The UK side of the Brexit process has arguably become even more tense and nerve-wracking than the UK’s negotiations with the EU, as senior figures in the government continue to snipe at each other over the type of deal that Britain should aim for.

During the Conservative Party Conference, it was impossible to avoid the impression that foreign secretary Boris Johnson was pulling away from the vision of a phased and managed Brexit set out by Prime Minister Theresa May, with chancellor Philip Hammond warning him through the media that he was not unsackable.

Days later, the row escalated following Hammond’s assertion that he would not stretch Treasury funds in the direction of supporting a ‘no-deal’ scenario – a position that rankled with the hard-Brexit wing of May’s Cabinet. Speaking to the press, shadow Cabinet Office minister Jon Trickett said: “We had a Prime Minister who said no deal is better than a bad deal, a chancellor who now said he won’t fund a no-deal scenario, and a foreign secretary who seems perfectly happily with no deal arrangement.”

Labour’s Chuka Umunna added: “This government is more interested in fighting amongst themselves and making contradictory statements than making sure we avoid crashing out of the EU with no deal. Ministers contradict each other with such regularity that getting a straight answer out of them is like trying to nail jelly to the wall.”

Leaders are routinely faced with big decisions that depend upon the collective talents of the top team. But when that team is fractured, what can leaders do to heal such rifts and keep the group’s primary objectives in sight?

In the view of The Institute of Leadership & Management head of research, policy and standards Kate Cooper, healing rifts is a process to which the entire senior team – not just the leader – must contribute. “Senior teams, by their very nature, are comprised of individuals who have achieved certain degrees of success,” she says. “But although they’ve arrived in the senior team with that under their belts, individual achievements do not determine organisational success. That will be determined by the success of the team. So it is vital for those people to conduct themselves in the senior team in a fashion whereby they can draw energy and confidence from their own track records, but at the same time bring in a huge commitment to the overall team, and a willingness for it to succeed.”

Cooper explains: “In many ways, they have to put their own needs in a distant second place to those of the team which, for some, may not be a particularly comfortable place. In his writing on the five dysfunctions of teams, Patrick Lencioni discusses how a bond of trust between the team members is absolutely vital for their overall effectiveness as a group. Similarly, Professor Andrew Kakabadse notes that teams are, by and large, reluctant to discuss extremely sensitive issues – even when that paralysis stands to cause enormous damage to the organisation.”

She adds: “Each person who is brought into a senior team carries in their own particular version of an inner conflict between their own needs and those of the organisation. The psychologist Wilfrid Bion’s work in this area highlighted the distorting role of unconscious processes in this dynamic. Bion concluded that people’s behaviour in a team situation often manifests itself in ways that they are not necessarily aware of at the time. So for a senior team that is dysfunctional, and in which there are low levels of trust, that unconscious behaviour can be particularly ruinous.

“A team trying to operate under those conditions would benefit from an external intervention that could help them play down the needs of the competing individuals, rebuild trust – and reassert the paramount importance of the team’s success.”


For further thoughts on how to enhance team collaboration, check out these learning resources from the Institute


Image of 10 Downing Street entrance courtesy of pcruciatti, via Shutterstock