Why reshuffles can be good for teams
Boris Johnson’s cabinet reshuffle has grabbed recent headlines. Many political commentators saw it as an attempt by the PM to seize control rather than share power. How can leaders get this balance right, and how can you align your team after a big shake-up?
The need for disruption
Cabinet reshuffles are often a way for prime ministers to place their personal stamp on an administration. Sometimes they are used to reward loyal supporters and remove dissenters (more about that later). A reshuffle can also ensure that the people involved in day-to-day decision-making are aligned to the government’s overall priorities. Reshuffles can also be very disruptive – but that’s not always a bad thing.
During periods of upheaval, we look to our leaders for a sense of purpose and clarity. Great leaders create belief in the future.
Disruption is powerful. It stops us doing the same old things in the same old ways. We need our leaders to be disruptive and to shake things up. Otherwise, our teams can stagnate, failing to adapt as our environment evolves. Shaking your team up might involve changing some of your team members, but it doesn’t always have to. I’ve worked with many effective leaders who are skilled at helping the people around them to shift their thinking, to see things differently, and to embrace new ways of doing things.
Purpose and direction
Whatever your views are on Boris Johnson and Brexit, there is no doubt that the prime minister has been clear since he kicked off his leadership campaign that he is here to ‘get Brexit done’. His opening words to his reshuffled cabinet at their first meeting were, “we’re here to deliver”.
During periods of upheaval, we look to our leaders for a sense of purpose and clarity. Great leaders create belief in the future. How they create that belief has changed in an age of cynicism. We tend to trust leaders who are open and authentic, who are driven by values that inspire confidence. After a big shake up, communicating a clear purpose in everyday language can help to align the team.
Challenge versus collaboration
Much has been made of the departure of former chancellor Sajid Javid and Downing Street’s desire to bring the offices of the prime minister and the chancellor closer together. I found it interesting that so much of the media commentary focused on the idea that the relationship between the two could either be challenging or collaborative, but not both. In fact, challenge is a healthy component of collaboration, and should be encouraged.
A risk-averse culture is a barrier to innovation and agility. Modern teams need the freedom to experiment, to learn, to move quickly without caution, and to change when required.
Leaders who are open to feedback tend to create more open, collaborative teams. If differences are expressed in a challenging rather than in a confrontational way, they can lead to better decisions. Out-and-out conflict is more likely to lead to entrenched positions and poor decision-making. So, leaders need to turn conflict into dialogue so people can engage in solving the problem rather than defending a position.
Boris Johnson has made a bold move in centralising power in 10 Downing Street. Command-and-control leadership tends to stifle collaboration and can often slow down the process of decision-making across organisations.
When responsibility is shared and open dialogue is encouraged across teams with a mix of capabilities and a diverse range of experience, we tend to create more effective solutions. The key to all of this is having a culture that supports people in taking sensible risks, learning, and applying that learning as the team evolves.
Boris Johnson has often been called a risk taker. There is a degree of risk in this reshuffle. The decision to centralise power in number 10 rather than sharing more of it with the chancellor next door means that Johnson may win more support if things go well, or receive more criticism if they don’t.
For leaders, a good way to encourage trust is to begin by demonstrating your trust in others.
Every leader and every team needs to take calculated risks. Not taking risks can mean missing out on valuable opportunities. A risk-averse culture is a barrier to innovation and agility. Modern teams need the freedom to experiment, to learn, to move quickly without caution, and to change when required.
Building high levels of trust where people feel safe to experiment and take risks is not easy, no matter what type of organisation you are part of. Effective leaders encourage intelligent risk taking at an appropriate level. They also encourage the team to learn, adapt and move on when things don’t work out.
Politicians are the least trusted professionals in the UK, but Boris Johnson benefits from being the most popular politician in his party and has promised to repay the trust of voters following his historic election victory in December.
Trust is an essential factor of effective leadership and effective team working. Trust is all about confidence – confidence in others to act with integrity and to do the right thing. Building high levels of trust where people feel safe, especially after a big shake up, takes time and effort. This can be especially difficult in modern matrix organisations where many team members may rely on virtual communication.
For leaders, a good way to encourage trust is to begin by demonstrating your trust in others. By starting to trust others more, you create a positive cycle of trust improvement, increasing other people’s confidence to act boldly, to risk failure, to experiment, and to learn.
The new chancellor, Rishi Sunak, is due to deliver his first Budget, and the first since October 2018, on the 11 March 2020 after only four weeks in the post. The prime minister has an opportunity to create a more positive cycle of trust within the new cabinet from this moment by supporting devolved decision-making.
As others learn they become more capable, and their ability to act boldly and effectively improves. How often have we heard people who have achieved unexpected success describing the person that gave them a break, who had confidence in them and gave them the opportunity to have a go? That’s a great reputation to have – to be the leader that gave people the chance to succeed.
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My first book, Connected Leadership: How to build a more agile and customer driven business was published by FT Publishing in 2015 and was shortlisted for CMI Business Book of the Year. My second book,...