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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 reception@triumpha.com

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.

 

Psychology Insights for Extraordinary Organisation Performance

Back in 2005, I was HR Director for BAE Systems Air Support. Looking for new ways to drive the extraordinary performance required to execute the business strategy I turned to the new field of positive psychology.

The business was doing well with a solid order book, £1 billion turnover and profit in line with expectations. We also had a superb management board with a shared ambition to double the size of the business in the next five years. Our strategy was to move beyond the design and development of military aircraft and provide new services, namely maintenance work and capability upgrades for in-service aircraft.

This was unchartered territory, we needed approaches that would help us engage our workforce with the new strategy, encourage extraordinary performance from our people and build from our leadership strengths during a time of significant change.

Positive Psychology

Scouting for ideas I discovered the fledgling field of positive psychology. This offered a profoundly different approach to the way organisations, manage and create value through people. Positive interventions are unique in that they are aimed at optimal functioning rather than just functioning.

Imagine a person recovering from surgery and visiting a physiotherapist. The physiotherapist engages the client in physical activity with the goal of recovering ‘normal’ functioning. In other words moving along a scale from say a -3 to a zero.

Now think about a person visiting a personal trainer at the gym. The trainer engages in many of the same activities, running the client through repetitive physical exercise, but this time with the aim of taking an already healthy body and making it perform even better. For example this time moving from +3 to +8.

This simple explanation gave me the light bulb moment I had been looking for.  I realised that many of the approaches in use within organisations for leading and managing people stop short. They deliver neutral levels of performance at best. Not bad but not that good either.

I began to believe that there was as much, or more to be gained from capitalising on strengths and positivity as there was in trying to overcome weaknesses and fix problems. We needed to generate extraordinary levels of performance. It was time to try a different approach.

It was a risk, it could have gone badly wrong. However positive psychology is built on a foundation of careful study and empirical evidence, so the risk didn’t feel so large.

By 2007 we had a number of ‘first of their kind’ availability contracts under our belt and had doubled business turnover to £2 billion sooner than anticipated. In addition the leadership development, strategic change and employee engagement approaches we used were awarded a Gold Chairman’s Award for outstanding contribution to business success.

If you are looking for new approaches on how to improve leadership effectiveness, employee engagement and the execution of organisational and behavioural change, positive psychology offers impactful tried and tested solutions.

The Science of Emotions

At the heart of positive psychology is the science of emotions. Professor Barbara Fredrickson from the University of North Carolina is one of the world’s leading scholars. I recently had the opportunity to learn directly from Barbara in a cutting edge masterclass packed with insights on how positive emotions boost energy, relationships, performance and health. Of particular note, they provide the key ingredient for sustaining behavioural change.

Look out for future blogs where I will be talking about some of the leading edge ideas from emotion science and positive psychology and how they can be applied in the workplace.

Read more about the BAE Systems case study.