Creating an effective senior team

Many senior leadership teams struggle to be cohesive and high performing.  While some actively work to lift their game there are thousands and thousands of New Zealand organisations being “led” be dysfunctional leadership teams.  If you’re a member of a senior leadership team, and the following team meeting scenario sounds familiar, probability is your team needs to lift its performance…

Two people are late for the meeting.  Background papers on the issue have been circulated but most people haven’t read them.  Time is spent bringing people “up to speed” and answering questions already covered in the papers.  Some people have a great deal to say and argue their point passionately.  Others say little, and some contribute nothing.  The conversation lurches off topic. You begin to disengage and think about all the work you could be doing.  Time is up!  The meeting ends with no decision, no clarity, and no clear next steps.

So why are senior leadership teams often poor performing? First, members of these teams are busy. They’ve got a lot on making sure their part of the business is doing what it needs to do.

Members of senior leadership teams don’t actually spend a lot of time together. They meet formally maybe once every couple of weeks.  This means they may not actually know each other well  – which is a barrier to building personal and professional trust.  Trust is key to being a high performing team.  Without trust it is difficult to have open and vigorous dialogue.  Open and vigorous dialogue is essential for making good decisions.

Second, many members of senior leadership teams forget what team they are on!  Instead of operating from a wider organisational perspective their engagement is driven by advocating, justifying or defending their part of the business, for example, IT, finance, or HR.

While team members should bring the perspective of their part of the business to the table, when it comes to decision-making they need to operate from “what’s best for the organisation”.  Even if a decision has an adverse impact on their part of the business, they get behind and support it because that’s what the senior leadership team has decided.

Last, most senior leadership teams have not defined what they are there to do.   In the absence of clear purpose, team discussions and activities are unfocussed and ineffective.  A clear purpose helps a senior leadership team focus.

I’ve just worked with a team that has defined its purpose as “stewards and champions” of the organisation.  From this purpose they have developed specific senior leadership team accountabilities such as “collectively translating strategy into action”.  They use their purpose and accountabilities as a strategic filter for deciding what they should talk about and where to focus their efforts.

A dysfunctional or poor performing senior leadership team sends all the wrong messages to the rest of the organisation.  What messages is your team sending?