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4 things great senior leadership teams do

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In my 25-plus years as a consultant, I have worked with hundreds of top teams — executive leadership teams in multinational organizations, small businesses, for-profits, not-for-profits, government organizations, and everything in between.

What I have found is that 90% of those leadership “teams” are not teams, at all. In fact, most chief executive “teams” are a group of individual senior leaders who meet on a regular basis to battle each other for limited resources.

They battle for funds, people, time, validation, and more. Every day. These leaders carefully track which battles they won, which they lost, which were a “draw,” etc. The next day, the battle begins anew.

Leadership groups like these do not typically have a formalized team purpose. The team meets because they are “senior leaders.” Meetings are what those leaders “do.”

When I ask these leaders what the compelling purpose of their senior executive “team” is, they don’t know what to say. Most tell me, “We don’t have a purpose beyond meeting to keep each other informed.” Their roles and responsibilities are woefully unclear.

That’s no way to create, much less maintain, a powerful, positive, high-performing, productive work culture, either within the leadership team or across the business.

This dynamic happens in the sports world, too. In a recent Denver Post article about the problems of the once-mighty Sacramento Kings basketball franchise, the “soap opera” was blamed on the friction between the majority and minority owners, the head coaching carousel, and ineffective communication across the organization.

Former (fired) Kings head coach Michael Malone said, “If you want to have an organizational belief and identity and vision, all parties must be involved and all parties must be together in that. You’re not always going to agree — it would be naive to think that. But as long as you walk out that door unified and having each other’s back, good things are going to happen.”

That’s a great description of an effective leadership team's purpose.

To authentically embrace their responsibility to truly lead with “one heart, one mind, and one voice,” senior leadership teams need to formalize these four elements:

Servant purpose: The senior leadership team must define its present-day “service” reason for being. The purpose statement clarifies why the team exists, who they serve (employees, stakeholders, customers), and “to what end” — what they will accomplish as a team beyond making money (be recognized as a “best company to work for,” etc.).

Setting team goals: What strategic goals will the senior leadership team accomplish? Team leader goals might include employee engagement, customer service excellence, financial success, etc.

No matter the number of people on your senior team, it’s important to set goals to create a sense of purpose throughout the organization. These can be individual goals, company goals, long term goals or team building goals, but they all require avenues of specific measurement to determine success. This type of team goal setting is instrumental.

Values and behaviors: Values, defined in behavioral terms, specify how team members will treat each other in every interaction. Ensuring trust, respect, and dignity builds confidence, cooperation, and contribution by the team at the top.

Accountability: With the team’s purpose, professional goals, and values formalized, the most important element comes into play: ensuring team members are held accountable these agreements. Accountability is every leadership team member’s responsibility. Accountability conversations are sincere efforts to understand behavior and guide members to embracing their agreements. Team members regularly validate aligned behaviors by other members.

With these four elements in place, decision-making is easy. Team members easily understand their role in furthering the team’s purpose by cooperating, communicating, and focusing on the greater good.

Change your senior leadership “group” to an aligned team and you’ll reap the benefits: less drama, less conflict, more aligned action, better productivity and more fun!

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