By Dr. Ichak Adizes

(Published in Leader to Leader, Number 31, Winter 2004)


Dr. Ichak Adizes has advised more than 400 companies and six national governments. His theories of corporate life cycles, management styles, and organizational change have been reported by Business Week, the Financial Times, Fortune, Inc., and the New York Times. He has taught at UCLA, Columbia, and Stanford business schools, and directs the Adizes Institute, an international training and consulting firm. His seventh book, “Mismanagement Styles,” will be published in the spring 2004.

Most executives would agree in today’s interdependent, global society, ethnic diversity brings greater market insight, credibility, and social equity to organizations. But we tend to overlook a less obvious but equally important kind of diversity – that of managerial style. Fostering a variety of managerial approaches is essential to high-performing organizations, but it requires thoughtful leadership and exceptional communication skills.

Consider the many roles senior executives are asked to play: visionary, taskmaster, steward, facilitator. Have you ever encountered an executive that excelled in all dimensions – someone who is entrepreneurial and at the same time task-oriented? Who is both creative and meticulously organized? Who is people-oriented and inclusive but can be decisive never-theless? Who is also willing and able to build a team without trying to be indispensable to it?

Such perfect executives do not exist. Each role requires different behavior, different styles of managing. Yet no organization can succeed without a senior team that, collectively, captures all these attributes. The real role of leaders, then, is to bring together a team with not just the functional skills and experience to do their particular jobs but also the intelectual and temperamental diversity to complement each other. But how do you get such divergent personalities to communicate effectively and ultimately come together around an organization’s most important decisions? Unless you recognize the different ways that managers operate, you cannot capture the full and best thinking of the team when you need it.

Let’s first consider the four functional roles necessary for any enterprise to be effective and efficient in the short and in the long run: to produce, to administer, to innovate (lead change), and to integrate these functions into a working totality. Each of these roles calls for a different style of management.

The Producer style drives performance and delivers results. Producers are defined by their desire to see tangible outcomes. Archetypal producers focus on what’s happening at the moment, respond to needs, and tend to make snap judgments.

The Administrator style (defined more by personality than by job title) brings necessary order and efficiency to the enterprise. Administrators’ strength is in coordinating activities, overseeing systems, shepherding resources. They manage the rules and constraints that bind every organization, seek to maximize efficiency, and tend to follow precedents.

The Entrepreneur style champions innovation. Entrepreneurs focus on a vision of the future and spot long-term opportunities that give purpose to work. They generate plans of action to keep their organizations creative and competitive. They tend to be independent, impatient, and critical of others.

The Integrator style harmonizes needs within the group and helps make the whole greater than the sum of its parts. Integrators understand people’s aspirations and know how to handle company politics. They seek to build consensus around a decision.

These styles, together, are the ingredients for managing any organization. They also breed conflict, and that is just the point. If it is destructive conflict, it can stymie an organization or destroy it. But constructive conflict allows the best answer to emerge. Thus leaders must harness the natural tensions in any diverse group. To do that, they must start with two essentials. First, they must have people who can both grant and command trust and re-spect. Without a culture of mutual trust and respect, the natural conflicts within an organization can never be constructive. That’s why successful leaders hire people for who they are, more than just for what they know. Second, leaders need an organizational structure that allows people to be accountable, get results, and act in the best interests of their team or unit as well as the interests of the larger enterprise. With these human and structural foundations in place, leaders can build a communications process that fosters productive one-on-one conversations and, in the end, better decision making by the group.

Why Structure Matters

An organization’s structure determines the distribution of responsibility, authority, and rewards. Done right, it supports the climate of trust and respect essential for productive conversations and good decision making. Good structure enables people to align their own interests with those of the larger group. It takes into account the one variable that most influences what people do and how they think: whether they’re accountable for long-term or short-term results.

When functions responsible for short-term and long-term results are housed in one department, like having a VP for sales and marketing, short-term needs will always trump long-term needs. Marketing managers, when reporting to a sales VP, just do sales-support activities rather than thinking strategically about the business, the changes that need to be done to sales for long-term success. Likewise production and product development are often lumped together with similarly unfortunate results, as are accounting and finance.

