Q1 · 2019Getting the team right first time

Not long ago, a client of mine called me. He had just been appointed as a Divisional Head at the blue chip company where he had been working for the past five years. He was now responsible for 2,000 employees and a budget of over $100 million. He was more than pleased about his promotion and wanted to share his good news with me, but he confided that the new role also raised challenges for him. In particular, he needed to engage and align all members of his team, and make them pull together – a task that seemed all the more daunting because some team members had also had their eye on his role.

Facing a new challenge

My client’s concerns centered on two questions. Firstly, how could he gain acceptance from, and motivate, his team – including the executives who might begrudge his leadership? Secondly, how could he put a stop to unproductive attitudes and behaviors in the team, when he had been part of the same group himself until now? He felt that these issues were too important to leave to chance, and he was not willing to “just give things a bit of time to work out”, as some of his colleagues had suggested. He said to me: “This is a big job, Chris. I need an in-depth focus from an external point of view. Our internal HR people are too close to everyone involved and too steeped in their own ways. This is about getting it “Right First Time!”

Success as a logical outcome

An external expert is neither influenced by embedded corporate culture, nor part of office politics and alliances. They bring a neutral perspective, specialized skills and extensive experience, which can lay the foundation for the robust strategy and stable structure needed for a strong, sustainably high-performing team. When it comes to setting up a strong leadership team, I identify three different types of leader:

  • The Manager of Individuals: adept at coordinating distinct skill-sets and motivating individual staff members to match specific goals and fulfill given tasks; but less effective at managing larger groups and more complex tasks.
  • The Administrator of Work Groups: strong at managing group tasks, arranging team members in efficient structures, typically focused on a process-driven approach; but less skilled in developing strong relationships and synergistic collaboration.
  • The True Leader: able to match tasks with personalities within a genuine team, merging varied individuals into effective team members to create lasting synergies; with reaching goals and exceptional achievements being the logical consequence.

80% fail at bonding

My client’s biggest concern was about “bonding” – truly bringing his team together to work as a unit. Many of you will be familiar with the following scenario: initially members of a recently-formed team interact in an apparently pleasant, obliging way with each other, but beneath the surface each individual is striving to maximize their advantage over each other, pushing their own agenda within the new organizational environment.

We needed to create a strategy to turn superficial harmony into genuine, highly effective collaboration. By realizing he needed assistance, and calling me, my client had already shown leadership ability. True Leaders know their own limitations, and invest strategically in external expertise when necessary. He wanted to set up his leadership team systematically from the start, preventing his team from being among the 80% that fail to bond in “forming”.

Making change happen

We designed a 12-month Team Excellence program to build an effective team as quickly as possible, to avoid negative behaviors damaging business performance before the team had bonded successfully. The program consisted of:

  • Three specialized offsite sessions to bring the Leadership Team together,
    away from day-to-day pressures
  • Team meetings that I joined and analyzed
  • Strategic coaching calls and face-to-face meetings I held with each team member.

This approach enables me not only to interact regularly with the leader and the team members, but also to provide continuous, external, objective feedback on team dynamics. Moreover, I experience my client “in live action” as a leader, and can provide him with feedback on his leadership behaviors and impact. We can make adjustments to the process as needed, and prepare inspiring speeches to kick off the sessions. They are the ideal occasion to give praise and express appreciation, as well as address doubts and concerns frankly.

True leadership

A True Leader’s goal must be to transform a group of people into a proper team, where loyal and supportive members enable solutions and give each other energy, rather than draining each other by fighting for their own ends.

My client impressed me most with his courageous strategic thinking, by resisting the pressure to jump straight into daily business, but instead first investing time and money in the systematic set up of his team. He recognized that this would ultimately lead to a major advantage in their future success.

In today’s fast-paced business world, when we have to adapt flexibly to rapidly changing roles, functions and events, we must face the fact that strong bonds are necessary, in addition to individual professional skills, for teams to perform together at their best. And it takes True Leadership to make people bond properly with each other.

Creating a winning team

Only a proper team, working together as a whole, can achieve major success – and sustain it. Following a Team Excellence program can build a solid foundation for genuine, effective teamwork. It can nurture a culture that not only tolerates diverse personalities, talents and ideas, but which also encourages sincere curiosity about each team member’s opinions and ideas. The creation of an excellent team is a challenge. It is neither the result of a lucky grouping of individuals, nor of a scientific process of harmonizing CVs. And it is certainly not created simply by “just giving things a bit of time to work out”.

An excellent team is the reward of intelligent strategic thinking and a deliberate focused decision to set the team up systematically – the activities of a True Leader.

Be a True Leader too!
I wish you great success,