Teamwork is a reality, not a buzz phrase in today’s business environment. Savvy leaders are asking questions to get to the heart of what’s happening in the workplace and promote agility, and multiple perspectives are being integrated into joint solutions.
Multinational agricultural biotechnology corporation Monsanto is seeing results after 40 of its high-potential leaders — mid- and high-level executive candidates from all divisions on six continents — participated in the Leadership Agility 360 from November 2010 to March 2011.
The Leadership Agility 360 (LA360) online feedback tool helps leaders assess their capabilities in context-setting, stakeholder engagement, creativity, self-leadership, pivotal conversations, team development and leading change.
Monsanto, headquartered in St. Louis, is a Fortune 500 company with more than 21,000 employees in 66 countries. In 1997, it began a series of mergers, acquisitions and spin-offs. In an environment characterized by rapid change and increasing complexity, leadership agility would enable company leaders to anticipate changing conditions and respond creatively.
Pamela Caraffa consults with Monsanto on leadership development. She was the company’s vice president of organizational and leadership development before launching her own firm, Emergent Leadership, in 2005.
She said Monsanto executives recognized there would be a shortage of leaders with sufficient strategic thinking, systems thinking and interpersonal skills if they did not take action. She incorporated the LA360 tool into the company’s leadership development program for high potentials. After a successful 2009 pilot program with leaders of the company’s Chemistry Technology function, Monsanto gave Caraffa the green light to add LA360 to its leadership program, and shift the program’s skill-building component to focus on leadership agility skills.
The program includes webinars, online 360-degree feedback surveys, goal setting and coaching. Twice the 40 leaders were assembled at headquarters for a week of skill-building workshops, action learning projects and interaction with executives.
Caraffa said her approach does not depend solely on 360-degree feedback. “I don’t think any 360 stands alone really well. I think coaching is absolutely essential. The skill-building was essential as well.”
In July, 18 months after their first gathering, the participants took the LA360 again to assess growth and establish new goals. The metrics won’t be available until later this year, but Caraffa said the program has been successful.
For instance, leaders have learned how to have better conversations, a highly valued LA360 skill. “My team saw me as a more broad and open thinker,” said Tracey Cavato, Monsanto’s director of transgenic sciences. “Through increased conversations with my team and leadership, other options were brought to the table which made our performance even stronger.”
Leaders are also asking the right questions and integrating various perspectives into joint solutions. “I learned to take a step back during my interactions with the global regional teams and think about the best approach for the situation,” said John Chambers, who works in product management in Asia.
Effective teamwork can be elusive at any corporation. In the pilot program Monsanto’s leadership team functioned mostly as a hub and spoke, with the manager being more directive than he wished, and team members failing to work in synergy. Now, Caraffa said those workers are making strategic decisions together, and the manager is freed up to focus on new ventures.
Louis Carter is founder and CEO of Best Practice Institute and the author of several books, including Best Practices in Leadership Development. Rophe Woods is a research associate and analyst at Best Practice Institute focusing on talent management, leadership development and organization change. They can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.