“It’s a dance, isn’t it?” was how a client recently described the relationship between the Executive Team (ET) of the organisation and the Senior Management Team (SMT). This description seemed to strike a chord with others in the meeting with a number of knowing smiles in the room, including from us as facilitators.
I experience this dance in many organisations. Executive Teams organise and have gatherings together with the next level of the hierarchy, sometimes jointly referred to as the “Senior Management Team”. While these gatherings are a common occurrence in organisations we work in, the style of “the dance” between the two groups varies tremendously. They sometimes dance together confidently, but often they are hesitant and uncertain. Becoming explicit about the nature of this dance seems important as these gatherings are important rituals in the cultural tableau members of the organisation create to make sense of what is important. Sometimes how these interactions happen is highly aligned with the explicit culture of the organisation. In other organisations it may be in direct conflict with the culture organisation leaders have espoused.
Generally an invitation to the meeting (an invitation to “the dance”) is crafted. Sometimes this is done with a lot of thought and crafted together between ET and SMT representatives. In other organisations we experience that the only thing SMT members know about the event is that someone has sent them a meeting invitation with an explict demand that they attend (which isn’t really an invitation at all).
The Dance Styles
We also experience a real range of meeting formats when these meetings take place. We thought it would be helpful (and fun) to use a number of dance styles to describe the variety of style of interactions that can take place in organisations when the executive team meets their senior management team to “dance”. These are offered to help you make sense of your experience of such gatherings in your organisation. Hopefully they might help you to be a little more conscious of whether the nature of the dance supports of undermines the culture you are looking to support.
Modelled on drama and movement of the Spanish bullfight. “This two-person dance form has the man performing as the bullfighter and the woman as the cape”(1). Based on passionate and short lived session-based exchanges usually around a pressing issue or project, usually in the spotlight with a rather dramatic soundtrack. In such ET/SMT gatherings:
– political factions may “lock horns” or try and score points or get the upper hand
– Executive Team members lead on key agenda items and are supported by their respective SMT members
– conversations are highly male-dominated: men take the lead and women provide support and an artistic flourish
– words like “critical” or “burning platform” may be used with great frequency and team members are invited to create action plans with unfeasibly short timelines
This describes a formal and formulaic process with background music known to all. “The Viennese waltz is a rotary dance where the dancers are constantly turning either toward the leader’s right (natural) or toward the leader’s left (reverse), interspersed with non-rotating change steps to switch between the direction of rotation.” (2).
Your teams dance in this way if:
– you have a very clear tempo or rhythm to your ET/SMT meetings
– meeting agendas and formats (if not agenda items) are predictable
– the leader takes a formally prominent role
– the dance requires training and not knowing the rules can lead to critical comments and whispers of incompetence
Highly participative process amongst a group of equals, with many taking part. “Fast tempos, quick music and a lively feel” (3). You will know if you have this dance in your organisation if:
– many are encouraged to take part in ET/SMT “gatherings”
– you are not expected to “know it all” as others will help you out
– you experience the meetings as fun and energising
– there are clear patterns of interaction together with a spirit of co-creation
“Tends to be intricate and physical, and the dancers change levels and directions quickly and seamlessly. Contemporary dance may deal with… images, or emotional extremes. It has a rawness that sets it apart from plot-driven ballets or Broadway jazz.” (4). Executive Team/Senior Management Team meetings with this dance style:
– work a lot with metaphors
– acknowledge and express a full range of emotions
– expect all present to take up different leadership positions regardless of anyone’s position in the formal hierarchy
– are highly dynamic in their meeting formats and subject matter
A highly practiced series of music or artistic performances teams in a tightly choreographed and timetabled schedule, usually with a large audience gathered in a ticketed seating area. You will know your ET/SMT meetings resemble a Military Tattoo if:
– your agendas are highly predictable
– everyone knows their place and role in the meetings and all are expected to be perfectly aligned in advance
– you generally have a large number of people who come to observe the meetings, usually in seats set apart from ET & SMT members
– the sessions often involve a series of increasingly attractive but complicated power-point slides presented with key points preceded with drum-rolls and successes with trumpets.
We at Metalogue love dance – we help executive teams improve their technique or change their dance style. So…which dance do you recognise in your own organisation?
4. Helen Hayes, Youth Dance Ensemble director, Joy of Motion Dance Center, Washington, DC, quoted at: