GLT Characteristic #1


An article with all 4 GLT Characteristics will appear in Chief Executive Magazine in November 2019.

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In the next four editions of our Great Leadership Teams Newsletter we will shed some light on the four characteristics that define a great leadership team from Relationship Impact’s perspective. These are: (1) results focus, (2) force multiplier effect; (3) ability to manage increasing complexity; and (4) resilience. While we readily admit that these are intangibles and somewhat hard to measure, our experience suggests that these characteristics set great leadership teams apart from the pack.

Let’s start with results focus. Most leadership teams we work with have a good sense of where they need to take their organizations and work hard to shape the necessary plans and take the necessary actions to realize their visions. Some have a fairly informal approach while others are extremely disciplined about setting goals and tracking progress. Regardless of approach most leadership teams recognize that achieving tangible business results – growth, shareholder value, fund raising, legislative success, service - is critical.

So why is it that so many leadership teams often take their eye off the ball and let seemingly trivial issues or lack of discipline get in the way? Below are a few glaring examples of some detractor issues taken from our client engagements…

  • Leadership team member A tells his direct reports not to engage with Leadership team member B staff unless he is involved.

  • Several leadership team members argue for weeks over the decision of a wellness committee to change the type of snacks located in the break room.

  • Leadership team member A makes derogatory remarks (e.g., ‘he has no idea what he is doing’; ‘she’s just lazy’) to her direct reports about a peer.

  • A leadership team continues to revisit, rehash and re decide on an issue that should fall under the domain of a particular leadership team member.

“Managers and staff often take on the burden of leadership team dysfunction which exacerbates a focus on trivial issues and undisciplined structure.”

While the leadership teams that experienced these issues certainly understood their organization’s mission and related goals, there is no doubt that they let fractured relationships and undisciplined structure detract from their attention to execution and results. Relationally the pattern typically goes something like this – I see a colleague behave in a manner I don’t appreciate. I then make an assumption about this behavior – e.g., lazy, arrogant, unbending. The behavior becomes frustrating, so I confront my colleague and he gets defensive. I then come to the conclusion that I don’t trust my colleague. We then settle into a pattern of avoidance, lashing out and more assumptions. Ineffective leadership team structure can also impact a team’s ability to stay focused on results. For example, a team that has a poorly defined or executed decision making approach can lead to churn which will delay action on important issues and frustrate team members. Poor structure can also increase relational strife – ‘we already resolved that issue so why does he continue to bring it up.’

The result of these relational and structural challenges is a degradation of the team’s ability to engage in productive dialogue that pushes important issues forward and minimizes focus on trivial issues. Another often serious outcome is the downstream effect on the units led by each leadership team member. Departments often take on the burden of leadership team dysfunction which exacerbates a focus on trivial issues (e.g., snacks in the break room) and undisciplined structure (e.g., lack of collaboration across units).

While it is not easy for leadership teams to move on from these unfortunate patterns, with some hard work and commitment great things can happen. The first step is acknowledgement which typically starts by the CEO helping the team recognize that they are missing opportunities and failing to unlock the team’s full potential. Next, each team member must reflect on what they are doing to contribute to any of the team’s issues rather than focusing on their colleagues’ faults. The team then needs to commit to living by some new expectations or ways of operating (i.e., we will help address issues proactively and directly and will not speak badly of our colleagues outside of the team environment). Finally, the team must supportively hold each other accountable to living by these new more productive expectations.

The moral of this story is – don’t let discussions of snacks or churning on the same issues get in the way of focusing on what’s most important!! Stay tuned for our next post which will discuss GLT Characteristic #2 - force multiplier effect.

Jack McGuinnessleadership, teams