In my experience as a leadership consultant and facilitator, there are five vital ingredients for a highly effective leadership teams, and the lack of any of these leads to dysfunctional cultures and performance.
The first vital ingredient is trust, and I’m not talking about predictive or affective trust, the sort where team members like each other but deep cognitive trust. High performing leadership teams have a trust built from knowing each other’s strengths and weaknesses, the trust built from having real conversations about real issues and working together to solve problems. Without trust people wear masks and you don’t know how they really feel about issues and people hold back not wanting to commit in case they don’t have the support of their peers.
Surprising to some, is that the second most important ingredient for leadership teams is conflict. I’m not talking about yelling and screaming or emails with cc’s and bcc’s – these are signs that the team is not effective at handling conflict. Whenever there exists two or more perspectives, there will be conflict and people need to be comfortable with this because it leads to much better strategic thinking. An effective team uses assertive/authentic communication to share what they think/feel/need/want/believe in a way that encourages others to share what they think/feel/need/want/believe so that consensus can be reached. A lack of effective conflict leads to some people behaving aggressively and others passively leading to resentment and poor performance.
As mentioned, with effective conflict a leadership teams can reach commitment. I like to teach the 5L scale of taking a ‘straw poll’ of how close to consensus a team is. The 5L’s are; Love it, Like it, Live with it, Lament it and Loathe it. If any of the team members are at the still at the last 2 L’s more discussion is required. A committed team has everyone working the plan, no fence sitters or saboteurs. The maxim is, “that if the decision goes against you in the meeting, you must argue as strongly for the decision made as you did against it in the meeting.”
With a commitment comes accountability. Self-leaders (Bryant & Kazan 2012) are responsible for themselves and accountable to the goals they set and the behaviors they agree to. In a highly effective leadership team members hold themselves and each other accountable for the actions they agreed to. Performance is visible to each member of the team and each member can ask each other, “Am I doing what I agreed to?” and expect healthy feedback.
The final and most obvious ingredient is a focus on results. Effective teams know why they are working towards a goal, how they will go about it and what success looks like. This flows naturally from accountability takes care of the ‘how’ which should take care of the ‘what’. But the team must remind itself of the what, in terms of milestones achieved and celebrated and as a way of addressing conflict. The team can constantly ask, “Is what we are doing taking us closer to our results?”
Leadership Teams – The Formula
So in summary:
- Trust allows effective conflict
- Conflict leads to commitment
- Commitment facilitates accountability
- Accountability creates a focus on results
- And results build trust