Why timing matters for executive team and board performance

Timing matters for executive team and board performance. It’s the most frustrating of things. Decisions are made, but the time it takes to agree them seems torturously long. Even when they are agreed on, the implementation seems to go at a snail’s pace and you’re worried that the organisation will miss the market opportunity the decision was meant to grasp. Sometimes, on reflection, the executive team or Board didn’t make the right decision because of a lack of challenge – or too much, which railroaded the process.

Sound familiar?

At our most recent roundtable event we talked about the significance of timing. While what I just described probably feels hauntingly familiar if you operate as a CEO, senior executive or as a non-exec, the likelihood is that, even though you can spot the symptoms, you haven’t yet figured out the cure.

And the really tricky thing is that the right cure – the one which fixes the issues once and for all, rather than making things only incrementally better – is likely to depend entirely on the timing.

When is just as important as what

When a senior executive team or board team is performing sub-optimally it’s easy to leap to solutions. But the most crucial move is to pause sufficiently so you can understand the timing context in order to match it to the right solution.

So what do we mean by when in this context? Examples include:

  • A change in leadership – whether that’s a new chief executive, chair, significant stakeholders or C-suite team membership
  • Changes in strategy or strategic priorities
  • A need to take performance to the next level
  • External factors such as legislative changes or disruption in your market
  • Any key point within the organisation’s cycle, so the mid-year point, when you need to review how you’re doing against enterprise targets, or the start or end of a year when you are planning
  • Before you make significant changes, for example establishing a new target operating model or strategy, and you’re considering the best team to lead the change
  • A new partnership, joint venture or alliance which brings pairs of teams together
  • A situation where there’s unhelpful conflict between those in pivotal relationships, for example, the chair and chief exec, or chief exec and CFO
  • When senior relationships are so fractured that intervention is needed to get things back on track

Surely we can crack this alone?

The evidence would suggest not, given that high-performing leadership teams were number eight in the top 20 Harvard Business Review article topics between 1976 and 2016. That’s 40 years of trying to successfully and sustainably solve this problem, without much apparent progress.

And evidence also shows us how critical the performance of top teams can be. 90% of investors consider the top team the key non-financial factor in their decision-making, and an organisation is 1.9 times more likely to have above-median performance if the top team is aligned and working towards a common vision.

So while top executives seem to agree on the business challenges we’re facing – company growth, new markets, cross-sector competition and the need for new alliances – it seems that the actions being taken to make those teams most able to tackle the challenges are merely more of the same things which haven’t fixed the issues so far. It’s like turning up the volume on a radio station you’re already playing and expecting a different genre of music to appear.

At our event and in previous blogs we’ve explained the big three problems we see when working with executive teams – time together is unproductive, conflict is too high or too low, which impacts on decision-making, and the skills, experience and behaviours which got people on the top team aren’t enough to sustain performance.

In our experience the trick to making those successful and sustainable changes is in not only addressing those three big problems, but in using the right solution for the team’s when – which is dependent on the stage both the business and the team are at. Interventions need to match both the business context and the team’s current challenges, which we reviewed in detail earlier in this article.

Doing the right things at the wrong time doesn’t deliver results. That’s why we put so much emphasis on the discovery phase of our work. It helps us not only understand the enterprise and its context, but map the when, which is what leads to higher-quality, more sustainable interventions.

As basketball legend Michael Jordon so eloquently put it, “Talent wins games. But team work and intelligence win championships.” Senior leaders need to decide whether they are happy playing in the lower leagues, or whether they have their eyes set on the Premiership trophy.

If your organisation has it’s eyes on the prize and you’re keen to ensure you do the right thing at the right time to take your executive team or Board up a level, get in touch for an informal chat about how we can support your team’s performance and growth.

Executive team performance: get these 5 things right

Get these five things right for optimal executive team performance

At our recent round-table event in Edinburgh, High performance top teams – fact or fiction? we discussed a framework for creating an optimal top team, in performance terms.

Developed after years of working in and on executive teams, our framework is borne out of first-hand experience, not simply theoretical study. And it’s as simple as five things…


Firstly – and most obviously – you need to have the right people round the table. But to get to the answer on who should get a seat needs work on defining what the team exists to do and how you want people to behave.

Once you have absolute clarity of purpose, required capabilities and leadership style you need to set aside any egos and conventions about reporting lines and be brave enough to pick the right people, regardless of where they sit in your organisation. Too many under-performing teams are slaves to the tradition of team composition, to the detriment of the team’s performance and potential.


It should go without saying, but if it was that simple it wouldn’t need a mention here – in order to perform, any team, but especially an executive one, needs alignment on purpose, priorities and strategic direction.

Small chinks in alignment at this level look like great gaping chasms when viewed from below, so this is about real and tangible alignment with behaviour which supports that, not just nodding in the right places.


