Where is the wonder in your leadership team?

Photo by Jeremiah Lawrence on Unsplash

Over the last few months, I’ve been working with several executive teams who want to improve the way they work together as they lead their company. In all cases there’s no problem to speak of — it’s a genuine intent to keep adapting as their teams grow and change. They are asking themselves questions such as “what does better look like?” and “what do we need to do to get there?”.

As you might imagine, communication is a big component of the answer — especially as COVID has required us all to reconsider the way we work together. But finding the definition of “better” communication, when things seem to be working quite well, isn’t so easy.

A quick google search of “effective leadership team communication” (and about a dozen different variations) produces a couple of clear themes. The first is essentially “how to communicate with your employees” — with (mostly) a top-down focus. The second is “how to conduct effective meetings” which falls into two buckets:

This guidance focuses heavily on the 3 Ds:

While these are all vital elements, to me the list feels incomplete.

It is missing the space for wonder- the purposeful opportunities to ask questions like…

Wonder conversations create space for new ideas. They deepen connections between team members as vulnerability windows open. They provide an opportunity to share things that aren’t going well, to seek advice from others and to align on important ideals that impact team culture. The result is higher trust across the team — and that new level of trust builds and strengthens the entire team as your company scales.

If your team has worked together for a while you’ve probably developed a natural way of connecting and bringing wonder to your conversations. That’s great. But what happens when new members join your team? Or you re-organise in response to a new strategic direction? At the very least you’ll need to explain to new members how things work, beyond “we have a team meeting once a fortnight”. You may also need to consider that your existing natural mechanisms may not work under new conditions. It might be time to redesign your opportunities to create wonder.

So how do you turn the mirror on yourselves to rethink the creation of wonder? I’ve noticed that, ironically, many teams start by looking outside themselves. They look at the layers below them in the organisation and point to what they think is missing. The problem with that is, the layers below are looking up, taking their cues from the top.

It’s important to start by looking inside the leadership team before turning the lens to your broader team.

You can do this by asking yourselves the following questions…

1. If I wanted to maximize my contribution to our leadership team, what would I focus on improving? (I Wonder) Remember to focus your answer specifically on the LT, not on your functional role or the company overall. This might require you to admit a lack of experience in important elements of leadership. That’s part of the honesty and openness required. To say, “I know this is important, but I don’t know how to do it”. Spend some time identifying possible learning pathways. Don’t forget, we all have to take responsibility for our own learning.

2. How do our answers (to question 1) vary across the team? (We Wonder) This is your cue to share your answers with the rest of the LT. Ideally, this is an open conversation where each team member talks about themselves and invites everyone to give feedback on their answers. And to share what you’ve found out about possible learning pathways.

3. What would we like our shared focus to be when it comes to developing our leadership muscle? (Co-Wonder) These are things that link your strategy, culture and leadership together. Things that everyone in the LT is working on. That you continue to talk openly and regularly about.

4. What conversations (beyond the 3Ds) do we need to embrace as a Leadership Team? (Design Wonder) This is where you can really amp up your focus on wonder as a part of your collective leadership rhythm. Some of these conversations will no doubt feel awkward. The key is to stick with them, reflect on how they are helping you work better together and on how you can continue to make them better over time. Take the initiative to talk to colleagues from other companies. Ask them about the conversations they are having — there’s no need to reinvent the wheel.

Leadership team agendas tend to be incredibly full. No doubt, for some, the idea of adding more items feels near impossible. Remember that building wonder into your routines has the potential to streamline your other conversations and will likely take less time than you think.



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