5 Tips Developing Leadership Teams

The 5 Tips You Need to Know for Building Effective Leadership Teams

Tom Hammar
November, 2018

Teamflow Part 3

By Tom Hammar, Head of Leadership Practice, Nordics

Building Leadership Teams

Struggling to get your leadership team to work effectively? Here are the five things you need to know to make it happen.

Developing a leadership team into an effective one takes time, effort and deliberate practice. In my last two blogs, I described how teamflow, the way your team works and communicates, is essential for effective leadership teams and the top ten derailers of leadership teams. Now I will outline the five actions necessary for making your leadership team an effective one.

Continuously enabling one’s team to develop and grow is one of the most important responsibilities of a senior leader, especially in today’s organizations. I call this skill “team-developing leadership.” A senior leader can never force their team to be effective and high performing. However, the leader can implement enablers to help the team come together, and ultimately become more effective.

The following five tips are simple, practical and easily implemented – and highly impactful when it comes to enabling a leadership team to work well together. In no way does that means that these actions are easy to follow through on; each has its own challenges. However, based on experience, when implemented, these tips do amazing things for enabling teamflow.

1. Craft a clear team purpose

It all starts with purpose – why do we exist as a team? Achieving clarity and alignment around this issue is critical. This success factor is often overlooked because leaders assume that their team fully understands its purpose. However, this is very seldom the case. It is what they say about what happens when you assume…

When I start working with a leadership team, I often ask them, “Are you aligned around your team’s purpose?” The answer is always a unanimous “YES!” And my response is “Great! Why don’t all of you individually write down your team purpose on an index card?” At this point, people start shifting in their seats. They are asking themselves, “What do we actually mean by purpose? I know what we do, but it is hard to put it down on paper, or say it in a few short words…”

Once the leadership team identifies that they cannot articulate their purpose, they need to take the time to sit down and discuss what it is. The intent of this exercise is twofold – it creates an essential purpose phrase that every team member needs to be able to articulate, and allows the group to gain clarity and bond with one another by working through the issues that arise from a lack of defined purpose.

Once the team takes the time to discuss and align around this specific phrase, they will find that they have overcome any preexisting misunderstandings and are now even more aligned than before.

But how do teams actually define their purpose? One way that I have found to work very well is to write the following on two flip charts:

Leadership Team Purpose

  • Why do we exist as a team?
  • What does this team do?

Unit Purpose

  • What is our unit (not the organization as a whole) here to achieve?
  • What do we contribute to the organization?

Then ask team members to individually write sticky note responses for each question. After all are done, let members present their sticky notes one by one for each question. Soon the group will discover that the line between team purpose and unit purpose is easily mixed up and blurred. This exercise will help clarify the difference.

In short, the main difference between leadership team and unit purpose is that the team’s purpose is to enable the unit to perform and the unit’s purpose is to execute. After all team members have shared their sticky notes, the group should work together to condense the input into clear and compelling purpose statements.

Identifying the team’s purpose and distilling it to a number of phrases, specifically something that each member can put down in writing, is essential for aligning the team. The team’s purpose acts as a guiding light for the rest of the decisions that they will need to make. All of the challenges that the team encounters – who should be on the team, how to allocate time during meetings, how to prioritize work, etc. – can be answered by whatever best serves the team’s purpose.

Having a clear and compelling team purpose is a continuous process. As a team’s goals and strategy change over time, so will its purpose. Leadership teams need to continuously evaluate their purpose statement, ensuring that it best aligns and serves the overall organization.

2. Identify the MVS of your team

In business, MVP stands for Minimum Viable Product, and indicates that a new product has just enough features to go to market. For leadership teams, there is an MVS. MVS stands for Minimum Viable Size, and indicates that a leadership team has just enough people to be effective. Every leadership team needs to ask themselves – what is the smallest number of people we could be to optimally deliver on our purpose?

Every member added to a leadership team comes with the cost of increased interpersonal complexity, and challenges the team’s ability to execute and make decisions quickly. This is especially true after teams reach a size of five people, and staying in the single digits is almost always a very good idea. This does not mean that I think all leadership teams should only be five members. But the reality is, size really does matter when it comes to teams. In this instance, it’s not “the more the merrier,” but rather “too many cooks in the kitchen will spoil the soup.”