The next critical part, how a team interacts, is another significant factor in its ability to perform. How do you want these relationships to be? How can you know which interactions may create tension and which will be most productive?

The individuals in the team need to be aligned to the task – the whole reason why the team exists. and critically to each other. Developing a good understanding of each other’s working styles and strengths in service of improving strategy execution is a well-made investment that will pay back many times over.

But it’s also critical to recognise that no one person can cover all the bases, so within the team people need to work with others who complement them, covering each another’s blind spots. Sharing leadership across the team in this way is essential.

Finally, the relationships within the team and between the team and other stakeholders – internal or external – also need careful consideration. Which relationships are most pivotal to the success of the team? For example, a CEO and a Chair or a CEO and a CFO, or perhaps two Functional or Business Directors who need to collaborate effectively.


Research reveals that tweaking the balance, so a team focuses simultaneously on interaction and execution (the how and the what) meant their work programmes were nearly twice as successful as those run by teams focused on teamwork alone and nearly three times as successful as those that focused on performance alone. So, having considered how a team will work, it’s also critical to focus on how to get work done. – the task strategies. This is a lynch-pin which holds together the strands of success.

To be greater than the sum of its parts, a team must operate optimally. That means getting absolute clarity on what strategies will be used to deliver. Who works with who? Who sponsors particular projects? How will the group make decisions, for example? A lack of emphasis on task strategies is a major factor holding teams back.


If your team is always in performance mode, there is no reflection and refinement, inevitably meaning its performance will deteriorate over time.

We talk about taking a step back in order to go forward, which means building in pauses at the right time to make sure that everything is on course and to identify any fine-tuning opportunities.

It’s critical to evaluate what strengths you will take forward with you and what might need some attention to be even better.

Research by McKinsey reveals that when senior leaders role-model the behaviour changes they’re asking employees to make, transformations are 5.3 times more likely to be successful. With most organisations in a constant state of flux, can you afford not to get this right?

If you’re interested in finding out more about our team performance framework, please email Triumpha and we’ll schedule a time to talk.

Five things to take your top team from average to outstanding

Five things to take your top team from average to outstanding

It’s a bold claim. Only five things to transform an average team into a high-performing one. But they are so absolutely critical you’ll find it easy to see why.

1.Relationships built in service of the organisation’s goals

The trend for “team building” has not waned since the emergence of whole businesses built on providing cocktail mixing workshops and raft-building days which were meant to transform a disparate bunch of individuals into a super-effective team.

But activities designed as vehicles for relationship-building miss the point entirely. At board level, you don’t have to like one another, you just have to create strong relationships which enable you to co-operate and deliver for the organisation. Members of the top team must be open to being influenced by others and genuinely able to listen to their points of view.

It’s not about getting to a stage where you all happily go for after-work drinks, but forging relationships that will withstand disagreement, challenge and tough times, all while enabling each other to continue to drive organisational performance.

2. Absolute clarity on team composition

Too many teams are convened without sufficient understanding of what they have been created to do. For top teams, it’s imperative that the CEO has crystalised their thinking on two key things, which can then be refined with the team:

  • what is the purpose of the group and what critical things will they do when together?
  • what are the behavioural standards and norms for the group?

The stronger the base, the higher the peak applies here. It’s about creating an enduring framework for the board or executive team which guides what and how, but also why they come together.

This clarity must be combined with a careful assessment of who should be on the team, the skill and will needed to get the results, regardless of reporting lines. Getting this right from the start will reap its own rewards.

3. Optimising team performance

If you always do what you’ve always done, said Ghandi, you will always get what you always got.

Many teams will have done work on themselves as a unit, but few will have addressed the strategies they use to get work done. This is about task work as well as team work and is about looking carefully at what and how work gets done. Task work can be as simple as defining how decisions will be made and how problems will be solved together, but it’s the critical factor which is often overlooked.

It’s also about helping successful leaders get even better by adapting their leadership style and behaviour. In the words of Marshall Goldsmith, ‘what got you here won’t get you there.’ Leader’s get stuck in patterns of behaviour that are no longer helpful and need to acknowledge where they can optimise their own leadership style.

Most importantly leaders need to be willing to make changes to habitual ways of working that are no longer effective. Reaching the top table is not the end of the leadership development journey.

4. Don’t assume alignment

It’s absolutely critical that members of your top team have a common understanding of the organisation’s goals and the strategies to be used to achieve them. Even small divergences in understanding about purpose, priorities and strategic direction at this level can become gaping chasms when viewed from below.

If there is a lack of alignment, you won’t execute on strategy as quickly and in all probability will fail to adapt quickly enough to either keep pace or outpace the market.

Finding effective ways to check that the top team are genuinely aligned is a make-or-break success factor.

5. Slow down to speed up

Research (and common sense) tell us that individuals and teams cannot continue to perform at their best in perpetuity.

Periodically and purposefully coming out of performance mode to reflect on what’s going well and what might need tweaking is the best way to qualify that you are progressing at speed in the right direction.

