High-performance leadership teams are extremely rare.
MGL has worked in the arena of leadership development on every continent (except Antarctica) across 20 years. We have come to realise that building a high-performance leadership team is hard. In our experience, rogue elements continue to break-through, and simple mistakes generate unexpected outcomes that take time and energy to resolve. In many cases, leaders choose to ignore the difficulties, and teams limp along for years on end.
We firmly believe leading a C-team requires your full attention. Many C Level executives fall into the trap of believing they can lead a team to high-performance and still do another “day-job.” Leading a team to create a genuine state of high-performance requires a game plan, with clear rules of the road, and a heightened sensitivity to relationship dynamics, values, culture and performance behaviours.
The message we repeatedly offer CEO’s is,
“if you want to scale your business and realise your vision, you will not be held back by finance, technology, or strategy, if you are held back, it will be because of teamwork.”
Senior-leadership-teamwork is the ultimate competitive-advantage, precisely because it is so rare and because of the power high-performing senior teams can wield.
Researchers have conducted many studies that show time and again, that there is a high correlation between performance, job satisfaction, success and the effectiveness of senior leadership teams.
Why is it a strategic imperative to create a high-performing senior leadership team?
Today’s fast change, agile disruptive environment demands responses that only teams can make. Any CEO, no matter how bright, will not survive unless they can build a team of powerful senior leaders who share a vision of the future and are committed to creating it by challenging each other to do their best work.
Recognising this is a complex issue we decided to ask a couple of leaders, who have repeatedly built high-performing teams, to tell us what has worked for them.
What simple practices improve Senior-Leadership-Team Performance?
Tim Taylor, MGL’s founder and managing partner, had this to say, “It all starts with the fundamentals. Today, I see so many teams missing the basic building blocks, such as core purpose, values, processes for decision-making and problem-solving.
Having an agreed purpose provides clarity about the scope of work for the team. This simple foundation allows the team to set meaningful agendas, select the problems they are there to solve and those that belong next level down.
Agreed values, or ways of working together, sets the tone for the team’s culture. Values signpost the leadership philosophy of the team. These beliefs bind team members together in ways that help them endure challenges, and helps them to maintain trust to build mutual respect and accountability.
When these fundamentals are missing, the C-team members resort to delivering value by managing their portfolio of work, often described as silo working. This symptom should be a red flag for all CEO’s and senior leaders. My advice is, don’t rush to blame the members of your team, look to audit the fundamentals and consider setting a game plan to change the team’s behaviour by changing your practices and expectations.”
Christine Davies, Co-Founder and Head of UX at MonkeeAi, shared how her team works, “At Monkee we have a morning ritual. At 9:30, we all jump on a video call. We set ourselves daily goals. We all have a very clear vision of what we are trying to achieve. Small daily goals, everyone is accountable, and we report back on them on our daily calls. So, no micro-management, everyone is trusted to get on with what they are doing. That’s how we are assuring momentum and making progress.”
Christian Erlandson, CEO, Autofutura, a transformational leader, who follows a strategy that he has used many times when transforming organisations. He begins with a critical question; “Before having a team meeting ask, what is your Northstar? Provide something tangible, whether it be an agenda or specific goals before the team meets…….so if the meeting drifts or there is a level of disruption you have something to point the team towards and remind them why everyone is here.”
How do you deal with people who won’t get on the bus; what is your strategy for dealing with those disruptors?
Christian says that this happens all the time, and when coupled to the fact that seventy per cent of people don’t speak up at meetings, this can make the disruptor even more of a distraction. Christain’s advice, “one of the best ways to deal with that, or limit that from happening, is peer-to-peer accountability. Collaborative problem-solving is a very successful technique. When you are coming to a meeting to solve several problems, assign these to different peer teams and in the meeting use breakout sessions, this tends to reduce someone speaking out. If they do, traditionally, I have used the parking lot. What tends to happen, when we review what is on the parking lot at the end of the meeting, most people realise that it maybe something they can hold off on.”
Tim, “I tend to agree, collaboration in small groups works and the notice board works too, but I also think that there is a time and place when the CEO has to make some hard calls. If an individual’s behaviour continues to be out of sync with the other team members, then the CEO needs to take them off to one side and give them clear, unambiguous feedback.”
CEO’s need to be clear about their leadership philosophy and what they expect from their colleagues on the C-Team. Welcome passionate arguments when they are genuine, and aimed at helping the business; but if the disruptor’s behaviour starts to disenfranchise or disrespect other members on the team, a correction needs to take place.
Christine, ” A lot of the sessions I am leading are collaborative design sessions, where I am working with my team and with clients. I have chosen to use Miro Board, which is an online whiteboarding tool, this has helped me to design my sessions and then facilitate them in a really structured way.” (watch video to see Christine’s worked example)
Christine’s meeting structure:
- Clear agenda with topics and times for each element
- Start the session by giving everyone a voice, discussing the goals and outcomes that each person wants to achieve.
- Any activities planned for the meeting have clear written instructions so that everyone knows what is expected.
- Clearly defined discission-making processes such as:
- voting dots
- affinity mapping
- Have a parking lot to capture ideas that are out of scope
Christine has found that using this structure on Miro with video has increased productivity significantly, what used to take 3-hours face to face, now takes only 90-mins.
How important is a vision?
Tim ” I have always been impressed by your ability to build a vision and then get a management team to align with it. As you know, a few of the companies we have worked on together have not had a vision, can you talk a little about a, how you go build that, and then why it’s so important to do.”
