Overcome the barriers to successful team and organisational change

Part Two

Another barrier to change is poorly chosen, badly placed leaders.

Last month, the first article in this three-part series introduced the 7th Wave concept (below), highlighting the first of three systemic barriers that often derail successful change efforts in many teams and organisations. In this article, I explore the second barrier, which is the most influential obstacle to a team or an organisation’s quest for high performance. (I once again use the terms manager and leader interchangeably).

Overcome the barriers to successful team and organisational change

A recent Harvard Business Review article stated that leaders should be responsible for driving employee engagement, yet only 30% of employees are engaged, costing the US economy $550 billion a year in productivity loss. Moreover, a large global survey of employee attitudes towards management suggests that a staggering 82% of people don’t trust their managers!

Unsurprisingly, over 50% of employees quit their jobs because of their managers. As the old saying goes, “People join companies, but quit their managers.”

I was recently told by an executive manager of a global technology firm how managerial behaviour that is empathetic, inclusive or people-centric is regarded as soft and “not fit for promotion” in her organisation. It seems hardly comprehensible that this culture exists in a progressive, global organisation in 2019.

Bill Joiner found that a large percentage of managers (more than 80%) are stuck in technical and results-driven styles, and they struggle with understanding the practices of catalytic leadership, a style of leadership defined as talent building, facilitative and visionary.

Organisations need a new level of understanding and interpretation of the science underpinning next level leadership in order that high potential future talent is retained. Managers, in turn, require a transformative shift to operate effectively at a “next level” of emotional maturity.

What has become clear is that our current approaches to developing leaders are not optimal. The process of providing key people with new tools and skills, and then not providing context and support when they attempt to implement these upon their return to the workplace, appears to be a shortsighted approach to the investment in organisational talent.

Organisations should explore the effective integration of learnings acquired from business school-based training programmes and their impact. Most executive education programmes are excellent at building conceptual and strategic perspective with the focus on discipline-based skill sets, such as strategy development and financial analysis. But they often underplay important relational, communication and affective skills required for leadership success.

With reference to executive leadership development, I recently had the privilege of meeting with Professor Mark Rittenberg, Distinguished Teaching Fellow at the University of Berkeley’s Haas Business School. He has received accolades for introducing innovative and exciting approaches to executive development, which includes theatre-based experiential work, and integral leadership connectivity sessions that stretch leaders to grow outside of traditional cognitive frameworks of development.

We live in a country and a continent where the human capital development needs are critical – according to the latest Global Human Capital Index all sub-Saharan Africa countries perform worse than the global average – it is vital that every Rand spent on training yields a return on investment, and that leadership development is individualised and supported through agile, innovative and customised approaches.

How to overcome barrier #2 – poorly chosen, badly placed leaders

Managers tend to derail when they stop learning, think they’re infallible, become legends in their own minds, or cannot make the transition to a different job or way of behaving.

Overcoming the leadership challenge is, without doubt, the most crucial, impactful and radical aspect of organisational change. It has to start with one fundamental principle, and that is to confront the brutal reality of your current situation with courage and authenticity.

This can be accomplished by accelerating the following actions:

  • Identify and remove obstacles to effective teamwork and collaboration purposefully, collaboratively and with integrity;
  • Identify the key behavioural dimensions of next-level high potential leadership and recruit people managers against this profile using evidence-based interviewing skills;
  • Encourage a culture where people understand the behavioural philosophy of building great teams, inspiring others to go the extra mile, and building emotionally mature working relationships;
  • Immerse managers in innovative and experiential learning interventions and ensure individualised integrative support that promotes human connectivity; and
  • Drive a culture of high accountability and consequence management.


The globalised economy and the spread of connective technologies are forcing the pace of change and the degree of complexity needed to shift organisations to an entirely new level. To enjoy sustained success in this turbulent environment, organisations need to develop leaders who can operate at a level of expertise and agility that matches this unprecedented level of change and complexity.


Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic: What Science Tells Us About Leadership Potential: HBR September 21, 2016

Michael M. Lombardo and Robert W. Eichinger (Human Resource Management, 2000, Vol. 39, No. 4, Pp. 321-330)

McCall, M. & Lombardo, M. (1983). What makes a top executive? Psychology Today, 17(2), 26-31.

Bill Joiner: Creating a culture of agile leadership: Volume 32/Issue 4 — 2009

Michael Taylor is the Managing Director of Xponential, www.xponential.co.za, and an experienced global facilitator, management consultant and executive coach. He has spent the past 25 years researching and implementing culture change strategies, building world-class teams and developing global leaders.





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