Senior leadership teams, like other teams, need expert help in learning how to become better at working together over time. It is important not to confuse leadership team development with a range of other activities such as facilitation, consultancy, team building, group counselling, leadership development programmes or everyone on the team receiving individual coaching.
The reason why it is not sufficient to put a team into any exercise that is aimed at leadership development is because training a group of people in leadership is vastly different to developing a high performance leadership team. Team building exercises will also fall short if they are conducted in manufactured environments rather than practiced in real time with current issues and concerns.
Often executive leadership development programmes and other initiatives that are centred on the development of individuals reinforce the group being a ‘team of champions’. A team of champions is a group of highly skilled, experienced and successful individuals, each with their own distinct accountabilities and each reliable for managing their performance. So what’s wrong with that?
What’s missing is the development of a ‘championship team’, a community of leaders jointly accountable for the company’s success whose combined efforts produce way more than the sum of its members.
Putting people together to share the same learning material and experiences does not guarantee that they will emerge as this kind of team, especially if they are high-powered executives who thrive on being independent. Too often we see these kinds of teams, and the results they produce are well below what is possible due to low levels of collaboration, communication, accountability and integrity.
An understanding and acceptance of interdependency is crucial to the process of building high performing leadership teams. That understanding begins with the team members and the development of their competency to work interdependently with one another – to challenge productively, manage multiple relationships effectively and align rapidly. From there the team can move on to developing their ability to interact powerfully with their stakeholders – employees, customers, suppliers, communities, shareholders etc. A leadership team’s ability to inspire and influence those stakeholders, not just manage their expectations, transforms the space they have to make the biggest contribution to the business.
Where to start? To get the process underway a diagnosis of the team’s current level of performance can be very helpful. With this information, engaging members in getting to work is enabled. With commitment to the journey gained, the next step is for the team to identify an ‘axis of accountability’ that is strategically relevant to the business and inspiring for all. One starting point can be the creation of a team purpose that answers the question: What is our purpose as a team?