I really didn’t think I could still get something so basic so wrong. After all, it happened just a few kilometers over the border. Even my lawyer knew about it and he hardly ever leaves his office!

Every year I teach my change management students that if they need other people’s support to achieve something important,  then they had better go and lobby them before raising it in a meeting. But this time, I kidded myself that this situation was different because it is an incredibly fast moving project and I would only be availble to help for a few hours that week. So I prepared what I thought was a short but visually powerful presentation and punched out the essential point that I wanted the team leaders to align on in the weekly team meeting.  Twenty minutes later, it was done; agreement reached, officially noted in the meeting minutes and a new way forward of working together was established to achieve our goal. Well at least I thought it was until the next day…

The first sign of trouble came in the format of an email, basically pointing out to a colleague of mine that the meeting I had addressed was only an alignment meeting and that any decisions taken within it are non-binding and that as a leader of his team, he will ignore what was agreed and continue as before.

“Harley, in my experience, the Dutch are fiercely independent, free thinking people. In the workplace you simply cannot take an authoritative position over anyone, everything needs to be done with behind the scenes diplomacy and influence”. My lawyer was right. And so was the lesson I have tried to drive home to so many of my students over the last decades.

A large piece of humble pie later, with lots of additional hard work and an adapted change of approach and I think we’re getting there!

The important question that remains open though is, how long can some companies exist with structures that promote leader driven silos? In every country, no matter the predominant culture, there are examples of dynamic businesses that consistently outperform their competitors. These companies have established fast moving, collaborative, team-based models that work. They are able to make high quality, quick decisions based upon a shared vision.  So the big change management challenge for me and my team is to make sure that we not only get everyone focused in working in a new way individually but also with each other, outside the boundaries of their so called teams.

Have a good week,