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.

Taking the right first step to future proof your organisation

At our recent invitation-only round table event, Future proof your organisation with 21st century leadership, we discussed many aspects of the current business environment and the challenge it poses. Some of the key points included:

  1. No one person has all of the answers. Adaptive and shared leadership is the only sustainable way forward
  2. Developing a culture which supports enterprise contribution will result in exponentially improved performance
  3. VUCA environments are a threat, but can become an opportunity if you have the skills and techniques to overcome them
  4. Creating the right level of attachment in your culture will set every one of your employees free to thrive and perform at their best, which in turn improves organisational performance
  5. If you’re a leader, change and culture start with you

But if you are leading an organisation which needs to transform, what is the single most important thing for you to do now to future proof your organisation?

A new perspective on the failure of change programmes

The failure of change programmes is usually attributed to poor execution, but based on a four-year study of 62 corporate transformations, an article in the Harvard Business Review, What Everyone Gets Wrong About Change Management, says something different.

The research team cites what might sound like an obvious, but previously overlooked, cause – organisations often pursue the wrong changes. They advocate that, before worrying about how to change, executive teams need to figure out what to change and in particular, what to change first.

What vs how

For decades senior leadership teams have worried about how to undertake change programmes. Various techniques have been in vogue at different points, and many hours have been spent debating one approach versus another at board tables around the world.

But this analysis paralysis took focus away from the most important aspect of change – what exactly is it that needs to be changed? What changes will have the biggest impact on the organisation’s success? And, crucially, what changes will have the biggest benefit to its stakeholders – both its customers and its team?

Understanding your organisation’s answer to what to change first requires a detailed and thoughtful look at a multitude of factors and metrics. An outside perspective is often helpful in uncovering key insight which can guide successful change programmes.

Transformation done poorly can be very painful. All transformation requires some form of disruption, but negative disruption can have disastrous effects on your business. It can, and often does, lead to confusion, wasted energy, time, effort, and money.

However, transformation can also be, well, for lack of a better term, transformational. Done right, it can position your company to take advantage of the challenges it faces, turning what were once challenges into opportunities.

So, what will your next step be? And how do you know it will be the right one?

What does 21st century leadership look like and why does it matter?

They say the only constant is change, consequently, 21st century leadership has never been more relevant than in today’s dynamic business environment.

We’re not yet a quarter of the way into the 21st century, but the difference between 20th and 21st century organisations is already marked by those which are thriving, and those which are merely surviving.

Many organisations are still using the leadership styles and management processes developed for the Industrial Revolution, when the imperatives were about streamlining to create maximum efficiency.

But nearly 200 years later, efficiency doesn’t win the match, it merely buys you a ticket into the game.

Does leadership really matter?

Leaders create the culture for success: 50-70% of the variance in organisation culture can be explained by differences in leadership style.

And according to research by Dave Ulrich, around 30% of the judgments investors make about the intangible value of an organisation rely on their views about the quality of its leadership.

Even if you place no other significance on great leadership (and if you don’t, we really need to talk!), when its quality can directly impact an organisation’s financial value, there’s no escaping its critical role in success.

What is 21st century leadership?

If it isn’t about creating a more efficient organisation, exactly what is 21st century leadership about?

We’ve run 10 round table events on this topic, as well as working with more than 170 organisations to make transformation smoother and more successful. For us, the key to successful 21st century leadership comes down to a fundamental shift.

Leaders can no longer have all of the answers.

The environment is too complex. The challenges are too extensive. The people you are leading are more diverse than ever.

So while individual leaders cannot have all of the answers, collectively your people do. Adaptive leadership – where you set direction and ground rules, but then allow your team to dictate how to reach the end point – allows problem solving at the pace you need. That agility is no longer a luxury, but a necessity. Leaders need to be facilitators, not commanders.

As we say in our manifesto: Leadership is not a set of characteristics. Leadership is a responsibility.

We explore these concepts and many more at our round-table events. We look forward to meeting you and hearing your perspective on 21st century leadership.

What Great Leaders Know About Rest

Productivity is critical to organisational performance, but for decades we’ve missed focusing on the one thing which can have a tremendous impact on it. Our blog reveals what’s missing, why we need it, and how the latest scientific research should fundamentally shift our thinking on productivity.

Even for the most experienced leaders, it gets tough at the top.  For all the dynamic thinking and inspirational leadership, it’s a pressured and challenging environment that demands long hours and huge commitment.  So, it’s no surprise that with increasing levels of awareness around mental health and the impacts of stress and well-being at work, the lens is now shifting to whether this is actually the optimum way to get the most out of business’s best minds.

It’s particularly pertinent at this time of year when many of the workforce will have already packed up the family and set off for their summer holiday.  Behind closed doors, even at the more junior levels, it’s likely there has been at least one ‘discussion’ about taking a work mobile phone or laptop.  This inability to truly switch off, or be perceived as unavailable, speaks volumes about today’s workplace culture and mentality.

A commitment to life, not just work

We accept with gusto that with a 10,000-hour investment we can become a master at our chosen subject yet many leaders struggle to give anything like that kind of commitment to their own wellbeing.  The pendulum has swung so far towards work that the phrase work/life balance has become lost as leaders strive to do it all.

So, what is the answer?  There’s a new school of thought that believes it’s rest and relaxation, and that as leaders, we’re just not taking it seriously enough.

