Choose words wisely                                                             Speaks freely

Now, reflect and assess how your team has been communicating with you. Where do you fall on the spectrum?

Some questions that may shed some light on where you are.
– Have you been surprised by events you should have been aware of?
– Do you make the team aware of where you stand on an issue prior to others speaking?
– Does your team regularly bring challenges to meetings with you?
– Does the teamwork on solving issues before bringing them to you?

Based on the above, give a succinct statement about the team norms on communication for your team?

How is the hierarchy affecting the team norms around communication for your team?