Transcript of How to Build a Solid Foundation that Enables Great Leadership Teams Webinar

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All right. It's 1:00. We're ready to get started with our next edition of our Great Leaders Build Great Leadership Teams webinar series. Welcome. I appreciate you guys attending. I'm looking forward to getting started. Just a couple notes on logistics. Number one, you'll see in the meat of my presentation. My slides are kind of thick with content. And I do that on purpose so that when you get the material, hopefully, it adds some value to you post the webinar. I kind of failed the Power Point 101 scenario. Number two, if you have questions during the course of the presentation, please don't hesitate to use the chat feature to ask the questions throughout the course, and I'll do my best to answer them. Throughout the course of the presentation. If not, address them at the end.

Finally, my name is Jack McGuinness, Managing Partner at Relationship Impact, a consulting firm focused on helping CEOs unlock the potential of their leadership teams. Today, we're on a sort of a foundational topic for building a great leadership team. That's how to build a solid structural foundation that enables great leadership teams to thrive. We talk, if you've ever participated on any of my other webinars or have read any of the articles or blogs that Gil and I produce, then you'll see there's, we kind of talk about a leadership team in terms of a coin.

There's two sides of a coin to building a great leadership team. On one side, it is building a great structural foundation, and on the other side is building great relational dynamics. Our point of view is that the two of those things together, you can't have one without the other, so to speak. I'll talk a little bit more about that as we go through. Any of you who've had the pleasure of running a leadership team, running a team frankly. I'm sure get my gist with that, with structural and relational leaderships. 

Okay, let's walk through what we're going to talk about today. Number one, talk a little bit about what is leadership team structure. What does that foundation look like. Then next we'll talk a little bit about how to build, from our perspective, how to build a strong foundation, structural foundation. Then third touch back on the link between structure and relational dynamics. Then finally provide a few resources at the end that go into a little bit detail of more detail around building structural foundation that I've used, we've used, in our practice.

As in all of our discussions, we all start with what do we think a great leadership teams looks like. I won't spend a lot of time on this. But we have a point of view that suggests that there are four things that make characteristics of great leadership teams. First, focus on results. Second, they have a force multiplier impact, impact above and beyond the contributions of any one individual. Third, and really importantly, we see that over time great leadership teams build their capacity to solve more complex challenges. Then finally, great leadership teams are resilient, in that we're able to get back into sync after they get out of sync. That's kind of the foundational piece in terms of what a great leadership team is from our perspective. 

What's leadership team structure? Leadership team structure is the arrangement and organization of the tangible, thinks that you can sort of really get your arms wrapped around, but interrelated elements of a leadership team. From our perspective, there are four components of a great leadership team structure. The first is purpose. I'll go into that in a little bit more detail, but purpose can be anything from, we're sharing information to we're addressing the most important cross-organizational challenges that organization's facing at this given point in time. 

Number two, composition and roles. Having the right people on a team and defining expectations and clarity around not only their functional roles, but their roles as members of the leadership team. Third, setting expectations, joint, mutual expectations across the leadership team and norms for operating. We often refer to these as operating principles. I think I got that from my military experience, but expectations and norms of behavior. From our perspective, this is often an overlooked part of the foundation for a great leadership team because I think as managers move up the ranks in an organization, they sort of sometimes take these ways of behaving or expectations for behavior for teams members for granted. 

We'll talk a little bit more later about why that can get you in trouble. Finally, coordination and communication. We often refer to this as the management rhythm or the leadership team rhythm. How does the team, based on what's in business of, what's purpose is, effectively communicate and coordinate with each other? These are sort of the foundational components from our perspective of how leadership teams structure. You could ask yourself, what about governance? No question, governance is a really important way of how do we make decisions, but we think that is wrapped up in purpose of the team. Again, we'll get into that in a couple minutes. 

From our perspective, good structure can help foster innovation, strengthen equality of decision making, and enhance cross-organization collaboration. On the other hand, poor structure or not really well thought out structure, can lead to missed opportunities and really hold the team back to have broader and deeper impact. Often times, a couple of things you see is unintentional duplication of effort, people assuming that they're supposed to do something or assume that someone else is supposed to do something. Then, it puts inevitable pressure on the relationships among the team members. Good structure really can foster the effectiveness of a team and poor structure, by default, can really hold a team back. 

These are three simple steps that involve a good bit of work, right? The first is, there's some responsibilities that the leader, the formal leader of the team, the CEO, the general manager has in providing a framework for team structural foundation; particularly as it relates to purpose and the composition and the roles of the players on the team. 

