Build Greater Teamwork at the Top

Only 20% of recently surveyed executives believe that their team is high performing.  The CEO cannot do it all - an effective top team is essential.  But most techniques for improving teamwork don't.  Here's what we know about developing executive teams - what works and what doesn't work. 

The biggest myth of the business press is that a heroic CEO can single-handedly lead a business to prosperity.  The second biggest myth is that merely bringing together experienced managers creates a team.  Even the best CEOs cite outstanding teams as the reason for their success.  But effective teams don't somehow materialize overnight.

In our work with CEOs and their executives, it is clear that top teams have a multiplier effect throughout the organization.  Effective top teams improve execution.  Weak top teams create pervasive turf wars, political jockeying, obstruction and finger pointing.

Key Problems 

Weak teams exhibit a variety of characteristics.  Common is a lack of agreement on corporate goals and how to achieve them.  Weak teams disagree on how performance should be assessed, who the company's top performers are, and how to motivate the organization to achieve objectives.  They spend more time fire-fighting, second-guessing line management, re-running analysis and getting into detail than on developing talent and driving major growth initiatives.  Their working style inhibits candid conversation and collaboration, and they exhibit a lack of trust and destructive politics that sap energy.

Fewer Presentations, More Interaction

Effective top teams reach consensus on direction.  But they also know how to interact productively and improve teamwork.  Instead of reviewing presentations, they use their time together to actively debate key issues and make better decisions.  They generate stronger trust, participation, excitement and creative output.  As a result, they develop better strategies, perform more consistently, increase the confidence of others and make work more positive for everyone. 

Forget the Ropes Courses

To build an effective team, concentrate on the business.  Focusing on teamwork itself is a mistake.  Ropes courses and other outings may be fun, but won't build a team back at work.  Workshops about teamwork techniques may be intellectually stimulating, but are difficult to transfer to the real tasks facing the team.  And sessions to share opinions about trust and one another are almost always counter-productive and potentially explosive.

What Works

Keep the team focused on the most critical business issues it faces.  Getting tangible results on important business challenges is important because it gives the team the ability to make decisions and then reflect on ways to improve their interaction.  Effective teams at the top are developed through a structured iteration of decision-making and action followed by self-discovery and reflection.  Learning occurs when they get results, then reflect on what enabled success.