Teams form such a critical part of business delivery these days that we just take them for granted in the way we organise our activities. And as such we treat one team grouping, its purpose, function, obstacles and steps to ensure they are effective, just as we would treat any other team. However, not all teams are the same and have very different structure and purpose. In this series of articles about teams in the workplace, I will be looking at nine different models and highlighting their functions and characteristics.

The objective of this series of articles is to attempt to highlight how the correctly chosen team structure can reap benefits down the line in more efficient process and more effective delivery. Ruth Wageman, Debra A. Nunes highlight this very fact in their book Senior Leadership Teams: What It Takes to Make Them Great (Leadership for the Common Good) where they see team structure is a key enabler to leadership effectiveness.

Like all of my articles your feedback and comments are very much welcome.


Leadership teams – what are they?

A Leadership team leads a major function or operation and often has a strategic role. It usually comprises managers who head their own department.


Five obstacles to leadership team success

1. Lack of cabinet responsibility - failure of top team members to exercise cabinet responsibility and show joint commitment to decisions even though they may disagree privately, can lead to situations where the leadership team is undermined. This is particularly true where a leadership team member demonstrates outside of the leadership team that they do not agree with its decisions or support the other members. Stories of disagreements and personal tensions can spread rapidly thus undermining what the leadership team is trying to achieve.

Troubleshooting tip: Cabinet Responsibility and team solidarity should be positioned as one of the principal norms and standards of the top team. Behaviour, which undermines this should be challenged early, before it becomes a norm in itself.

2. Purpose, power and politics - the very nature of leadership teams with powerful and ambitious individuals can lead to the focus being shifted to positioning and power plays for the benefit of an individual rather than the good of the team. The tendencies to over protect one’s own ‘turfÂ’ rather than look at the bigger picture can paralyse the team’s effectiveness. The lack of an agreed purpose, which can shape member thinking and activities can lead to people pulling in different directions.

Troubleshooting tip: clearly articulating and agreeing the vision, purpose and roles, responsibilities and accountabilities of the leadership team is essential in helping it focus on the bigger picture. Behaviours which suggest narrow parochialism need to be challenged before they become accepted

3. Strategic thinking - the ability to think and act strategically is essential to leadership teams. However the mind set of many leaders has been developed through tactical and operational backgrounds. Being able to think about and do things differently rather than just better is a key capability that needs to be developed, particularly if the business area is subject to frequent change.

Troubleshooting tip: leadership teams should ask themselves if a coherent strategy can be understood through their individual business plans. A strategy should be apparent in the activities of the business. If it is not, then it is likely that the strategy is not clear to those under the direction of the leadership team. Another question is how the leadership team’s strategy fits in with the wider strategy of the business. Failure to make the links explicit can lead to a lot of worthy but wasted initiatives.

4. Group debate - leadership teams by nature of having a cross section of skilled members with strong viewpoints, are inclined to spend a lot of time on debate and argument and trying to satisfy and take into account every member’s viewpoints.  This can limit good decision-making and waste valuable and expensive member time.

Troubleshooting tip: agree decision-making processes, which should be used consistently. Make use of available analytical tools, which help inform decision-making. Once a decision has been made exercise cabinet responsibility.

5. Autocratic leadership style - the presence of a leader whose style is autocratic and directive can lead to superficial, inflexible and rigid group dynamics in which members conceal their true opinions and feelings. Decisions are deferred to the leader without genuine buy-in and member initiative is discouraged.

Troubleshooting tip: adopt a group norm and standard, which values open and honest feedback, which includes regular reviews on style of leadership. Getting an external view from a coach who can spend time observing a leader’s style can be an effective way of getting over a difficult message in an impartial way.

Ten steps for creating successful leadership teams

Based around Peter Hawkins’ book Leadership Team Coaching: Developing Collective Transformational Leadership, research highlights the 10 steps or factors effective teams undertake are:

  1. setting out clearly agreed purpose and vision statements that all members are committed to. Involvement in the formation of the statements should entail greater buy-in to their success;
  2. agreeing on a high standard of cabinet responsibility and a set process where a members can no longer comply with this requirement;
  3. agreeing and documenting a decision making processes. It doesn’t need to be a complicated process, but just clear and simple how decisions will be made;
  4. establishing an agreed leadership and team style that all are comfortable in following and will be efficient in process and effective in delivery;
  5. including members who can think and act strategically and who have the mandate to do so;
  6. developing of a cohesive team environment in which functional and ‘turf’ issues do not paralyse the output amongst members;
  7. emphasising high candour and openness amongst members. Emphasising that open and clear communication will provide a pivotal tool in ensuring the team works effectively together;
  8. holding regular reviews to assess team effectiveness and have some clear set benchmarks or gateways that provide a means of assessing this effectiveness;
  9. acting decisively with a high level of commitment to decisions (which is where the level of commitment to the purpose and vision is so critical at the beginning of the process); and
  10. including a diverse skill set of members that complement not only each other but will be necessary in ensuring the delivery of the purpose and vision.