But taking this deliberate stop also allows the literal pause for breath that is needed to replenish energy and stamina ready for the next phase. We call this slowing down to speed up.

It sounds really simple to say that just five things will take your top team from average to outstanding, and of course, if it was that simple, everyone would have solved the problem. To find out more about truly effective strategies for top team performance for your organisation, please email us at

Top Team Effectiveness: a 21st Century Imperative

In pursuit of top team effectiveness

Historically top team effectiveness has been measured by the influence the CEO has on business results. But in an ever-changing 21st century business environment, it takes more than a single heroic chief executive to deliver results.

When the single most important non-financial factor for investors is the top team and the quality of their leadership, it’s concerning to think that the vast majority of organisations are still wrangling with the perfect solution for this critical driver of business success.

Executive teams and Boards are perpetually characterised by repeating frustrations – lack of productivity or progress in meetings, the same issues appearing time and again, getting down into the detail of issues which could be better dealt with outside of the top team, and too much (or not enough) conflict derailing the decision-making process. There’s so much energy spent on so little results. As a board member or Senior Executive, I’ll wager the symptoms will be as familiar as the cures are elusive.

It’s no wonder that top teams rank in the top 10 most covered topics in Harvard Business Review over the last 40 years.

So, what are the missing pieces which will help top teams – already made up of the best-of-the-best a company has – become the high-performing units they need to be? How can you make sure your top team is focused on the right things in order to drive the right results?

Missing pieces

With the new imperatives presented by the 21st century – a more dynamic and unstable business environment than ever, fast-paced technological changes, and distinct shifts in the attitudes of the workforce – drawing on leadership, talent and capability is the only way to get ahead.

Yet despite decades of significant investment in team development we’re still not seeing universal improvements in top team – and therefore business – performance.

At our roundtable we’ll talk through the three major reasons for this lack of traction:

  1. The focus has been on developing the wrong things. Team work is prioritised over task work, but like yin and yang, both need to be in balance to reap results
  2. When the focus is on the right things, it’s often at the wrong time
  3. Leaders get stuck in behavioural patterns which limit individual and team performance

At the heart of it all is one concept – shared leadership.

Marshall Goldsmith said: “No one leader can be good at everything. Shared leadership across a team of leaders will be the way in which excellent companies do business in the future.”

The real power for dealing with rapid change and hyper-competition lies in shared leadership within and across the senior executive team and Board. So, if the age of a single CEO doing most of the heavy lifting is over, how can you fine-tune your executive team and Board to deliver the performance the business deserves?

A new focus

It’s true that an effective team can become more than the sum of its parts, but what does it take to turn that group of great people into a high performance board which can truly deliver for an organisation?

How can you create shared leadership and harness that to enhance results?

At its core, a top team must build strong relationships in service of the organisation, because that’s what it takes to operate effectively. You don’t have to like one another, just figure out a way of communicating and collaborating that drives outcomes.

Research tells us that there are three key aspects of board or top team interactions that will really drive improved performance outcomes:

  1. Influencing the effort that team members put into their contribution to the team’s work
  2. The performance strategies adopted to achieve progress
  3. The knowledge and skills people have

Here we briefly explore what each of these means for your board or senior executive team development.

Influencing effort

Most senior people will believe they work hard, but reaching the executive team or board means that we need not only to provide clarity and laser-like direction to the organisation but harness the efforts of colleagues to help deliver on the strategy.

It’s about the team’s ability to get the best from everyone and to develop relationships for enhanced performance, creating the conditions for 1+1=4, not necessarily by getting people to work harder, but by directing that effort to where it will have the biggest impact. Are you confident all members of your top team are consciously doing this?

Critical skills at this level are the ability to take an ‘enterprise level’ view and to remain open to hearing and at times acting upon views and perspectives that are different from our own.

Performance strategies – why you need them

Many boards and senior executive teams spend a large amount of time setting the what and where of strategic direction. The really effective ones also agree on the how, defining performance strategies that will ensure delivery of the work that only they can do, resulting in the organisation delivering against its targets.

If you’re using the wrong strategies, how can you expect to deliver the right results?

Knowledge and skills – the power of team

Learning and personal development must not stop because someone reaches the board. And a very real danger is that some of the skills that have supported a rise to board level will work against you, particularly in arresting learning in a misguided belief that those who reach the board are fully-formed and able to take on the challenge without further personal development.

Critical to team performance is not only personal development, but the skills mix the team possesses and how this can be put to optimum use. Do you even have the right people on the team to deliver?

Of course, if it was as simple as cracking these three things then we wouldn’t need an executive roundtable to go into more detail about how to get top teams to perform!

If you’re joining us for one of our upcoming roundtables we’re looking forward to hearing your experiences and views on whether high-performing top teams only really exist in mythology or whether it’s possible to create one in your organisation.