Secondly, the team needs to provide some specificity in gaining agreement on the full structural foundation; purpose, the roles, the communication and coordination, and the expectations and norms as well. Then, of course, as teams evolve their purpose sometimes evolves, compositions evolves, and it's important to take a step back probably annually to take a look at, is the foundation that we've put in place still the right foundation for us? Okay, so let's talk a little bit about purpose, how to build a strong leadership team structural foundation purpose.

Primarily, responsibility of the formal team lead. Okay, and most importantly, it's important for a team, the team, the leader, to define what time of team makes sense for the organization and particularly at their particular journey and life cycle of where they're at right now. Do you want the team to exchange information from across functions? I'm working with a team right now, a 25 million dollar construction company, they've just recently formed a management team beyond the CEO and really the purpose of that team to get started is really just to get people on the same page and to make sure that they're exchanging information across departments that functions that is relevant to each other.

There are also teams that really serve as providing advice and counsel to the CEO, in terms of the some of the decisions he or she is making more strategically. Then, the teams that are more mature and organizations that become more mature and are dealing with some strategic challenges like any organization faces, you know, taking advantage of the capabilities of the leaders you have on your leadership team to address the organization's most important cross-organizational initiatives based on the point in time of the organization is a really important factor as well.

What type of team do you want? Do you want it to exchange information or do you want it to be in business of really addressing the organization's most strategic challenges collectively? That's sort of foundational. Not necessarily just having a team to provide advice and counsel or to inform is a bad thing. There are times for that as well. Most of what we're about to talk about deals with the right hand side of the spectrum. So, for decision making teams it's important to find a purpose that helps drive the organization's direction or addresses high priority operational challenges. Let me give you a couple examples of what that looks like from some of the clients that we've been working with over the last year or so.

Some examples of the rationale behind creating compelling cross-organizational team purpose are, number one, you have ... we have a young professional services firm that's grown beyond, wants to grow beyond a highly concentrated customer mix. 75 percent of their business was with one customer. They're relying heavily on that. They want to grow beyond that, grow their product and services beyond that. They've focused their team on that challenge. A large trade association that's operating with the treat of consolidation. Lots of trade associations are, in fact, addressing that. Getting a leadership team collectively focused on that from the relevant perspectives of the players on a team. 

10-year-old construction scaling kind of too fast and running into service and productivity issues, so taking a step back and how do we address scale collectively so that we're getting or service and productivity under control. Beginning to work with a start-up medical device company that just got recent FDA approval and a large injection of growth capital. They're building their team from other medical device pharmaceutical companies and coming from diverse backgrounds maybe not dealing with the same challenges. How do you bring a team together? We've addressed those types of issues. Making sure that you're understanding, defining the type of team that makes sense for your organization at a current period of time is really important.

Composition and roles. Again, this is also responsibility of the formal team leader. There's a couple of important characteristics here for considerations to take into account. First, most organizations that we work with assume that if there's a direct report of the CEO or the president then those people should be on the team. That is often the case, but it doesn't always have to be the case. We've worked with some great teams that are, again, more towards the right side of the spectrum dealing with important strategic issues and having the team focused on dealing with those strategic issues. They don't necessarily have all direct reports. They might pull in a subject matter expert under one of the other direct reports, for example, or maybe not have the CFO on the leadership team for a point in time because they're not really adding value to the team.

Not that they're not valuable, but they're not adding value at this particular juncture in time. You can imagine how the relational dynamics get in the way of that type of decision, but staying on focused on structure here, don't have to assume necessarily that all the direct reports of the formal team leader need to be on a team. Functionally minded, silo-oriented leaders might be great individual contributors, but sometimes they're not great team contributors from cross-organizational initiatives. I have two points in mind on that. The first is, if you're building a new team, you really want to try to as best you possibly can to get people on the leadership team that are "team players", that are not necessarily only functionally minded and silo-oriented.

However, the reality is, most organizations have some type of leadership team already. The next bullet down below says, when participation of non-team players is required for their expertise and experience, it's important to step back and focus the team on building their collective capabilities to run a team or to build their relational capabilities to build a strong leadership team. We have definitely seen poor team players become great enterprise leaders. When they can gain the understanding of the benefits for operating as a team and operating as an enterprise ... in an enterprise capacity versus in just a functional capacity. When they gain new skills of listening, curiosity and feedback. While not easy to change adult behavior like that, we have seen that behavior, those behavior changes made. Obviously, the role of the formal leader in helping that evolution happen is critically important. Summarize this, don't assume the direct reports need to be on the team, but when participation of non-team players is required you definitely can turn a corner and build those capabilities.

