The Importance of Executive Teamwork
What boosts business agility, magnifies leadership impact and aligns behaviour to strategic priorities?
There are probably a thousand answers to this question but one stands out above all others: a united, high performing executive team.
With unity of purpose, consistency of message and action, an executive team quite literally mobilises all the enterprise’s resources in one direction, as one team. And yet how many executive teams fall short of the real test of unity? What happens outside formal meetings?
Consider the example of a recent offsite with an executive team of a large Health enterprise. During a team branding activity the most common word that staff associated with the team was ‘forum’. As the CEO wryly noted there actually was no executive team in the business just individuals who staff see coming together for meetings in the boardroom every Tuesday morning.
Unlocking the Power of Unity
Let’s consider five things that have been successful in other enterprises to boost the unity and impact of executive teams outside of the formal meetings >>>
1. Convey a United Message
Nothing conveys unity more than a clear, compelling message delivered by each executive with clarity and certainty. No doubt this happens in a crisis, or where difficult issues occur, but it needs planning to really happen.
For example, a leadership team in a privately owned construction company recently did a Collaborative Workout Day with one of our facilitators on the issue of safety culture.
They were staggered to find from staff at various levels that their mixed messaging about what was most important between program deadlines, costs, compliance and in-field supervision was showing up in ever-increasing near misses and injuries.
This is a really good company, with an outstanding culture and yet somehow in the pressure of day-to-day business the messaging from executives was different (and in this case dangerous). Could there be inconsistencies in the messaging from your executives?
2. Attend Other Business Unit Meetings
The executive team of a mid-sized financial services business defined, as part of their team branding strategy, to have a roster of attending other Business Unit meetings.
Within two months they accounted for over $100k in savings and / or opportunities that arose simply from conversations across boundaries that don’t usually happen.
When two executives work together in full sight of their direct reports, and show how to handle problems and conflicts constructively, it sets a standard and as this example shows, it also uncovers missed opportunities.
3. Co-Sponsor Key Initiatives
Without getting in the way of single-point accountability, a mining company decided to define three ‘flagship’ initiatives to showcase their commitment to embedding the Think One Team™ model across their operations.
Executives from Planning and Production paired up, defined how they could best boost the connections along the ‘Planning – Production – Maintenance – Logistics’ chain, and began unblocking bottlenecks they previously didn’t even know existed.
Perhaps one of the more ludicrous things they uncovered was the conflict over drilling plans that was rooted in the KPI’s and reward system. Incredibly, the Planning Department’s KPI’s and bonuses were linked to quality and quantity of ore, while the Mine Production Team were bonused for tons of rock (or in simple terms, the more trucks the better). The two executive’s sponsorship not only got this fixed so they mined ore not rock, but also brought together the critical players to tackle common problems, for which they had previously just allocated blame.
4. Talk Up and Never Down
Is there a worse indicator of disunity than executives talking negatively about their colleagues to others in the business? This is a clear sign that the executive team is not their number one team and it drives disunity and gives the green light for everyone else to be uncooperative and to pursue their own agenda.
How different when leaders go direct to each other if they have an issue, and never speak a word, or show a flicker of non-verbal dissent with a colleague. The discipline and emotional intelligence that this displays is exactly what instils teamwork and collaboration into operational teams.
5. Recognise and Support Each Other
When was the last time you gave an executive colleague praise for something that they did? And have you spotted when they are struggling and offered reassurance or a helping hand?
Strong executive teams have a remarkable level of openness and vulnerability amongst the members, which means minimal protective behaviours. That’s the best recipe to forge a culture where everything can be put on the table and debated civilly.
One Team: Agile, United and High Performing
It is easy to gloss over the quality of day-to-day collaboration between executives and to see that as something to address in off-sites and to display at meetings and other forums. No doubt this is important but every business needs to have people aligned to a common purpose, open to learn and confident that their colleagues trust and support them.
Is that the message that they get from your executive team, or is there some work to do on the ‘team brand’?
About the Author
Graham Winter is a leading advisor to corporate Australia on leadership and teamwork and the author of the business best-seller Think One Team.
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