How to Build an Effective Leadership Team System
Great leadership teams are built and maintained through the effective interactions among structure, relational dynamics, formal team leadership and the environments in which they operate. While it is difficult to prescribe a step by step approach for building an effective leadership team system, there are three important factors that should be considered in any approach.
Organize as a Leadership Team not a Senior Staff Group
Many leadership teams we encounter are structured as senior staff groups where the CEO’s direct reports share information and negotiate functional or business unit priorities with the CEO. This model can and does work in many organizations, but it is not a team model and does realize the force multiplier benefits that leadership teams can provide. The ability to leverage the experience, talent and wisdom of senior colleagues is squandered and opportunities for greater innovation are lost with a senior staff model. Efficiencies are missed when priorities are established at a departmental rather than a cross-organization level.
Balance Functional & Enterprise Roles
The item that most differentiates membership on a leadership team from other organizational teams is the importance of a leadership team members enterprise role. Leadership team members certainly have very important functional or business unit roles to play but being on a leadership team requires them to balance these roles with always looking out for the best interests of the organization.
This is frequently a difficult transition for many executives to make as they often advance in large part due to their functional expertise. They attach self-worth and organizational value to this expertise and struggle to see themselves as stewards of the organization. Experience suggests that great progress can be made by simply spending time to discuss what playing an enterprise looks like – e.g., ‘we want your functional expertise, but we also want to hear you weigh in on the broader business issues we are facing.’ Coaching and feedback are also important vehicles for helping executives actualize their new leadership team roles.
Envision an Effective System
There are certainly volumes of books and many courses available on systems thinking and while this type of education could be beneficial, we believe that the most effective vehicle for helping a leadership team view itself as a system is to discuss and debate the interplay between each component of the system. Teams need to evaluate their structure, relational dynamics, and leadership approach and determine how effective the system is functioning in the current environment to support achievement of the leadership team’s purpose.
No team is perfect so there will naturally be imbalances, some small and some more impactful. For example, Team A might realize that weekly stand up meetings aren’t necessary any longer given that the team is coordinating effectively outside of meetings while Team B might uncover disturbing levels of infighting between new and tenured team members due to unintended duplication of effort. Potential solutions to strengthen any system imbalances will range from simple (i.e., canceling weekly stand-ups) to more complex (i.e., clarifying the how roles integrate and rebuilding trust).
Regardless of the solution, it is absolutely essential for leadership teams to think of solutions as inputs to and impacts on the whole system. As such, they have to discuss and debate the potential intended and unintended consequences a solution might have on all components of the system. For example, canceling weekly stand up meetings will might free up Team A’s members but have the unanticipated consequence of diminishing the team’s visibility on an important priority. Similarly, addressing the infighting and duplication of effort on Team B might not only strengthen trust and efficiency but also uncover the need for a new process.
Great leadership teams recognize that building and maintaining an effective system requires foresight and discipline. The rewards for the leadership team and the organizations they serve are well worth the hard work. What are your experiences with this systems view of building great leadership teams?