How can executive leadership team support the organisation?
What role does the executive leadership team play in helping the organisation and its teams to survive and thrive in these turbulent economic times? A time when teams are being asked to deliver and scale up to meet increasing demand with reduced numbers, and team members are anxious and exhausted after years of crisis and change?
We’re focusing on executive leadership teams in this blog because in our years of practice, research and insight we’ve come across a recurring theme: executive leadership teams don’t behave like a team. What we often see is a group of captains with their own teams working independently. They might come together for regular top team meetings where project updates, localised successes and financials are shared, plus the odd strategy day, but more often than not attempts at true collaboration, change and innovation sit in the teams beneath them.
Organisations are full of teams and team members motivated to change, wanting to deliver results but who are left frustrated by rigid structures and siloed thinking. What they need right now is an executive leadership team built on solid relationships, ready to collaborate and share resources, united behind a clear, vision and strategy. When the top team gets this right, we notice a significant shift to what we call a malleable system. A system that creates space and flex that allows real change to occur, which is essential in these complex times.
Does your executive leadership team have a one-team mindset?
When we talk to teams frustrated by a lack of resources and worried about patchy performance, we often find that the root of the problem lies in a lack of clarity in purpose and direction. This lack of clarity can lead to muddled thinking and poor decision making; it’s so much easier to effectively prioritise activity when you know and understand your purpose. We’re not saying that teams aren’t stretched, that there’s isn’t a talent gap or a lack of resources. What we are saying is that the best way to approach these challenges is for the executive team to work together.
‘Senior leaders need to be ruthless with the to-do list. You can’t do everything, so if you can only do 75% of the to-do list, make sure it’s the right 75%.’
Dan Meek, CEO LIW
Top-down led, bottom-up built
To change culture, we recommend a ‘Top-down led, bottom-up built’ approach. Whilst team members are closest to the work and arguably best placed to make changes to working practices, senior leaders play a critical role as a united group that creates space and flex for innovation, experimentation and change.
‘In our enterprise leadership training programmes, we often find leaders make the greatest progress when they develop their ability to ‘see the system’ rather than limiting their perspective to that of a singular team. Seeing the ‘system’ enables senior leaders to act as a central team and capitalise on opportunities to connect team members across the enterprise.’
Andy Chevis, Head of design & research
Senior leaders don’t (always) have all the answers
The second big shift in moving to a one-team mindset is for senior leaders to recognise that there’s strength in admitting you don’t have all the answers. We recognise that it might feel uncomfortable because historically organisations have traded on the currency of expertise and knowledge, resulting in senior leaders being seen as the people with all the answers.
Admitting you don’t have all the answers can feel vulnerable but the flipside to asking colleagues, ‘I don’t know, what do you think?’ is collaboration, creativity and innovation. You’d be amazed at what you can achieve when you create space for teams to collaborate.
Team Diagnostic: Where are the gaps in your team?
Our experience is that it’s one thing knowing a team isn’t performing, but it’s another knowing why that is, and understanding what needs to change. Spending a few minutes answering these five questions based on our Team Acceleration Programme will help shine a light on the gaps and opportunities in your team.
- Context and core tools: The team have a common language and way of working as a team (an understanding of their version of ‘teamwork’– not just task work)
- Purpose, vision, strategy: The team understand ‘why’ they exist (purpose) have a vision for what good looks like in the future, and how that aligns to the organisation’s goals.
- Team dynamics and behaviours: The team create a truly collaborative and inclusive environment, without heroes. Its members feel psychologically safe and are able to respectfully challenge each other.
- Leadership and individual impact: The team take responsibility and are proactive with their personal development to help accelerate team performance.
- Execution and embedding: The team has effective processes and conversations in place (e.g. Agile) to support planning, ‘teamwork’, reflection, feedback, coaching and improvement.
Let’s change how we work for the better
The bottom line is that we don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow, next week or next month. What wecan do is help executive teams put strong foundations in place that will bring the organisation together and help all teams to perform and deliver results.
One-team mindset five-point checklist
- Make ‘What do you think?’ a core part of your leadership vocabulary
- Turn asking for help into a core part of your leadership practice
- Make creating an environment of psychological safety and trust a priority and lean into the difficult, open and honest conversations and give others permission to do the same
- Work together to create space and flex to allow change to happen
- Recognise that on the flip side of ‘I don’t know’ are answers, creativity, innovation, shared resources and collaboration
It’s easy to get bogged down in the headlines whether it’s the great resignation, quiet quitting or the challenges of hybrid working, but as tough as it feels right now, we also believe it gives us a fantastic opportunity to change how we work for the better, and for the long-term.
Drop us a note and we can have a chat about helping your teams to perform effectively, including the executive team.
We’ve hand-picked a few resources from our library about team performance and psychological safety that might bring clarity to your thinking.
Trust & psychological safety
Team Acceleration Process