Senior Management Teams: Strategic focus or organisational admin?

Making the big decisions or checking the latest performance report?

All councils have management team meetings; indeed, my guess is that all large organisations have management team meetings of some sorts.

At their best these management teams provide the strategic direction for the council; dealing with large issues and ensuring that there is a consistent vision across the organisation. In addition, the team meetings are important opportunities to share information across the council, to ensure that important messages are cascaded down to the rest of the staff, and hopefully to also challenge each other over how the organisation should be structured.

I’ve been to a wide range of these management team meetings as a guest over the past few years and therefore always take a big interest in the agenda of these meetings. The thing that struck me most was the proliferation of basic admin tasks that were covered by these supposedly strategic meetings.

I think this stems from a misunderstanding of what the management team is there for. Instead of being strategic many management teams seem to think that their job is simply to ‘see’ everything that is going on within the council.

Because local government is extremely hierarchical there is sometimes a perception that unless a decision is made by the appropriate management team it will never actually happen. This means that managers feel the need to take even the most basic (but still important) of decisions to the management team to make sure that decisions get made and no-one can claim they were out of the loop.

Issues that would come before the management team therefore include:

  • First aid training
  • Fire marshals
  • The monitoring of the number of appraisals carried out by each team
  • Annual leave plans for the Olympics
  • Style guides for e-mails

Obviously, these are menial items but probably don’t take too long (although I have heard a very long discussion over some crazy things over the years). The problem comes when the management team also spends a long time discussing the and reviewing regular reporting items including:

  • Risk register
  • Budget monitoring report
  • Sickness reporting etc

If you add all this together you get a lot of monitoring and ‘sign off’ but not a lot of strategic direction. In effect the team becomes an administrative or bureaucratic hub for the organisation.

All very worthy but not becoming of a true management team in the twenty first century?

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2 Comments on “Senior Management Teams: Strategic focus or organisational admin?”

  1. Hayley Lewis Says:

    In my own experience there are two factors that make this situation worse: lack of trust of middle managers and too many management layers. The latter means you have senior and middle managers tripping over each other in a bid to justify their roles. My own local authority is carrying out a piece of work to review the no. of management layers and spans of control – there are about 5 councils across England taking part. It’ll be interesting to see if this makes a difference to the issues outlined in your post.

  2. *cringe*. Guilty as charged. I’ve been in these meetings too, regularly. In fact too regularly. Implementing minimum spans of control won’t change things, it’ll just be less managers meeting to discuss more staff appraisal targets and more risk assessments. This is about culture.
    The person chairing the meeting is the only one with the power to really change this. It’s down to what you’ll accept as an item for a discussion, to making sure that discussion stays on track. It’s also about teaching the managers below you what is expected of them and what these meetings should achieve (most behaviour is learned surely?). It’s about leadership. We have a lot of managers, but not many leaders…..

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