team

The ABC of a Leadership Superteam

3 minute read

 

This week we worked with a leadership team.  Their story might seem familiar to you.

On paper, they had everything needed to be a successful and thriving powerhouse.

They were talented and experienced.
They were creating innovative work.
They had good relationships with their customers.
They had a large team below them to deliver the work.

But…they were frustrated, disjointed, exhausted and concerned that their direct reports were also feeling the same.  They were struggling to communicate with each other and, individually, each felt that no one else in the team understood the pressures they were under.   They knew that if they didn’t sort things out quickly, the knock on effect of their dysfunction would be an expensive exodus of junior talent who weren’t being managed properly, loss of revenue due to not being able to deliver projects right first time and exhaustion and burn out for the leaders themselves.  Something had to change.

Over the course of a day’s workshop, the road to recovery was, in the end, as easy as ABC:

A – AMBITION

It turned out that, for this team, there was no common vision or ambition.  How can you know what success looks like (or when you’ve ‘made it’) if you haven’t agreed what you want to achieve?  This was the first thing they needed to fix. Once they were all agreed on the vision, they could agree what they needed to realise it.  And what they needed was…

B – BEHAVIOURS

…A set of habits or ways of working that the team adhere to.  These don’t have to be big changes, they can range from ‘always being on time’ to ‘we all contribute, we all have a say’ but the one that hit home here was, ‘disagree and commit.’ Championed by Jeff Bezos at Amazon, to disagree and commit doesn’t mean “thinking your team is wrong and missing the point,” which will prevent you from offering true support. Rather, “it’s a genuine disagreement of opinion, a candid expression of [an individual’s] view, a chance for the team to weigh that view, and a quick, sincere commitment to go their way.” Importantly, once everyone has agreed to commit (disagree or otherwise) everyone supports the decision publicly.  No back-channel undermining is allowed.

C – COMMUNICATION

The holy grail of high performing teams.  Most of us think we are great at communicating but can do a lot of talking to minimal effect.  Others may fail to speak up because they don’t think their contribution is listened to or valued.  And feedback can be infrequent (the annual appraisal) and unhelpful, “that was great”. Why was it great?  And if it wasn’t, what can I do to improve?  Here the team agreed both the frequency of when they would communicate (taking inspiration from the Olympic Gold medal winning GB Women’s Hockey Team’s Thinking Thursdays) and how they would communicate – introducing the concept of ‘radical candour’. Here, feedback is delivered in the spirit of direct challenge because you care about the other person.  Not obnoxious aggression and not ruinous empathy either – just honest, direct feedback delivered in the spirit of caring about the other person’s development.

Moving a leadership group to superteam status will, of course, take more than a day but this workshop accelerated the process and helped this team remember who they were and what was important for them to thrive. It’s easy to forget to nurture the team and culture that made you successful in the first place. Treat your team as your most important client – treat it well, invest in it, develop it, challenge it and support it and the rewards will follow.

As Patrick Lencioni best selling business writer and author of (amongst others) ‘The Five Dysfunctions of a Team‘ said,

“Not finance. Not strategy. Not technology. It is teamwork that remains the ultimate competitive advantage because it is so powerful and so rare”.

If this sounds familiar and you could do with some help in accelerating your team to a Superteam, please contact us. Because you cannot solve the problem when you are inside the problem.

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Louisa Clarke

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