A Practical Approach to Assessing Leadership Team Effectiveness
Most agree that leadership teams set the tone for their organizations. Bad leadership teams tend to reinforce dysfunction as manifested in silos, misaligned execution, poor resource deployment and missed opportunities. Great leadership teams, which we characterize as aligned, accountable, resilient, and having impact beyond individual contributions, create the conditions where managers and staff can thrive and execute successfully. Great leadership teams don’t just happen; their leaders devote time, energy and focus on building and nurturing their team’s capacity to serve as a model for the organization. Great leaders also ensure that the requirements for operating as an effective leadership team are crystal clear and are able to pinpoint the structural and relational root causes when effectiveness starts to slip. They avoid the knee jerk reactions that emerge when a team lacks clarity on these requirements – i.e., ‘I think I need to fire someone!’ – ‘We need conflict training.’ – ‘Let’s schedule an offsite.’
For those many leaders and executive teams who have not yet done the hard work of defining, communicating and working on how they are going to operate as an effective team, it may be time to step back and assess whether your team is living up to its potential. In this blog we will share our thoughts on how leadership teams can initiate a practical evaluation of what factors are enabling the team to work well and what factors are impeding the team’s effectiveness. First, the leader and the team need to prepare for the assessment – discuss what effective should look like and get ready to receive feedback productively. Next, administer an assessment that evaluates the team as a system rather than a collection of individuals. Finally, take time to make sense of the assessment results as a team and commit to take action on the factors that are holding the team back.
Given the impact leadership teams have on their organizations, the most important part of preparation is acknowledgment by the team that assessing effectiveness is an essential commitment to the organization – ‘we need to live up to our potential so we give the organization the best chance to live up to its potential.’ Another important part of preparation is determining who should participate in the assessment. Beyond the team itself, we typically recommend obtaining feedback from the governance body (typically the board) and the direct reports of each leadership team member. The similarities and differences in the feedback between these three bodies provide great insight into what’s working and what’s not. The final part of preparation is to establish the ground rules for receiving and processing the results of the assessment – i.e., ‘we are going to look for the grains of truth even in the areas where we disagree’; ‘we aren’t going to rationalize the feedback’; ‘we aren’t going to attempt to figure out which specific person provided a specific piece of feedback’.
A leadership team isn’t just a collection of individuals; it is a living, dynamic entity with its own personality, spoken and unspoken rules, vision, blind spots, even moods. It is because of this important context that we use Team Coaching International’s (TCI’s) Team Diagnostic™ which focuses on the team as a dynamic system where the team is more than the sum of its parts. With the Team Diagnostic™ a leadership team’s needs are explored independent of the needs of any single member. This shifts the attention and the work of the team to the team itself.
Research shows that the most successful teams have the means to take action and build effective relationships to motivate and sustain action. The Team Diagnostic™ is built on these two fundamental premises. Using common everyday language, the Team Diagnostic™ asses team performance from two these two perspectives: (1) What results is the team achieving? (Productivity) and (2) How is the team achieving these results? (Positivity). The Team Diagnostic™ uses 7 productivity factors and 7 positivity factors and through increasingly detailed layers of analysis a comprehensive baseline is provided for taking specific action on a few important areas of improvement. (Team Coaching International: “Team Diagnostic™ n.d., http://teamcoachinginternational.com/programs/program-team-diagnostic/)
We typically administer the online Team Diagnostic™ over a two-week time frame and on average it takes respondents about 30-45 minutes to complete.
The most important part of any assessment process is the commitment to make sense of the results and to take tangible action. A facilitated dialogue is required where the assessment results are presented, each team member is provided with ample opportunity to ask questions and provide their perspectives, and a mature, productive interchange of input and ideas takes place. The layered output of the Team Diagnostic™ supports this important dialogue and helps leadership teams identify common themes and trends. For example, a team’s tendency to avoid conflict and that is misaligned on goals and direction might be contributing to frustration among the team and with direct reports on how decisions are being made. Once the leadership team narrows in on a few common themes that are holding it back it then has to commit to taking action to strengthen the team’s effectiveness. For example, one of our client executive teams committed to one hour bi-monthly meetings focused solely on discussing and assessing their strategic plan and each member committed to holding themselves accountable for not delving into operational challenges at these sessions.
Leadership teams have profound impact on their organizations. Bad ones tend to reinforce detrimental behavior while great leadership teams tend to have a force multiplier impact on their organizations and increase the likelihood that their mangers and staff will execute more effectively unencumbered by politics and bureaucracy.