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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…

Composition

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.

Alignment

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.

Interaction

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.

Execution

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.

Learning

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.

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

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.