Planning an Effective Team
Key Ingredients of High-Performing Teams
Just as a good book does not write itself, a high-functioning team does not emerge without planning and effort. In both cases, many elements are required for success. There has to be a clear reason or a purpose behind each. Once that is very clear, planning and forethought supports that plan with a structure and game plan. Like a book, a good team requires dedication and effort to get it launched and to keep it continuously productive. However, although a book involves only a single author, the multiple players in a team — their working styles, their temperaments, their emotional and behavioral preferences and habits — amplify the challenges. And unless the team functions well, it may be difficult or impossible to reach its goal.
Coaching the Team Leader
The team leader has both unique opportunity and accountability to influence the team’s success. Team leaders make unique decisions in the set-up of the group and are charged with coordinating the team’s efforts and making the purpose of those efforts clear. Less acknowledged is the fact that a good team leader is also an emotional leader, one who creates containment and support that optimizes the individuals’ ability to form a team. Therefore, the team leader also needs guidance and support to develop the required capabilities that allow them in turn to coach the team’s members. The leader must themselves have clarity about the mission and direction of the team, and be able to convey that clarity, choose members with the correct skill sets to support that goal, and help to create a group process and culture that ensures smooth functioning. Emotional intelligence, resilience and psychological bandwidth are also critical qualities to develop, both for the leader and the team.
Leveraging the Team’s Diversity
Strong leadership brings individuals together and helps them develop into a team that brings out individual contributions and motivations toward a united purpose. They help individual members manage their differences and come together despite personal likes and dislikes. They monitor cliques and alliances that impede operational effectiveness, and encourage communication so that team members don’t brood over matters that may contribute to a toxic environment. Above all, a good team leader is “present” They actively coach team members, set priorities for the team, keep the team’s eyes on the ball for sustained motivation, give timely feedback, and run interference with outside-the-team issues.
Team Structure and Functions
Good team leadership is vital to team success and includes:
- Identifying the team’s primary purpose and direction. Set up a team with structures and processes that foster smooth functioning, such as:
- Choosing the right members
- Setting the right size of the team o Setting a structure and frequency of team meetings
- Setting the boundaries
- Prioritizing tasks and helping the team self-motivate
- Manage conflict through modeling tolerance, respect, and positive interactions
- Articulating and modeling appropriate team behavior
- Foster cooperation and shared information
- Giving timely feedback
- Buffer outside influences affecting team’s tasks and goals
The Importance of Trust
Trust is essential in teams. Without it, a team is merely a collection of individuals that may get in each other’s way. Without positive relationships the mission of the team fragments into individual interests and goals, impeding the team’s ability to coordinate their efforts, never mind achieve extraordinary results. Without deliberately cultivating a team culture that feels supportive, team members may not express their doubts or concerns. They may fear making a mistake or showing vulnerability that may be held against them. Cliques are formed as people gravitate toward other members they believe share their interests. Ultimately information that may be vital to the success of the team is hoarded or fails to make it to the table of the group’s collective awareness.
Top management or C-suite teams have additional unique responsibilities without having additional time.
As a result they have less time to focus on their own team effectiveness. A vicious cycle is created as a company operates in a rapidly changing environment where they need to respond quickly, yet the quality of their teamwork may not support their aims or even get in their way.
Senior leadership teams therefore must also create effective structures and processes, including those that address the team’s culture, trust, and relationships. A team where interpersonal risk is low and high quality interactions serve the team’s agenda must be deliberately created and sustained.
Top teams are particularly tasked with clarity about the company’s priorities and the team’s mandate.
Yet research shows that alignment around priorities are quite low in many senior teams. Good leadership at the helm of a leadership team is no less important than elsewhere in the company. In fact additional high-level skills such as the capacity to recognize dilemmas and ambiguities, and the capacity to seek creative solutions for them, are more in need as the problems grow more complex.
Challenges of the Executive Team
Executive teams run a company and have similar and unique challenges:
- Higher levels influence that penetrate interconnected organizational levels and external stakeholders, which means escalated challenges securing commitments
- Higher levels of visibility increase pressure and risk on team’s decisions
- Must function as the buffer between inside and outside the organization
- Requires responsive and agile skill set for strategic planning and execution
- Dysfunction at the top team has organization-wide ramifications
- Formation of sub-groups and cliques and competition between them that often occur in teams is magnified in organizational dysfunction and silo-forming
- Executive team members need high level skill sets to help their organization to succeed.
The promotion path in many organizations include talented people who nevertheless have not had enough time to develop these skills, including the penchant to be reflective, analyze needs, devise creative solutions, and contribute to the team community. Qualities that contributed to individual success may detract from team success and lead to defensive postures which, at this level of the organization, can be quite costly to the business.
Coaching Governance Boards
Ideally an organization’s board and its leadership play complementary roles including checks and balance.
CEO and Board chair may enjoy open communication and are aligned in their vision and strategic direction, not to mention the steps and metrics required to get there. In reality governance boards may fail to recruit motivated members committed to learning their organization and its challenges to the point of being able to contribute meaningful guidance.
The board size may be bloated and board membership viewed as more titular than as a working board.
Under-prepared directors who do not put in the time to understand a company can lose credibility with the company’s leadership, leading to board meetings that are attended for form rather than substance. Instead of transparent communication that add value to both board and leadership, board meetings can be exercises in managing impressions that allow company leaders to work around the board and board directors to feel devalued. In addition, infrequent board meetings may challenge the team leader, or the Chairman of the Board, to create the kind of coherent team that provides valuable governance.
Constructive actions that can be taken by the board to improve its own functioning or the quality of working relationship between the board and company leadership include:
- Assess the board’s effectiveness in the service of defining strategies to best utilize its time and talent
- Support the Board chair to facilitate constructive team building processes, increase quality relationships within board and with leaders, develop trust and open communication
- Encourage and facilitate independent yet constructive working relationship between the Board and company management, particularly between the Board Chair and CEO
- Support succession planning process between Board and management
Teams whose members are globally distributed rely heavily on virtual meetings to perform most of their tasks. They must cross the barriers of time zones, language, and cultural and national differences just to work on the business at hand. Rarely do teams and their organizations believe they have time to attend to the process of operating as a team. However harnessing the positive motivation and energy of group members is more than worth the effort, as every high-functioning team knows. In fact failure to do so yields a negative return and creates cascading, long-term, and costly-to-fix inefficiencies.