To function effectively and to give the CEO the diverse input necessary for good decisions these activities should be separated. For instance, a large oil company, recognizing that its marketing department, which reported to sales, was adding little value, separated the two functions. This created conflicts that the company was not used to. In the past, sales dominated and marketing was a sales-support activity, preparing brochures and doing statistical analysis of sales performance. But with marketing and sales reporting independently to the president, marketing started to criticize sales and push for change. This created energy for change and gave the CEO another set of eyes as to what needed to be done in the market-place. It freed him from being a prisoner of one point of view, the VP of sales and marketing.

Without a structure that gives both short- and long-term functions a room of their own, and thus gives people the opportunity and resources to advance their view, companies risk losing their capacity for innovation, change, and diversity of thought.

Managing Productive Conversations

Robert Hutchins, the long-time president of the University of Chicago and one of the great social thinkers of the 20th century, spoke of the need for a “civilization of dialogue.” Civilized dialogue is essential if people with different styles and interests are to cone to together. But without attention to other people’s styles and assumptions, you cannot have a productive conversation. The diverse perspectives that should be a source of strength and wisdom become debilitating.

Say you want to get a colleague’s point of view on an important business issue. Entrepreneurial types toss off solutions, some only tangentially related to the problem at hand. Ask them to outline a solution to a problem and they will probably lose interest. They are focused on the future, not on the present. (As Ted Turner remarked, “All I remember is tomorrow.”) Administrative types, on the other hand, want more data. They can find the holes and pitfalls in any proposal, but they can also get lost in minutiae. Producers often rush to judgment, just to be out of the meeting and back to work. And Integrators consider any decision reached without full consensus to be an unacceptable risk. Conversations between any of these types can escalate into shouting matches or collapse in cold silence in which not even the silence means the same thing to both parties.

To communicate effectively, first recognize your colleague’s management and communications style. Then prepare for every important conversation by tailoring your approach to your colleague. If you want to take advantage of the diverse perspectives of a team, it does no good to conduct a conversation entirely on your own terms. Rather, you must find ways to ensure colleagues’ contributions. If, for example, you’re proposing an idea to an Entrepreneur (for instance, a VP of product development), focus on opportunities, not problems. If you’d like the support of an Administrator (often an HR or Finance chief), stress efficiencies that the proposal will bring. Also gauge the optimal time of a conversation. For a Producer (typically a sales or production VP), keep things short and to the point more than a 20-minute conversation is likely to be counterproductive. When meeting with an Administrator, by contrast, allow for plenty of time to hash out the details, keep the session within the time allotted, and bring a written agenda. To get the best response from an Integrator, speak first to other stakeholders and then mention early in the meeting that you have talked it over and already have agreement on all the key issues – but bear in mind that this is the worst approach to take with an Entrepreneur. Remember, to come to the best decision, you need an intellectually honest and open discussion with the person you are talking to. You will not get that unless you create an environment in which that person can be heard.
Managing Group Decision Making

In one-on-one conversations, you can tailor your communication style to your colleague’s. In a group, however, many different styles and interests come into play. That may not matter if the team is simply reviewing the status of a project or sitting through a Power Point presentation. But if you’re setting a new course of action and want the shared wisdom and eventual buy-in of a diverse team in short, if you need to come to a decision that will require change – it’s another story. You must recognize the individual differences that lead one manager to push for quick answers and another to demand more data. Such differences, if ignored, are what make so many meetings so frustrating.

The answer, however, is not to run a meeting according to your own style, or that of any single type. Inevitably, someone will be misunderstood and resentment, resistance, or confusion will result. Often teams trying to avoid displays of anger or unpleasantness will descend into management by committee, which is always a disaster. What’s needed is a set of rules, a methodology that allows people to move through the decision-making process in their own way, at their own pace, and then come together knowing that their voice has been heard.