Alright, so what are some things you should look for in leadership team members when building a team? First, obviously, look for the necessarily skills and experience. Again, if you're on the right side of that spectrum and you're addressing a particular challenge, do we have the right skills and experience to address those particular challenges at the leadership team level? If not, where are we going to draw those challenges from ... those resources from? Look for leaders who recognize the critical importance of their enterprise role, not just their functional role, who can see beyond the, "I'm the head of program management," or, "I'm the head of marketing."

They can see beyond their functional roles and their contribution as leaders of the enterprise. What that means practically sometimes is that those that are able to have that enterprise perspective, when resources become a challenge, they want just dig in and say, "I need these resources only for me," they'll look at the balance of the organization and say, "Okay, for the good of the organization, this how we need to be looking at how we manage our resources or what initiatives we need to start even if it's not focused on my department necessarily." Look for leaders who have the ability to synthesize complex information and extract their implications for the enterprise. 

Obviously, these two things are related, but when you're running an organization that's beyond just a product or one service, by default, the issues become a bit more challenge and more complex. Having leaders on your team who are able to handle complexity and ambiguity, frankly, are really, really important. Being able to look at that complex information and extract it, not just for their functional roles, but for the implications for the organization as well. Look for leaders with the maturity to productivity challenge and debate a team's most important issues. There's a mouthful in that and I've given talks just on productive dialogue alone and that sort of leans towards the relational side of stuff, but really important.

Can we address each other directly? Confront each other well without tremendous amount of defensiveness and passive aggressive behavior? Those types of stuff that goes around with confrontation sometimes. I adapted these, there's a great book that I've referred to in the past, it's called "Senior Leadership Teams" by Ruth Wageman. She gives a really good talk on structure as well. I encourage you guys to look at that book as well. Okay, so the next piece, the expectations and norms piece. Again, that's an area that we see a lot of leaders, as I said earlier, assume that they know how to do. We put a team together, we get all the people in a room, and then we just start working.

That is an approach and for really in sync, great leaders, that can potentially work. But even in those cases, it has a way, if you don't really define or at least discuss the behavioral expectations for how we're going to work together, we see lots of problems with that. It particularly breaks down relationally. People start making assumptions about why someone's not behaving the way I would expect and you can imagine that sort of evolves and it spirals sometimes particularly when stress is added, it devolves into some uncomfortable and sometimes difficult situations to repair. 

Alright, so let's [inaudible 00:26:50]. Expectations and norms, that primarily could be teamed up by the formal team leader, but it's the responsibility of the team to gain agreement on those expectations and norms. Once the team determines its purpose and it has a clear sense of what it needs to work on together, then the team needs to commit to have some discussions around how they're going to interact with each other. Presence of clear norms, and this is a bullet from a study that Ruth Wageman did, the presence of clear norms ... I think it was with 800 leadership teams. 

The presence of clear norms of conduct, which are shared expectations about how members are going to behave with each other, tailored to their unique challenges has a dramatic impact on whether the leadership teams are effective or not. Norms, operating principles, really, really important. Based on our experience on working with teams over the last 10 years, these four principles or norms are ones that we typically see. A commitment to the enterprise, and ability to have productive dialogue, challenge debate, confront each other well about the organization's most important issues.

Participation, meaning showing up, having something to say, coming prepared, following through to those types of things. Last part is integrity, you know, doing what you say you're going to do, being honest about stuff because underlying all of those things if those things ... if those norms don't really work, then you start getting into some of some trust issues around people make assumptions, people see the behavior and they start making assumptions about, why is he or she doing it like that? Trust gets chipped away at. Trust, as we know, is hard to repair. Those are four that we say. There are obviously plenty of others and really should be based on your team and your point in time in your organization's journey.

Finally, as it relates to norms, team norms are useless if the leader doesn't model them. They're just ... If the leader, you have an agreement around those four principles or norms up above and the leader doesn't model those, then you might as well not even have them then. They become works on a wall or a piece of paper. Next, related to that, team norms are useless if feedback and accountability don't exist. The only way norms become fiber in the organization is if people actually give each other feedback and hold each other accountable to living those norms. For example, commitment to the enterprise. If I show up and I'm always fighting for resources just for my organization and I have a very myopic view of the organization and don't consider the other ... the impacts on the other parts of the organization, then I have to be called out on that sometimes. 

