Speaker’s Corner – February
“Senior Leadership Teams: What it takes to make them great”
Richard Hackman, Ph.D.
Contrary to the title of Dr. Hackman’s presentation, he insists that no one can make a leadership team be great, however it is possible to create conditions that can greatly increase the likelihood of achieving team effectiveness. The focus of his talk was on senior leadership teams whose members are significant organizational leaders, especially those who make broad-reaching decisions.
Senior Leadership Teams (SLTs) have great potential, but they can be derailed, resulting in underperformance. To ascend to an SLT position, individuals generally possess a certain independence and drive which enables them to rise to the top. These senior leaders are typically strong individual performers, but not practiced in working together with others. In short, SLTs are designed and led in ways that unintentionally cap their potential.
Hackman and his colleagues have investigated what conditions are needed to foster effective teams and have put forth a theoretical model of the essentials (must haves) and the enablers (nice to haves). There are three major components within the essential conditions:
- Real Team – groups that are bounded, interdependent and stable. For a team to be bounded, team members need to know the boundaries of the team, that is, who is and is not included in the team. Hackman provided an example of when employees were asked denote the number of people comprising their own teams. For one SLT, the number of team members was estimated to be as low as 7 or as high as 84, while the actual size of the team was 11 individuals. Of the 120 teams in their study, only 11 teams (9%) had agreement on the number of team members. Knowing the number of people on a team enables members to be knowledgeable about available resources when creating goals.
- Compelling Direction - a compelling direction is characterized by three qualities: it should be clear, challenging, and consequential. SLTs need to be able to articulate a specific plan of action. It is also important for a team to perform consequential actions. When bringing a SLT team together, it is imperative to use the time wisely. Schedule an agenda that utilizes the powerful resources gathered together.
- Right People - having the right people on the team and avoiding people who will derail or undermine the groups efforts. These “Derailers” tend to bring out the worst in others, exhibit a lack of integrity, or are unable to perceive or understand other members’ perspectives. It is often the failing of the CEO or the team’s executive sponsor when Derailers end up on an SLT. One common problem that CEOs face is that they fail to lead through excessive inclusiveness. They are unwilling or unable to exclude or remove a derailing member because of the emotional ramifications of facing that decisions.
Hackman indicated that if all three essential conditions cannot be created it is usually better not to have an SLT at all. Conversely, if the essentials are met, an SLT can strive for the enablers:
- Sound Structure - having good team composition with the right number of people and clear norms of conduct. Having a team of experts does not ensure effectiveness unless members are able to come together to share, integrate, and utilize everyone’s strengths.
- Supportive Context - achieved through having organizational supports including rewards or incentives and the necessary resources.
- Team Coaching - receiving coaching from both leaders and peers. For high-performing teams, CEOs spend time coaching both individuals and the team.
For more information about the ideas and research summarized above visit http://www.leadingteams.org. Dr. Hackman also highlighted two books for the interested reader: Leading Teams: Setting the Stage for Great Performances and Senior Leadership Teams: What it Takes to Make Them Great.
Reported by: Jennifer Ferreter