Effective Leadership Teams in the Workplace

Teams form such a critical part of business delivery that we take them for granted in organising our activities. And as such, we treat one team grouping, its purpose, function, obstacles and steps to ensure they are effective, just as we treat any other team. However, not all groups are the same and have very different structures and purposes. In this article about effective leadership teams in the workplace, we look at nine other models and highlighting their functions and characteristics.

This article highlights how the correctly chosen team structure can reap benefits down the line. These benefits include more efficient processes and more effective delivery. Ruth Wageman and 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). They see team structure as a critical 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 significant function or operation and often has a strategic role. It usually comprises managers who head their department.

Five Obstacles to Leadership Team Success 

1. Lack of Cabinet Responsibility

The failure of top team members to exercise cabinet responsibility and show joint commitment to decisions even though they may disagree privately can lead to the undermined leadership team. This is particularly true where a leadership team member demonstrates that they do not agree with its decisions or support the other members outside of the leadership team. 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 one of the principal norms and standards of the top team. Behaviour, which undermines this, should be challenged 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 shifting to positioning and power plays for the benefit of an individual rather than the team’s good. The tendencies to overprotect one’s turf rather than look at the bigger picture can paralyse the team’s effectiveness. The lack of an agreed purpose can shape member thinking and activities and lead to people pulling in different directions. 

Troubleshooting tip: clearly articulating and agreeing on the leadership team’s vision, purpose and roles, responsibilities, and accountabilities is essential in helping it focus on the bigger picture. Behaviours that suggest narrow parochialism need challenging before they become accepted.

3. Strategic Thinking

The ability to think and act strategically is essential to effective leadership teams. However, the mindset of many leaders develops through tactical and operational backgrounds. Thinking about and doing things differently rather than just better is a critical capability that needs development, mainly if the business area frequently changes.

Troubleshooting tip: leadership teams should ask themselves if they can understand a coherent strategy through their 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 leadership team. Another question is how the leadership team’s strategy fits in with the broader scheme of the business. Failure to make the links explicit can lead to a lot of worthy but wasted initiatives.

4. Group Debate

By having a cross-section of skilled members with solid viewpoints, leadership teams incline to spend a lot of time on debate and argument and trying to satisfy and take into account every member’s views. This approach can limit good decision-making and waste valuable and expensive member time.

Troubleshooting tip: agree on decision-making processes, which you should use 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

A leader whose style is autocratic and directive can lead to superficial, inflexible and rigid group dynamics in which members conceal their genuine opinions and feelings. Under this style of deferring decisions to the leader without real buy-in, and member initiative is discouraged. 

Troubleshooting tip: adopt a group norm and standard, which values open and honest feedback, including regular reviews on leadership style. Getting an external view from a coach who can observe a leader’s style can effectively get over a complex message. 

Ten Steps For Creating Successful Leadership Teams 

Based around Peter Hawkins’ book “Leadership Team Coaching: Developing Collective Transformational Leadership“, research highlights the ten 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.

Additional Resources

So, we trust this article has been interesting and provides you with ideas on how leadership teams can be more effective in the workplace. You may also be interested in some of our other articles looking at how groups can be more effective in a work setting. For example, we recently wrote about how to use icebreakers to make those meetings more effective. And a core part of all teams is communication, which we had some suggestions and top tips in this article. And finally, how you can help team members through change was covered in this article.

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