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Do You Have a Leadership Team or a Leadership Group?

In my twenty-seven years as a consultant, I have worked with hundreds of organizational leadership teams. My most interesting discovery from all those years is that 95% of those “teams” are not teams at all.

A true team has shared values and common goals. In that team, team members work cooperatively and supportively to advance their team’s purpose, achieve their team’s goals, address challenges, and wow customers.

Does that sound like your leadership team today?

Most leadership “teams” I’ve seen are actually groups of functional leaders which meet on a regular basis to battle each other for limited resources: funds, people, time, validation, etc. Team members leave their meeting and evaluate how they did in the battle: did I “win” today? Did I secure the resources I wanted and beat out my peers today? Each individual leader tracks his or her score and the battle begins anew the next day (or the next hour).

Servant Leadership

The key question is “what is the leadership team’s core purpose”? For many of these teams - rather, groups - the purpose is to engage in and win those battles. There is no overarching common purpose, much less common goals or shared values. The group exists simply because they all report to the senior leader.

To craft a true leadership team, one must start with that team’s servant purpose - the team’s present day “reason for being,” specifying what that team does, for whom, and to what end (besides making money).

Create your leadership team’s servant purpose

Since the vast majority of the leadership teams that bring me in are interested in refining their organization’s culture, I guide them firmly to create a servant purpose for their leadership team that is focused on their desired culture. One recent client defined their leadership team’s servant purpose as “We craft and model a company-wide culture of trust and respect in every interaction.”

This narrowly-defined purpose helps the leadership team act on their primary common goal - “building a healthy culture.” That servant purpose enables the team to act with “one heart, one mind, and one voice,” maintaining that culture every day. Team members must still guide their functional teams to success and service (to internal and external customers) but this purpose statement aligns efforts and intention to act with trust and respect, not to exclusively battle for limited resources.

Once your leadership team’s servant purpose is firmly defined, three other elements must be put into place to ensure the shift to a leadership “team” from a leadership “group." Those element include:

Shared Values and Behaviors - Values defined in behavioral terms describe HOW team members should behave as they pursue their team and functional goals. All effective teams create agreements around what a good citizen of the team looks and acts and sounds like. Values are typically too vague and lofty to guide day-to-day actions, so behavioral definitions solve that issue. Integrity means “I do what I say I will do” and “I keep all stakeholders informed of my progress on team projects.”

Common Goals - What strategic goals is the leadership team trying to accomplish? Clarifying common leadership team goals helps define what a good job looks like at the end of their fiscal year. Common leadership team goals should include employee engagement targets, customer service excellence, and company-wide financial success.

Accountability for both Values and Results - With the leadership team’s purpose, values, and common goals formalized, the most important practice comes into play: holding leadership team members accountable for these agreements. Accountability is not the sole responsibility of the leadership team’s leader (whatever role they play in the organization) – it is every leadership team member’s responsibility. Accountability conversations are not drawn out conflicts – they are conversations that inquire about a valued behavior or norm, asking for insights about demonstrated behavior that seems to be outside those agreements. They are sincere efforts to understand behavior and guide members to embracing their agreements. Accountability also includes celebrating aligned effort and accomplishments promptly.

Change your leadership “group” to an aligned leadership team and you - and your organization - will reap the benefits: less drama, less conflict, more aligned action, better productivity, and way more fun!

Questions to ponder: How cooperative are leadership team members in your organization today? Based on leadership team members’ interactions and efforts, what is the team’s “lived” purpose today? What common goals can align heads, hearts, and hands of leadership team members quickly?