Posted: May 25th, 2022

The management team at Chattanooga Ice Cream Division

Leadership Case Study — Chattanooga Ice Cream Case

What is the effectiveness of the management team at Chattanooga Ice Cream Division?

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The Chattanooga Ice Cream Division’s management team is not operating effectively at all. It seems that none of the managers has a focus on the forest, but only on the trees. Even worse, it seems that none of the managers is particularly involved in the intellectual process of understanding why the business is doing poorly or how his or her particular business unit has contributed to the decline or what it might do to reverse the situation. Instead, the sole concern of the managers seems to be defending his or her business unit against any accusation of responsibility for any problems and shifting the focus of any negative attention to other business units.

What is Charlie Moore’s effectiveness as the leader of this team?

Charlie Moore has not proven himself to be an effective leader at all. His biggest mistake is assuming that the consensus-style of leadership and decision-making that worked in magazine publishing would necessarily work in ice cream manufacturing and sales. In principle, magazine publishing is a much more natural and appropriate venue for consensus decision-making because of the way that various business units must actively collaborate to produce every article or feature. By contrast, the nature of ice cream manufacturing is not necessarily an appropriate venue for decision-making by consensus because of the relative isolation in which different departments work and the absence of regular collaboration in the normal processes that are essential to the success of the business.

Moreover, the fact that Charlie implemented such a fundamental and radically different leadership style as compared to that relied upon for so long (and so successfully) by his predecessor only exacerbated the problems attributable to the change of leadership style. Arguably, even in an industry or business where leadership by consensus would have been more appropriate, it would have been a mistake to implement such a change without considering the existing patterns and relationships among and between key business unit managers. In theory, a consensus-based system could have been introduced where a team had already exhibited a mutual trust and an efficient collaborative environment. Unfortunately, at Chattanooga, the individuals at the head of the various business units did not have an established rapport and had not demonstrated that they were at all capable of working together collaboratively in that fashion. Charlie should have maintained the authoritative decision-making style of his predecessor unless or until he managed to cultivate the appropriate environment and organizational culture at Chattanooga that was more conducive to effective decision-making through a consensus process.

What should Charlie do to move the team toward a consensus on the immediate problems facing the company?

If Charlie wants to move the team toward a consensus style of decision-making in general or toward consensus-based decisions in connection with the company’s immediate problems in particular, he must use his position of authority to change the focus of the heads of the respective business units. More specifically, Charlie must announce that his administration will neither reward nor tolerate the “CYA” approach to collaboration in which the principal focus of each business unit head is to make sure that any blame or responsibility is automatically shifted to other business units practically irrespective of any interest in solving the problems, wherever they originated. Charlie must establish an organizational culture of responsibility, in connection with which he must announce that demonstrating the ability and willingness to recognize and correct problems will be rewarded while defensiveness and deliberate attempts to focus blame elsewhere will no longer be tolerated.

In the immediate period, Charlie should abandon the consensus approach to decision-making and take on the decision-making role of his predecessor. He should schedule private meetings with each business unit head with the instructions that the only topic of discussion will be ways to contribute to the solution of the problem within each respective business unit. During those meetings, no discussion will be permitted that pertains to any other business unit whatsoever. Charlie should announce that what will be rewarded will be business-unit-specific solutions and not arguments that fault lies elsewhere.

What could Charlie do to improve the performance of the team in the future?

Charlie must establish a culture of openness and communication by announcing that any criticism of other business units be voiced only with the heads of those business units present. Charlie should also abandon any practice of responding passively (such as by feigning a deaf ear to complaints and hoping that the individuals will get the hint and stop complaining. He must use his authority to explicitly prohibit that sort of destructive communications while encouraging productive communications and honest acknowledgement of problems and responsibilities on the part of all parties. Finally, Charlie should announce that business unit leaders who wish to become part of the management decision-making team must do so by demonstrating their ability and willingness to examine their own possible responsibility for problems. Those who can do that may earn their right to participate in management decisions once again; those who persist in merely calling attention to the limits of their units’ responsibilities and frame all problems as being attributable to the mistakes of others will not be invited to participate in future management decisions and may not have a long future within the new organizational culture of shared responsibility and collaboration at Chattanooga.

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