What does it take to build a winning executive team? When should a leader ‘rebuild’ an existing team, and when should they start afresh and ‘reinvent’ the team from scratch?
I recently had the pleasure of driving 400kms across Bosnia Herzegovino. I was captivated by the incredible beauty of this understated country, but was equally struck by the carcasses of bombed buildings from the Homeland War of the early nineties littered across the countryside.
The interesting thing was that in the vast majority of cases they have chosen to build new homes rather than repair the damaged buildings, and often the new building is within meters of the old and identical in scale and design. Perhaps it was just easier or cheaper, or perhaps the scars run too deep and the memories too painful to continue living in the old?
It got me to thinking about the challenges we face as leaders in building successful teams. Unlike the Bosnian homeowners, leaders rarely get to simply start afresh. Usually, we inherit an existing team with all its history, triumphs and tribulations. The challenge is to determine how sturdy the underpinning foundations are, to know what it will take to enable higher performance.
In some cases, we may indeed need to completely dismantle and rebuild, brick by brick. In other cases it may just need a few changes and well placed touch ups. Either way, investing in building a high performing team is a critical decision that takes immense effort and time from both the leader and the members.
In my 20 years of experience leading teams across the world, there are three foundation stones of a successful executive leadership team. Our job as a leader is to create the environment in which these elements thrive and abound.
Trust is the single most important factor — the mortar that holds everything together. Without it, a team is plagued by fear, indecision, and inertia and politics abound, distracting the entire organisation.
To build trust, every member of the team, including the boss, has to leave their ego at the door. True vulnerability needs to be embraced allowing the real people behind the job titles to emerge. People not shy to use their strengths or afraid to display their weaknesses, confident in the positive intentions and willing support of their team mates.
Building and sustaining trust takes time and constant attention. As one of the CEO’s I most respected once said: ’’Trust arrives in a donkey cart and leaves in a Ferrari’’.
There is little more disheartening for a leader than when faced with a group of people who’d rather be any other place than together.
Commitment starts at the top. The leader of the team has to passionately believe in the value of building a high performing team, not just focused on delivering the bottom line. She has to role model vulnerability, steadfastly upholding the behaviours the team subscribe to.
A committed team encourages robust debate, invites constructive conflict to reach clear decisions, and insists on creating absolute clarity and direction for the whole organisation.
Having a clear and common purpose enables commitment that goes beyond individual contributions and delivering here and now business results. It compels a leadership team to foster a conducive organisational culture that endures beyond the individual leaders themselves.
Great leaders recognise that success does not begin and end with them. They are the simply the caretakers of a much bigger community, endowed with the responsibility of steering the course and ensuring results, but they cannot do this alone.
Top performing teams invest in engagement throughout their community to ensure every person can connect their personal deliverables with that of the organisation. In a healthy organisation, open discussion across ranks and teams is alive and well, leaders are accessible, innovation is alive and strong results follow.
Leaders don’t have a simple binary choice to ‘rebuild or reinvent’; they have to do both simultaneously.
The organic nature of teams demands constant ‘rebuilding’ as they morph around the ongoing growth and development of their members. They also frequently need to ‘reinvent’ themselves as they respond quickly to an ever-changing playing field. This ensures survival and success.
Olakira, together with our specialist partners, bring together the best of international tools and techniques and extensive practical experience, that through world class facilitation with stimulate and accelerate the development of your leadership team, enabling better business results.