Over our 25+ years in global corporate development, we’ve observed many different attributes associated with high-performing leadership teams. Given diverse workforces coupled with a complex and fast-growing global economy, it’s imperative that companies address the way they attract and retain talent toward developing high-performing leadership teams.
Successful leaders have a built-in awareness of what it really means to foster a culture of high-performing leadership teams. They understand the similarities and differences between generations and how the various age groups prefer to be led.
As research indicates, by 2020, fifty percent of the workforce will be made up of millennials. This has forced us to shift the way we lead, manage, and create high-performing leadership teams. It’s not only about creating these teams, but sustaining them, given the challenges posed by diverse age groups. The mix of longer working baby boomers with Gen-Xers, and the tsunami of millennials make for a challenging workforce when it comes to communications, motivations and accountabilities.
For the first time in history, we’re dealing with four different generations, all in the employed workplace, that have very different goals, aspirations, work-life balance expectations, social aspirations, etc. In order to optimize this mix it’s essential to recognize and develop fundamental attributes that cut across these individual categories.
We’ve observed several such attributes but will develop three key ones that distinguish high-performing leadership teams. For this article we’ll focus on: purposefulness, interpersonal trust, and shared accountability.
When a team is operating at an optimal level, there is a clear sense of purpose; everyone on the team understands and embraces a shared vision that is aligned with their day-to-day responsibilities and the broader vision and goals of the business. It’s magical to watch a team’s energy when it’s focused and purposeful. This aligns contributions to achieve the full range of organizational goals.
We’ve witnessed many organizations come to a standstill, where potentially the success of the business was at risk, because of a loss or absence of purpose. In one such case, misalignment at the senior-most level of the company resulted in conflicting messages being received by the management and employees. This, in turn, resulted in a slowdown of productivity and ultimately a loss of functional purpose. In this case leadership misalignment sidetracked company purpose and loss on several dimensions was the result.
High-performing leadership team members are focused on the common good and goals. There’s a common thread: Whatever work they put themselves to is not self-promotional, but rather for the advancement of the team. Recognition follows when each contributor performs as a team member. The individual impetus is not for individual recognition or motives, but for the team and the organization. This, in and of itself, is purposeful.
Interpersonal trust is one of the most important functional aspects of a high-performing leadership team because it’s the foundation of any effective relationship—personal or professional. We’ve observed teams fall apart for lack of trust amongst the team members, which drives a silo work ethic, marginalizing the value of shared vision and common goals. In the case of the company noted earlier, the senior management members simply didn’t trust each other. Whether this was the result of a breach of trust or the correlational baggage brought over from prior positions, the team members couldn’t seem to get past the most basic of human essentials: trust.
The absence of trust among leadership team members ripples across the organization, ultimately damaging the company, its reputation and its future.
When working in a team that is functioning well, it’s similar to being part of a small community or family. When adversity or conflict arises, the members speak honestly, getting to the point quickly without worrying about hurting each other’s feelings, wasting time or gossiping. High-performing leadership team members empower each other to foster open communication, valuing one another’s contribution as both accountable and aspirational.
The third attribute of a high performing leadership team is shared accountability. Every team member understands and owns their individual responsibilities and how such fits into the whole. Team members are committed to their own achievements, as well as the overall results of the team. These team members understand the business impact their contributions make to the overall goals of client satisfaction and company goals. They seek mutual success by holding themselves and others accountable, assuming higher responsibilities, further expanding the scope of interests and commitments.
A few years ago we had the opportunity to work with a leadership team of a global company whose task was to integrate four acquired companies within 12 months. This was an almost impossible task given its complexities; however, this leadership team embraced the attribute of shared accountability and took it seriously by holding each other accountable for their own respective functions. If someone was not on track for their proposed deadlines, everyone pulled together and navigated through whatever issues needed to be resolved. They built a structure for support, a place to share, and included everyone. This could not have been possible if they lacked trust or accountability with each other. Each one knew what their roles were and the impact it could potentially have if they didn’t carry their share for their mutual success.
We’re often called in when teams are broken and productivity is waning. Our initial analysis begins with the three attributes outlined above. If no sense of clear purpose or vision of the company is in place people self-protect by regressing to survival mode. This results in a direct hit on productivity. When interpersonal trust is missing, communication in all its forms radically alters and rarely for the good. When shared accountability is either absent or ambiguous the overall fabric of teaming is challenged to maintain resilience.
Blanca Longarte-Blaney is the managing principal of the Strategic Leadership practice of DI Strategic Advisors.
Excerpted from DesignIntelligence Quarterly.
Photos by Hermes Rivera and Nicholas Swanson on Unsplash.