Christian, “You are absolutely right on that front, in a number of different large companies I have worked for, there have been lots of projects happening, lots of things on the table that people are dealing with – but when it all doesn’t link to a vision, I am quite surprised and taken aback……. For me the vision is everything. It all hinges upon that, and the most successful advice I think I could offer, …is to start with that vision. Go through it with the team, so that the team is included in the process of creating that initial vision. Then put it out there for people to subscribe to and communicating using multiple channels. Communicate it in bit-sized chunks, send out a few different priorities for the team to focus on. By doing that, I find myself, as the leader, in the problem with the team helping them to find ways to solve it, its that reverse-pyramid, it’s not top-down, …I am in the weeds helping them do it, I am with them, but they are all held accountable. Driving accountability is extremely important…and linking that vision, the commonality, so that everyone’s responsibility rolls-up into that one vision statement.”
Christian’s leadership philosophy motivates teams and helps them work together effectively. He bases his philosophy on several core values. He promotes transparency and asks for candour. He engages his people in an open dialogue, which he demonstrates by first letting people know where he comes from, his history, background and how he likes to be spoken to and he follows this up by asking each team member to tell him how they like to be worked with. He sets the scene early on by ensuring everyone is aware of his expectations and acknowledging that the vision can only be accomplished through effective teamwork.
Additionally, Christian starts every meeting with a ritual. He calls it the Personal and Professional Check-in. He has found this invaluable. It has helped him, and this team, understand each other more deeply. Recognising that personal circumstances sometimes impacts performance helps the team learn to support each other through challenging times because of improved empathy. This simple ritual helps him stay connected to the team members all through the journey.
Is the vision personal?
Christian, “Myself, I like to deal with 3rd party information in the weeks leading up to having the vision sessions with my team, but ultimately I trust my own instincts for any of the businesses I get into……You have to let your team contribute, but at some stage, you as the CEO have to own it, you make the call, this is what it is; this has to come from the leader.”
Christine, “A lot of it (the vision) came from the team, but it is vital to have an understanding of the industry and competitors because ultimately being customer-centric and understanding what is needed, solving a real problem is vital for the business to be successful. So having that background information is really important, but ultimately it comes to down to what we as a team come up with, and define as our vision.”
Christian, “absolutely Christine, its the voice of the customer, you can’t get it wrong if your vision is linked to what your customers’ need.”
Tim, ” It sounds like you both agree that research plays a part, but in the final analysis, the vision is created by the team and the CEO.”
What is the future for leadership?
Tim, “What I see is that the people who are on leadership teams have to be prepared to have a vision, and to share where they think the business is going, through their own understanding of the market, trusting in their touch-points, and their knowledge of clients. It is a mixture of doing the research and understanding what is out there, but ultimately vision is an emotional statement that drives the internal emotions of a team. If your team decide on a vision, and it is grounded in good data and customer needs, the chances are that it will give your team the emotional connection to drive motivation for the long-term.”
Christian, “You can’t buy a vision. Sure, you can spend lots of money on consultancies. I have seen in the past, where we were in that process of working with very expensive consultants, and then over the weekend, another company announces a new strategy. It is similar to the one we had been working on with the consultancy. It is better that it should come from you, it sounds original, it is probably going to resonate more customers.”
Final thoughts on leading management teams
“For me, it always just boils down to the individual people and making sure that I understand each one and work with them accordingly. They are all so different; in my experience, I am never the same manager to one person as I am to the next. That is kind of my take on it, pay attention to the people individually.”
“Right, how do I top that! What do you want? It’s being honest and truthful with your team, something I call radical-intimacy, really knowing what is going on, really drive to understand what motivates them and make sure they understand what motivates you. And being extremely confident about what your ideas are and where you want to take your team and keep them focused on that Northstar.”
“Take the time to think about how you structure your team meetings, separate operational meetings from strategy meetings and build rituals that support your team’s success.”
We are grateful for the generosity of our panel members and look forward to developing more real-world insights into leading senior teams to high performance. If you wish to ask a panelist a question please email Chris@makinggreatleaders.com, and we will be sure to get you an answer.
Watch the full webinar here:
About our Panel
Christian Erlandson has been at the intersection of content and enabling technologies his entire career. He’s worked for five early-stage high growth companies (including co-founding his own company) and over 15 years leading teams in large corporates. His has extensive experience leading successful business and cultural transformational projects at GFK, Dun & Bradstreet, and Thomson Reuters. Christian is a mentor for London Business School’s Entrepreneurial Programme and a panellist for the FinTech50. Christian is a dual citizen of the US and UK, currently residing in London.
Christine Davies has been in design and technology for 23 years. Her unique take on design thinking focuses on understanding how people interact with each other and with technology. Christine is a co-founder of MonkeeAi, a team of highly specialised and experienced technology entrepreneurs. They are passionate about creating unique, highly personalised user experiences for a broad audience. Christine brings a deep understanding of the many challenges multi-disciplinary product teams face when designing data-informed engaging software that delivers user value. Before Monkee AI, Christine has held senior leadership positions at B2B software companies where she was instrumental in implementing design thinking methodologies across the business.
Tim Taylor is an entrepreneur who has been in the tech sector and strategic leadership fields for over twenty years. He has helped guide C-suite teams at brands such as Thompson Reuters, HP, D&B, GFK, CAT, through leadership development projects. He consults to senior leaders around the world in several market segments including software, finance, shipping and manufacturing. Tim is the Founder and Chief Visionary Officer at Brilliant Button, Founder and managing partner at Making Great Leaders, and is an executive coach and mentor to CEO’s, executive leaders and senior teams.