Leaders can improve the group decision-making process by recognizing the eight cognitive steps that everyone goes through in making a decision:

  • Defreeze: Step back and disengage from other concerns.
  • Accumulate: Gather your thoughts and reflect.
  • Deliberate: Recognize patterns and make sense of information.
  • Incubate: Sleep on what you have learned. (Or, as the Spanish say, “Consult your pillow.”)
  • Illuminate: Synthesize the big picture and see a solution the a-ha moment.
  • Accommodate: Reconsider your second thoughts and doubts.
  • Finalize: Bite the bullet and decide so you can take action.
  • Reinforce: Seek reassurance that you’ve decided wisely.

Most of us can recognize these elements of the decision-making process from our own experience. In team decision making, the trouble stems from the fact that no group moves through this process in lockstep. Some managers, typically administrative types, cannot easily move from accumulation to deliberation; they never have enough data. Meetings led by Administrators usually end just as they started; nothing gets resolved. (There is, however, a request for more information.) Other managers, for instance, entrepreneurial types get caught between the illumination and accommodation cycles; for every doubt that is raised about an idea, the Entrepreneur will offer a new idea and thus a different solution. You end up with many ideas but no decisions. And so on. These behavioral norms carry through the conduct of the entire meeting exemplified by people who arrive late, or interrupt others, or intimidate others for a quick solution.

Leaders can use several techniques to enhance team communication and effectiveness. For instance, to defreeze the group – that is to help people leave other worries behind and openly engage in a question – ask them how they feel about the subject at hand. Admit your own excitement or concern from the beginning. When accumulating information, put aside discussions of how or why something occurred; just get the facts on the table. Dur­ing group deliberation, make sure everyone’s observations have been aired; then ask people to look for patterns or relationships among the facts presented. Likewise, to illuminate best solutions, start by surfacing every idea people have. Put aside for the moment concerns about expense, logistics, or other such doubts. Address these in the accommodation stage.
Putting the Pieces Together

Team discussions and decisions are unlikely to occur in a single meeting; the process may unfold over several weeks. The team leader may want a facilitator to help keep the conversation on track and, in any case, will need to understand the highs and lows that people on the team are likely to encounter along the way. Administrative types, for instance, often revert to the high of accumulating data to avoid the pain of deliberation. Likewise, the entrepreneurs seek quick illumination but dread the painful compromises of accommodation. The producers hate the whole roller coaster ride and want to finalize immediately. The key is to be sure that the team advances together rather than having individual members advance at their own speeds, disregarding others and getting annoyed that others are not following. With these principles in mind, the leader should bring order and efficiency to meetings. Even more important, the leader must assure that the management group arrives at decisions together, in a spirit of mutual respect and trust.

Even though everyone needs to participate in the decision making, consensus is not mandatory. The final word belongs to the person in the room who has the authority to commit resources and is accountable for the decision. The purpose of the team decision making is to enable the person who will eventually take the decision and finalize it to be as informed and as knowledgeable as possible. Senior executives can act with greater confidence and credibility by providing an open and transparent forum that allows and even encourages divergent points of view. By walking through each step of each decision, the participants all know their voices have been heard, and, I have found, decisions are therefore more broadly supported and better implemented.

Bringing together the interests of people across an enterprise is the essence of leadership. Rather than seeking instant alignment after a decision is made, leaders should bring to the meeting those whose cooperation will be needed to implement the decision. When self–interests get unearthed up front, common interests can ultimately emerge. Resistance to change is dealt with before the change is announced.

For example, a $5 billion high-tech company used this approach in a successful turnaround. Seeing a steady erosion in its market share, the company convened several management teams to diagnose its problems and develop solutions. The changes involved a reorgani-zation of the company and caused pain to many managers and staff. But ultimately it was supported by the key stakeholders, all of whom had a chance to join in a structured decision-making process with clear rules of conduct.

True alignment comes from the interaction of people, values, structures, and processes before decisions are made. Decisions get implemented more easily when the alignment exists. Those interactions are fruitful only when leaders seek out divergent views and complementary strengths.

Successful leaders know that they cannot be right on every decision all the time and forever. They need to seek out the wisdom and expertise of those around them whose style complements their own. Such diverse teams hold the answers to gridlock, and dysfunction. How leaders manage the team’s interactions and communications can spell the difference.