A recent Harvard study has looked at how successful CEOs spend their time, breaking it down into 15-minute slots.  There were some interesting findings that should begin to challenge the perceptions leaders have. The work hard, play hard culture is still evident, with the working week still demandingly high at over 62 hours, but the down-time is better protected, more focused and importantly, more meaningful.

For example, almost seven hours are spent sleeping.  Quality, restful sleep where the brain has time to consolidate memories and skills. The remaining six hours are almost equally split between the fulfilment of family and personal time.

What is striking is that these CEOs are as deliberate and planned about their rest as they are about their work, seeing rest and work as two essential and complementary parts of an integrated healthy whole.

The science behind the theory

There are a number of new books that go on to challenge the norm of a working day by questioning the value of a 9am – 5pm daily structure, instead arguing that the brain is at its most effective in much shorter bursts.  The idea of working less to achieve more isn’t new – take a look at Tim Ferriss’ 4-Hour Work Week, published in 2007 and a New York Times best-seller for an early proponent of this theory.

But the focus on rest, not just work, is a relatively new thing. Author Alex Pang, in his book Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less, explores the strategies used by some of history’s most successful leaders to practice deliberate rest, sustain their energy, boost their creativity, and lengthen their careers.

Two Awesome Hours, by Josh Davis, follows this with science-based thinking around productivity.  He believes in the principle of planning for two hours of peak performance each day which stems from aligning the brain and biological systems and then actively planning in ‘recovery time’.

But rest doesn’t mean our brain isn’t being useful. If you know you have your best ideas while walking the dog, or often wake in the middle of the night to a flash of inspiration, you’ll realise that our subconscious is using rest as its time for problem-solving. What these new ideas are telling us is that we have to get the balance right between focused effort and time to think – the yin and yang of work and rest – in order to make the biggest difference to our performance.

A totally new way of working

Despite the obvious appeal of working less and relaxing more, we’ve seen that even moving in this direction is culturally and practically difficult. For example, there are few truly flexible and agile employers, not only because of technology challenges but also the HR and cultural perceptions that go with being physically at work.

If we accept that our wiring means that we can only be at our best for somewhere between four and six hours each day, then when we work productivity really matters, and this means we have to organise our work so we can truly focus.

In reality we can only focus for circa 90-120 minutes at a time before needing some time and space to recover, so in theory we have two to three cycles in any given day depending on our energy. Optimising our use of these cycles becomes critical, planning mini-recovery in between where we can do other less taxing things and go again.

This is a totally new way of working to most of us, but the evidence is racking up that it’s a strategy we should take seriously if we want to be our most productive selves. If we truly want to effect change, we have to start treating rest with respect.

If you would like to discuss how to take your performance and productivity to the next level please schedule a complimentary consultation at your convenience.


CEOs what do they need to be good at?

Recent research from Mullwood Partnership offers a relevant and insightful answer to this question. The research describes how the role of the CEO is changing and examines the wider range of skills that are now required in order to perform and lead effectively at this level.

How must existing CEOs adapt and what needs to change about how we identify and develop the next generation of CEOs?

During 2012 Andrea Adams, Triumpha’s Managing Director (for those who don’t know her) had the opportunity to collaborate with Mullwood Partnership. They invited her to write up their first piece of major research called, ‘Broadening the CEO Selection Pool: where will our future leaders come from?

The findings summarise the views of 135 business leaders from around the world and clearly identify the experience, skills and behaviours that make a ‘stellar’ CEO as opposed to a merely ‘good’ one.

The Key Points

The research reveals that:

  • The best future CEOs will not necessarily come from the traditional routes of Finance and Operations, the talent selection pool will need to be wider.
  • Pre-requisites for today’s CEOs appear to be proven capability as an MD, followed by depth in their chosen sector and a multi-functional background.
  • Aspiring CEOs need to:
  • Express interest in becoming an MD/CEO. Don’t assume others know of your ambitions.
  • Build breadth as early as you can in your career by working outside of your home function.
  • People leadership is the CEO’s supreme differentiator. It singlehandedly distinguishes the best CEOs from the rest.

For more, download a copy of the full research report, Broadening the CEO Selection Pool: where will our future leaders come from.

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Leadership Coaching: How CEOs & Senior Leaders Build Resilience and Capacity for Change

Where do you turn when you want to improve leadership effectiveness, resilience and capacity for change? Leadership coaching is a proven approach, so we invited Ann Scoular, founder of  Meyler Campbell and author of the Financial Times Guide to Business Coaching  to join a Triumpha network event group of CEOs and HR Leaders to share her views.

We transcribed the event so if you would like a copy of the transcript, please use the download link below.

Key Discussion Points

  • How to think clearly and effectively using the ’Big 5’ approach.
  • Key insights from neuroscience about behavioural change and how to sustain performance over time.
  • The hallmarks of effective leadership coaches.
  • 10 tough questions to ask a leadership coach.
  • An explanation for teenage behavior and why education is worth the effort.

Compared with only one generation ago, the amount of incoming data leaders need to process has multiplied hugely, and our processor (the brain) isn’t keeping pace. So where do we turn for that extra edge? Leadership coaching is often the answer.

Anne’s view is that working with a great leadership coach is “the equivalent of plugging in some extra processing capacity. With a great coach its like plugging into the National Grid – a surge of energy and clear focus that recharges the batteries and hauls us back to peak form.”

To download a copy of the transcript from this exclusive networking event, please enter your details below.

Enter your details to download "How Chief Executives and Senior Leaders Build Resilience and Capacity for Change"