When it comes to deciding who should be on the leadership team, far too often organizations will simply follow an organizational chart. Instead of letting an org chart dictate who is on the team, leaders should let the team’s purpose dictate its members. As a leader of the team, you should ask yourself, “Who would best contribute to achieving our team’s purpose?”

Identifying the right size for your team might sound easy, but for most organizations, cutting down the size of a leadership team evokes significant political and emotional apprehension. Despite this challenge, surprisingly, many of the people that leave the leadership team are relieved and agree with the change. Nothing is as frustrating as sitting through inefficient or unproductive meetings just because it is what you are supposed to do.

If you happen to lead an organization with many direct reports, a good way to structure your leadership team is by having a smaller “core” team and a broader extended leadership group. By having two teams, you can execute quickly within the core team, and include more voices with the larger group. In this scenario, it is essential that each team establishes its own clear purpose and the appropriate meeting structure to make it a reality.

3. Ban individual screens during meetings

Few things today prevent interpersonal communication as much as screens – whether they are computers, tablets, or mobile phones. Since communication is the foundation of good teamwork, this is a problem. We all know what happens when somebody starts looking at their phone during a conversation – the conversation dies!

Creating a firm team guideline of “no screens” during meetings opens up the possibility for true interpersonal interaction and teamwork. Leaders can have team members put on an “out-of-office reply” with something like, “I am in an important meeting and on flight mode. I will respond to your message once I have finished.” After all, we all take flights, so what is preventing us from being in a meeting for a few hours, or even a day, without being connected?

If this tip seems impossible or unreasonable to implement (for team members or even for yourself, which is often the case), I would recommend trying it for at least two meetings. After those two focused meetings, sit down as a team to evaluate the impact of the no-screen rule and decide how to progress. I already know the outcome.

4. Create a shared visual canvas

Your leadership team is full of intelligent, execution-driven people. Your team will likely sit around a conference table and have a discussion, making a lot of important decisions, but the decisions are probably not posted for everyone to see. As a result, all members of the team may not be on the same page regarding exactly what decisions have been made.

Establishing a common visual area such as a flip chart or white board during meetings is important for providing clarity to your leadership team. Posting important discussion points and idea flow in this shared space allows people to better understand the ideas being produced, and react to them in real time. This allows the decision making process to become something that is shared rather than an independent act.

The alternative to writing everything down in a shared space is assuming that everyone has the same things written down in their notes – and this is a dangerous assumption to make. Everyone may not have the same base-level of understanding for every issue, and clarity is essential for great decision making.

Ultimately, creating this visual canvas for decision making is a technique for improving alignment and clarity. Sharing thoughts and mapping out decision making allows for clearer decisions with bigger buy-in from group members and, as a result, better follow through.

5. Hold a mini end-of-meeting retrospective

Much of the work that is done in leadership teams is done in meetings. This is why it is so important that meetings work well. One very easy way to continuously improve your team’s meetings is to conduct a mini end-of-meeting retrospective. Take the last 10 minutes of the meeting to have all team members reflect and write down on a sticky note what “worked well” and what to “do better.”

While research indicates that teams that regularly reflect perform 20-25 percent better than teams that don’t, many leaders will claim that they do not have time to do it. If spending the last 10 minutes of every meeting reflecting has the potential to increase performance by up to 25 percent, who wouldn’t do it?

Taking the time to simply state two or three things that were great or could be done better could have a significant impact on the effectiveness of your leadership team, so choosing to invest time in this reflection should be an easy decision to make.

A Note on Teams Who Connect Virtually

Today, many leadership teams are globally located, meaning members are dispersed around different parts of the world. This presents a challenge when it comes to team development and team effectiveness. In response to this challenge, my advice for leaders of global teams is to be even more focused on these five tips. Because your team does so much work in in a virtual environment, it is essential to have a crystal-clear purpose that aligns your efforts, and to be small enough that you are able to have good meetings over video conference. In the virtual environment, committing to being on video and staying focused on the group work is mission critical for ensuring that time on calls is effective and efficient. In addition, creating a shared visual canvas and conducting retrospectives are easy to implement virtually.

In Conclusion

Effective leadership teams with great teamflow are essential for great strategy execution. While simple, leveraging the above five tips can make a significant difference in improving the effectiveness of your leadership team and achieving the results you want to see.

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