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LEADERSHIP: Creating and Sustaining Senior Leadership Teams

staffPhotosDeborahAutumn is the time of year when senior leadership teams are working on strategic plans, finalizing budgets, and making last minute adjustments to bring the fourth quarter in on target.  While some leaders question whether a team is a viable structure to coordinate strategy at that level, others are becoming increasingly aware that business demands are rapidly outdistancing the capability of any one person to have all the answers.

The second question is whether it’s worth putting in the effort to make a loose collection of individual leaders into an actual team.  Part of the answer to that question lies in the degree of interdependence and close interaction required, or will regular sharing of information be sufficient.  Lou Gerstner, the head of IBM in the 1990s, transformed the company into a faster, flatter, highly flexible organization through the creation of a vibrant senior team.  Gerstner wanted a team that would debate him on policy issues and proposals that cut across the enterprise.  A new book entitled, Senior Leadership Teams:   What it takes to make them great*, suggests that there are typically four types of senior leadership teams:  informational, consultative, coordinating and decision making.  Interestingly, they note “if all you make of your senior leaders is an information-sharing team, then you have capped their potential for real interdependence in leading the organization.”

So, how do we transform senior executives into a high performance leadership team?  Real teams address issues, offer advice, find and solve problems and make collective decisions.  Their meetings are rarely just informational in nature; the expectation is that information will be shared and read prior to meeting, so the meeting time can be a robust exchange of ideas, plans and decisions.  Senior teams are carefully composed of a limited number of key people who regularly meet and have sufficient time to accomplish significant work together.  They have high expectations for team member behavior and commitment.

Once the decision has been made to really demand high performance at the senior level, the team needs to have great clarity of purpose and authority, typically defined in the team’s charter.  In addition, the team must identify the interdependencies that bring them to the table.  What are the mission-critical tasks that only a senior leadership team can complete?  What decisions fall into their sphere of influence; what initiatives will they be expected to execute; what battles must they win?    While much of the work will be strategic, it’s also acceptable for the team to work on operational and tactical issues as well.

The future of your organization most likely depends on the decisions made at the highest level.  Set high expectations for your senior team and never let up!

Equally important with purpose is having the right people on the team.  Senior executives often assume they should be on the team based on their position, rather than their contribution.  I always like the idea of a Skill Scan where each member is expected to identify what they plan to contribute to the team based on their education, work experience, key perspectives, and even their hobbies and outside interests.  Absolutely, the team must be composed of people who can run the organization and know how to use their differences well.    In Senior Leadership Teams, they also suggested that members on the best teams bring these attributes:  a leader self-image rather than seeing oneself as a functional head, ability for conceptual thinking (synthesizing complex information from divergent sources), and the characteristics of empathy and integrity.

It may be time to assess your leadership team to determine if it will meet the needs of your organization in 2010.  New Directions offers teaming assessment tools (free samples) and team coaching/consulting/training to help your team achieve the vision you have for it (click here for more information on how to get started).    One last important thought:  the future of your organization most likely depends on the decisions made at the highest level.  Set high expectations for your senior team and never let up!

*  Senior Leadership Teams: What it takes to make them great.  Ruth Wageman, Debra Nunes, James Burruss and J. Richard Hackman

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  • Deb – you know our SLT well, since you were there for day one. I think we carry all 4 attributes to our group process. We actively had not been an informational group as with your advice that was to be shared in advance. Th egroup time was menat to be more decision oriented.
    It has become difficult to inform all of everything in advance and we have found that members would more than likley not share if it meant preparing and writing in advance. So we have added informational to our group, which we like as it has allowed the group to brainstorm together as opposed to getting right down to business and decisionmaking which can make the group dynamic formal and stagnant sometimes.
    Terry liked your blog and would like us to discuss this with you when you can come see us again.
    I’ll check that book out too, you do recommend it – right?

  • Good post and this mail helped me alot in my college assignement. Gratefulness you for your information.

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