29th Mar 2010

The 'New' Government Team

Like so many organisations over the last 2 years, the Irish government has re-organised itself, in the belief that doing so will lead to accelerated performance. 

The first thing that needs to be considered when looking at any team is to ask if you have the right people in the right roles. Apart from the thorny issue of whether so many teachers, lawyers etc are the right people to have on the team, there is a real concern in this re-shuffle that people got promoted (or got demoted) because of their close alliance (or lack of alliance) to the Taoiseach.

While many commentators have spoken about deck-chairs and the Titanic, I am more interested in what this team (the cabinet) needs to do in its first 100 days to make some real impact, and set itself up to last the full course of the five-year term.

The Taoiseach, at a very basic level, needs to ensure that he gets more than the sum of the parts from his team. The first thing he should do to ensure that is to  create a joint 100-day team plan wither collaboratively or with the aid of an external consultancy .

Being a student of politics, Brian Cowen will understand the importance of the first 100 days and how its origins can be found back in the 1930’s when President Roosevelt was trying to drag America out of the Great Depression and they were in the middle of a banking crisis…sounds familiar?. The importance of the team plan is to ensure everyone is rowing in the same direction, in pursuit of the same goals.

Within this plan they will need to focus on what the team can achieve in certain key areas:

-          Identifying key projects to deliver immediately (much like what they did with Lisbon, Nama and the Budget)

-          Re-look at the strengths around the table and figure out how to leverage those early (especially what the new members of cabinet will be bringing)

-          Focus on some of the key relationships that need to be built (re-built) with their key stakeholders (unions, employers, opinion-formers etc)

-          Figure out how to communicate more effectively with the public

-          Create a vision for Ireland that shows ambition, creativity and inspiration

Once this plan has been agreed, they need to look at the certain key areas that will determine how successful this team will be:

Leadership

People want to be led. They want to know that those they have put in charge have a clear sense of direction and will deliver results. In this context the Taoiseach needs everyone of his team to step up to the plate and demonstrate real leadership. With the Irish rugby team, all leadership responsibility is not passed over to Declan Kidney or Brian O’Driscoll – each player steps up to the plate when required. So it must be with the Irish Government team – it is not just down to Brian Cowen as each member of his team must perform the acts of leadership that the country needs.

 

Working Styles

To ensure optimum performance within the team, it is important they take some time to figure each other out. By understanding the preferred work style of your colleagues and flexing your own style when needed, you are much more likely to create a team environment where collaboration is to the forefront and where silo-thinking is eradicated. Much like at Director level in a large organisation, our Ministers need to remove their ‘functional’ blinkers and recognise they are expected to think and act in the best interests of the overall company (country). Really understanding each other will help this to happen.

Group Emotional Intelligence (EQ)

According to a an article called ‘Building the EQ of Groups’ by Druskat & Wolff, if a team is to be really effective where there are better decisions, more creative solutions and higher productivity then that team has to have trust, identity and efficacy. These can only be achieved if there is a high level of EQ within the group and thus Brian Cowen and his team need to pay attention to this early on. The good news is that EQ can be learned and practised – this team needs to start right now.

Early Feedback

An effective team needs to be able to give each other feedback – early and often. This Cabinet needs to find the trust with each other to enable this to happen. They need to find the way to give and receive this feedback in a professional manner that leads to performance improvement.

Whether you believe this team has the right people or not, whether you believe they are in the right roles or not at least if they put together a 100-day plan and pay attention to the areas mentioned above then they (and the country) has a much better chance of success in the coming months and years. This government’s future (and our future) has a chance but only if the first 100 days is a success.

Garrett O’Keeffe

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