4 Characteristics of Great Leadership Teams

 Great things in business are never done by one person. They’re done by a team of people. –Steve Jobs

Great things in business are never done by one person. They’re done by a team of people. –Steve Jobs

In our work with leadership teams across multiple industries we have seen the power that cohesive leadership teams have on their organizations. Great leadership teams go beyond coordinating and managing the host of tasks that rise to the top of the organization and aren’t simply a collection of functional managers who are updating each other on the progress of their individual units. Rather, great leadership teams tap into their potential as a collective unit so they can serve as force multipliers for their organizations. They capitalize on the strengths of individual members, learn from each others’ successes and failures, and fill inevitable gaps — all with a focus on creating value and realizing the organization’s strategic intent.

As we have mentioned in previous posts, building a great leadership team is hard work and requires commitment from all team members to establish the conditions required for the team to thrive in their unique environments. Team building exercises, training and consulting expertise can all be useful but teams need to do the hard developmental work necessary to tap into their full potential. In next month’s post we will provide a comprehensive description of the Relationship Impact approach for developing great teams. The purpose of this post is to discuss the fruits of this hard developmental work by providing our perspective on the four most important characteristics of great leadership teams.

 

1. Great Leadership Teams are Force Multipliers

  "Great things in business are never done by one person. They’re done by a team of people." – Steve Jobs

"Great things in business are never done by one person. They’re done by a team of people."
– Steve Jobs

Great leadership teams have impact way beyond the contributions of individual team members. As evidenced in Aon-Hewit’s Engaged Leader research, all employees are watching the leadership team and their engagement is in part derived from ‘the way a senior leader connects with other senior leaders and how effective and accountable they are as a unit.’ Great leadership teams have a cascading effect throughout an organization by reinforcing the behaviors and approaches that are required to realize the organization’s objectives. Below are a few questions teams can ask themselves to have force multiplier impact:

  • Are we clear on the behaviors we are trying to reinforce or do we simply have a list of aspirational values – i.e., if collaboration is a value have we agreed on what behaviors will reinforce or detract from collaboration?
  • Have we discussed and resolved the natural dilemma all leadership team members face – balancing leading functional units with their roles as ambassadors for the enterprise?
  • Is each member of the leadership team fully engaged?

 

2. Great Leadership Teams are Aligned

  "Teamwork is the beauty of our sport, where you have five acting as one." –Mike Krzyzewski

"Teamwork is the beauty of our sport, where you have five acting as one." –Mike Krzyzewski

Great leadership teams are in sync on the organization’s strategic direction, how the organization will execute to achieve the direction, and the behaviors required to maintain the direction. Team members recognize their roles as shepherds of the organization and and are clear about their obligation to drive organizational efficiency and effectiveness. They are self-aware and have the potential to collaborate, recognize the importance of other styles and approaches, and are able to effectively balance the leadership team’s objectives with those of their functional or individual objectives. Perhaps most importantly, great teams understand that their level of alignment is directly proportional to the organization’s level of alignment. Below are a few questions teams can ask to begin to get in alignment:

  • What’s our purpose as a leadership team? What unique challenges are we working to solve as a collective body?
  • Do we have the right people on the team? Are they team players? Are they on the team because of the contribution they can make to addressing the purpose or simply because of their functional role?
  • Does our management rhythm support our team’s purpose?

 

3. Great Leadership Teams are Accountable

  "I am a member of a team, and I rely on the team, I defer to it and sacrifice for it, because the team, not the individual, is the ultimate champion." –Mia Hamm

"I am a member of a team, and I rely on the team, I defer to it and sacrifice for it, because the team, not the individual, is the ultimate champion." –Mia Hamm

Great leadership teams are laser focused on their most important priorities; they debate productively and hold each other accountable for results. Team members take time to build trust so that they can have unfiltered discussions and are able to share their fears and weaknesses and learn from each other. Great Teams manage conflict productively and are able to challenge and debate important issues without defensiveness or fear of retribution. They understand their collective commitments as a team and their individual commitments as team members and are comfortable holding each other accountable to these commitments. Below are a few questions teams can ask to begin to build accountability:

  • Are we waiting for the leader to hold us accountable?
  • Are team members comfortable giving and receiving feedback?
  • Are we clear on our most important priorities and who is responsible for what?
  • Have we spent time getting to know each other’s styles, perspectives and experiences?
     

4. Great Leadership Teams are Resilient

  "I’ve failed over and over again – and that is why I succeed." –Michael Jordan

"I’ve failed over and over again – and that is why I succeed." –Michael Jordan

No team is perfect and no team is 100 percent aligned all of the time but great leadership teams have confidence in their ability to get back in sync after inevitable periods of dysfunction. Team members of great teams recognize the importance of balance between their functional responsibilities and their responsibilities as stewards of the organization. Perhaps most importantly, great leadership teams do the hard work necessary to structure the leadership team effectively and build effective relationships with their teammates so that they don’t let trivial or relatively unimportant issues get in the way of refocusing and committing to be great. Below are a few questions teams can ask to build resiliency:

  • Do we measure progress and communicate effectively so that we know when challenges are approaching?
  • Do we rally when challenges approach? Are we proactively looking to support our teammates when we see them falling behind or struggling?
  • Do we take time to assess and learn from our failures or do we tend to repeat mistakes?

Building a leadership team that is resilient, accountable, aligned and impactful is hard work but the benefits can be a game changer for an organization.