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Developing High Performance in the Top Management Team Published: Sunday, September 29, 2013 12:01 am By: Ramón L. Rivera, President & CEO

No organization can prosper with a poorly performing top management team. Unfortunately, top executives who are best positioned to address the problem, often doesn't realize it exists. Our research strongly supports the fact that, while presidents and general managers usually give their teams high marks for overall effectiveness, team members report that their teams perform poorly in such critical areas as formulating and implementing strategy, creating organizational alignment, and leading large- scale change.

Not all teams are created equal, of course, and most organizations expend significant effort at every level on improving team effectiveness. However, while many companies try to improve the effectiveness of their top management teams, they frequently rely on experience with shop-floor, middle-management, and creative task- force teams - lower-level groups with a single task and limited authority. Top management teams differ from other organizational teams in several important ways:

  1. Top Management teams have overarching strategic responsibility for the enterprise. For example, their decisions to enter new creating organizational alignment and leading large-scale change.
  2. They are involved in a wide range of operational activities and they must tend effectively to all of them. For example, they are responsible for implementing strategy and driving results, while also leading change and promulgating corporate culture.
  3. They have responsibility for institutional leadership, which entails representing the company in a range of external settings, as well as setting policy and ensuring compliance internally.
  4. In addition, individual team members must maintain a complex balance between enterprise and individual unit/functional concerns. They must both work as organizational-wide citizens to drive enterprise success, and lead teams that have more narrowly defined missions.
  5. Finally, colleagues compete with each other, in ways that are more implicit than overt.

The complex interplay of these forces makes the top leadership group the most difficult unit in the organization in which to engender effective teamwork. In truth, the stories of failed collaboration and team play at the top are as diverse as the composition of the various teams. Nonetheless, our research and experience has shown that there are a set of five (5) key elements of team design and operation that drive performance and a thoughtful approach to design and implementation, can create a top management team that beats the odds.

Element 1: Identify the business context and requirements for 'teaming': Before assessing team effectiveness, it's essential to understand what the team's unique business context demands in terms of team collaboration and integration. Because the amount and form of executive teaming required varies greatly from business to business, the first requirement for the design is to clarify the extent to which, how and when top management needs to operate as a team.

Element 2: Enhance the leadership repertoire of the person in front of the team:Experience shows that the character of a top management team almost always flows from the style and agenda of the leader of the executive team. We find that many leaders understand how to leverage individual talent at the top of the organization, but far fewer understand how to lead through a team so that they tap the potential inherent in the collection of individuals they've assembled. A confidential assessment of the leader's team leadership competencies, together with the corresponding external mentorship, provides them with the impetus and information needed to expand his or her leadership repertoire.

Element 3: Identify the TMT structures required for success: Focus then falls on the structural characteristics of an effective top management team. This work entails answering a set of critical questions: "What are capabilities the organization needs in its leaders to meet its current and emerging challenges?" "What is the team's truly value-added work - that is, what are the essential tasks that only the senior team can do?" "Who needs to be sitting at the table?" "How will decision-making rights be established and executed?" "What goals do we share, and what rewards do we all risk in accomplishing them?"

Element 4: Establish appropriate team processes: Once structural elements have been redesigned to optimize the frameworks within which the team operates, it's necessary to examine and refine the team work processes.

Taking an equally rigorous approach to redesigning team discussion and decision-making processes is a necessary companion piece, and has impact on intramural competition within the team. Explicitly defining decision rights and providing tools for identifying and managing conflicts can significantly improve team and overall business performance, even in companies that seem to suffer from intractable silo-ing.

Element 5: Track team performance and business results: Feedback on team behaviors and effective team processes should be incorporated into an overall dashboard that tracks and reinforces progress. The feedback should also include business indicators as well as metrics for tracking progress on the strategic and organizational initiatives that the team is driving. The metrics for team effectiveness should measure both the quality of focused collaboration in the areas where it is essential for driving enterprise results, as well as the progress made on those results.

The process described provides a roadmap for the challenging but rewarding task of creating a strong high performance team at the top. There is no way out: leaders must embrace this task for the levels of complexity that their organizations are facing, far exceeds individual capacity to provide the necessary responses that can assure organizational success.


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