We talked about ... I talked about in plenty of other webinars and talks I've given about accountability and it really shouldn't just be the CEO or the formal team leader giving the feedback or the accountability; it should be the team. The great teams we work with are those that hold themselves accountable primarily. Feedback and accountability are huge to building a strong structural foundation. Okay, coordination and communication. Again, we view this as a team responsibility to set up as well. The team purpose will typically drive the types of vehicles the leadership team uses. A team's norm should dictate how it actually carries out those vehicles for coordination and communication.

Effective meeting management. I spend a lot of time with a lot of clients on running effective meetings. I never thought I'd be doing that at this point in my career, but I do. It's a skill that isn't focused on much and it really causes havoc in organizations. Particularly, if the leadership team doesn't run meetings well, it has a way of trickling down to the rest of the organization because of the expectations of that are that we can just show up and do stuff. There's some basic essentials of running good meetings. We have an agenda, we have some time frames, we have ... we're focused on actions and we're focused on follow-up, and we don't evolve. If something's on the agenda, we focus on that on the agenda. 

If something else has to come up, we say, "Okay, are we going to address this now are we going to hold another time to address this particular issue?" If don't have that kind of discipline, then your meetings just turn into free-for-alls. There's so much written about this, but it does get in the way. Some of the leadership team coordination and communication essentials that we see of running effective meetings: making sure you're setting time aside for strategic versus operational discussions. Again, these kind of overlap a little bit, but we often see teams, leadership teams, set aside time to focus on dealing with a strategic issue, a strategic initiative we're focused on. 

I'm working with a company right now that they're building a new warehouse and that's a big strategic initiative for them that's going to increase productivity and enhance service. But often times, the discussions around that strategic initiative will devolve down into the minutia of the day to day operations, which are really, really important. But, you're never going to get full implementation of a new warehouse if you keep getting ... having to put out the fires in these discussions. Another way of looking at that is having a good project management approach in place so that your strategic initiatives are managed by having a goal and an objective, having people responsible for breaking down the project into important component parts, and managing towards those component parts with accountabilities, time frames, project plans.

Clear accountabilities is another part of coordination and communication. That's really important. Who is following up with who on what? Particularly as you get to the right hand side of the spectrum of the type of team, the ones that are addressing more complex strategic and cross-organizational strategic initiatives, really, having a good coordination [inaudible 00:35:17] control mechanism in place is really important. Okay, so let's talk a little bit about the link between structural and relational dynamics. Creating a great leadership team structural foundation is critical, but it's not sufficient to building a great leadership team. I've said this a bunch throughout the course of this discussion. What that simply means is that there are structural factors and relational factors and they're inextricably linked.

Structural factors that are those that help teams focus on achieving specific business outcomes, all of the stuff that we talk about today; purpose, composition and roles, expectations and norms, coordination and communication. Those are critical in building that structural foundation for your team is huge. However, if you have crappy relational dynamics in place already, the structure will only take you so far. What we often see is that if teams are struggling with some level of dysfunction ... Let me rephrase that. All teams have some level of dysfunction. Those that are experiencing dysfunction that's really getting in the way of the organization being as productive, effective, efficient as it could be, those organizations often will address the problem with a structural solution and assume that that structural solution is going to take of the relational challenges.

Our experience, at least, suggests that that's foolhardy. If you have relational challenges, if you have issues of trust, if you have a team that really doesn't confront well, leaves the dead fish on the table and everyone knows it's there kind of thing, they don't hold each other accountable, they don't encourage different points of view, then great structure ... just think about it, you have a great meeting, management plan, you have a great management rhythm and you're meeting on a particular topic, but people aren't really doing well relationally, that meeting is only going to go so well. Will it help? Absolutely. Will it solve your dysfunctional problems? Absolutely no. Again, from our perspective.

That's basically what this slide says. They're inextricably linked. I'll give you a couple of examples. No doubt that insufficient structure can exacerbate relationship among leadership team members. For example, incentive structures can sometimes inadvertently create competition that will naturally percolate pressure in relationships. On the other hand, it's very difficult to gain agreement on a team's purpose without a sound relational foundation where team members can challenge and debate each other well. 

Just to recap, from our perspective, there are four components to great leadership team structural foundation. They are purpose, composition roles, expectation and norms, coordination and communication. It's up to the leaders to set the foundation for purpose and composition and roles and engage the team around a great dialogue around both of those. Then, for the team as a collectively entity, to really decide what type of operating principles who wants to operate from and how it wants to coordinate and communicate. I hope you've enjoyed the webinar despite the challenging technical issues.