The CFO had flattened the organization considerably and spans of control for many managers rose from six direct reports to as many as twenty. Liposuctioning the layers of marbled fat out of the enterprise had been accomplished. However the CFO made no changes in his behavior so when he called upon a manager to opine about future options, he expected the manager to have the same level of detailed insight into specialized issues as the manager had when there were fewer direct reports. The CFO table-pounded about how each manager is to be fully versed when appearing at one-on-one and group meetings. Unfortunately, the CFO was loathe to pre-specify the topics into which he planned to drill. Had he done so, the manager could have been prepared or have brought a specialist along to enrich the meeting’s content as well as the specialist’s career development. As a result, our manager-contestants were subjective to the Quiz Show experience, along with the buzzer, which signals scornfully “wrong answer” or “time’s up!”
Staff became more focused on avoiding the buzzer than they were on pursuing longer-range purposes. Fact-based deliberation became less important than having the “correct answer.” Yes, tactical details and recovery from mistakes are essential. However, if top talent is increasingly focused on the weeds, then there will be fewer opportunities to pull out of the emergency spiral and get away from quiz shows, firefighting, and other unproductive drills.
The executive may develop a sense of being surrounded by dunderheads. As the executive focuses increasingly on niggling details of tactical problems, strategic goals and objectives get lost in the shuffle. Eventually the focus becomes exclusively about doing things right rather than on doing the right things. This spiral will eventually do the executive in and s/he will need to become a host on another Quiz Show!
One alternative is to communicate meeting agendas in advance so that the right people can be at the meeting and be prepared to hit the ground running! If you identify whether the purpose of the meeting is exploratory, information-gathering, analytical, or decisional, that would be an added plus. The bottom line is that significant changes in structure must be accompanied by behavioral shifts if the structural change is to achieve its desired effects.