Is your Leadership team a team, a group, a gang or a mob?

We coach, develop and work alongside leaders and teams to shift ideas on leadership and provide the skills and tools needed to grow teams.


Author: Phil Hartwick
First Published:  2015

We often ask leadership teams to review themselves against these four groupings.

At this point we introduce the Katzenbach & Smith definition of a team:

A small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, a set of performance goals, and an approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable’.

When asked to hold up a mirror and speak honestly about themselves, most members of leadership ‘teams’ are more likely to rate themselves as a group rather than a true team. And some of the less functional and more internally competitive groups claim to be mobs or gangs! This reality check can be a real shock and confronting, particularly for the leader.

So, why are leadership teams often ‘teams’ in name only?

It’s usually because the team collaborates on very little of substance. Sure there are discussions and at times consensus decisions, but most leadership teams rarely co-create or co-execute on much. For example, its not uncommon to have specialists bring together each individual’s input to then go off and create on their own the business and even strategic plans. Co-creating and co-executing is a whole level above having discussions and the occasional decision. It takes energy and commitment of the whole team to really interact.

So why isn’t there more interaction happening?

There are lots of things that get in the way of a leadership team working more closely together. Insufficient time is a biggie, sometimes its distance, clashing personalities, poor leadership or just too many priorities. Too many priorities result in the work getting divided up amongst the members of the team who go away and work in near-isolation.

But the one thing we encounter that we are convinced has the biggest impact, is the lack of clarity the ‘team’ has of what as a team it’s supposed to deliver. That is, what is the value that the team itself provides to the organisation? This is quite different from the value each of the team’s members on their own deliver or the value of what their respective functional areas deliver.

Why aren’t leadership teams clear on what they are there to deliver?

Our theory is this; Most leadership teams are representational. That is, they represent different areas of the business that usually have quite different specialities; for example operations, finance, customer services, human resources etc. etc. Because they are so different, there seems to be this pervasive feeling that the primary role of each member of the Leadership team is the running of their part of the business and their role in the team is to be the representative of that part of the business.

By representing, what does each team member primarily do? They convey information up to the leadership team about their area’s key issues and successes, they answer questions about their area, they transmit information down from the LT to their area, and they defend the interests of their area when anything that may relate to their area is discussed or decided by the leadership team. And this makes sense when you think that each manager is measured and held accountable to the success of their area.

But of course this is NOT teamwork. NOR is it working to anyway near the potential of the team.

One of our favourite activities when we get to work with a leadership team is to get the team members to answer these questions first independently of each other, and then to discuss as a group:

1. Why does this team exist?

2. What are you as a team here to achieve, that you cannot each do on your own?

3. How can this team add value to the organisation in a way that no other group can?

Usually there is an awakening at this point.

And if we can be clear and agree on ‘why’ the team exists and the outcomes it’s there to achieve, we can fairly quickly identify high priority goals and strategies to achieve those goals.
A team without a clear purpose will never be much of a team.

Its truly simple, but its an exercise that is not well executed by many teams or leaders. Too often clarifying the team’s purpose seems to be a ‘tick the box exercise if its done at all. And when it is done this the team members go back to representing their separate areas as before and nothing really changes. But the silos get bigger.

So, ask yourself is your leadership team a real team and is its purpose clear?

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