Don’t Forget Your Team: One Global CEO’s Journey to Executive Team Excellence
Successful leaders achieve the right blend of managing up to their board and focusing on their team. But when teams are dysfunctional, the business (and leaders) can’t move forward to meet the board’s expectations. Relationships among team members, as well as with their leader, are critical to the team’s function as a successful organizational entity.
When a team shares a common vision, agrees on shared priorities, collaborates holistically, and holds itself accountable to outcomes, it becomes a productive, purpose-driven group that generates results.
Sounds pretty simple, right? Then why is it so challenging to create that level of synergy? How does a CEO, or any leader, remove the barriers to delivering powerful team impact? What gets in the way of behaving as a team to accomplish common goals?
The process of turning a dysfunctional team into a high-performing one can be difficult. It starts with both leaders and teams putting some pre-set beliefs on the table.
Team Leaders – Pre-set beliefs:
- I wouldn’t be in this role if I wasn’t good at building a team.
- I hired smart people and pay them well. Why aren’t they just doing it?
- We do teamwork exercises all the time. It’s soft and doesn’t result in anything tangible.
- I have more important things to do with my time than “teamwork.”
Team Members – Pre-set beliefs:
- My own business goals and obstacles are my priority. The leadership team goals are secondary.
- We operate differently in my country and other team members don’t understand this culture.
- I don’t really know what other team members’ motives are and I need to maneuver to protect my own.
- After we meet, we never do what we say we are going to do.
Let’s take a closer look at one global executive team and CEO who put these notions aside and became a high-performing team that wouldn’t stop because it had pressing and vital work to do.
The CEO is head of a global producer and distributor of entryway security, from locks to electronics to digitalized products. Thanks to both his and his executive team’s leadership, the company now leads its industry in growth and profitability, improved employee engagement, and safest workforces in world. But, this wasn’t always the case. When the CEO first took the reins in 2013, the fledgling company had just spun off from its parent, and he had a massive task ahead of him. He had to form his new executive team very quickly and get the $2 billion enterprise, which was selling more than 30 brands in 130 countries across the globe, ready for an IPO in just two months.
Many on the leadership team knew each other, but it was a blend of leaders who came from the parent company, new appointments, and existing leaders. In some cases, members of the team didn’t know each other or their new leader. They had questions such as, “He knows the U.S. market, but does he know Europe?” “Has he had experience with Asian markets?” Along with these questions, there were other issues, such as the fact that some members on the team had also wanted that CEO job. The jury was out and mutual trust minimal. The team was excited about the opportunity ahead, but also faced ambiguity and uncertainty about what the future held, for the company and for themselves.
Amid all these mixed feelings and attendant behavior, the team’s trajectory had to be lightening quick. The CEO knew he had the right people and decided the focus must be on creating a strong team with trusting relationships, a team that could get the job done. Some key components to their remarkable success were:
- Complete transparency: The CEO was willing to admit what he knew and didn’t know, showing complete transparency with his team. It was true that he had gotten to where he was because, among other things, he knew how to select a team. He also knew that individual leaders don’t come together to accomplish enterprise-wide initiatives unless the team leader is personally vulnerable and committed to a consistently powerful team dynamic. He admitted to his new team, “Do I know as much as I should about (fill in the blank)? No, I don’t.” There was a lot of eye rolling at first when the CEO shared who he was as a leader – strengths, weaknesses, and all. Yet it was the beginning of establishing the crucial team relationship qualities of candor and trust.
- Vulnerability-based trust and unfiltered conflict: It was a given that the members of the team were smart, accomplished executives, and each had been selected because they excelled at their jobs. However, what didn’t come naturally to them was to think about their teammates’ roles, except to say something like, “Why aren’t they doing X more … or better … or differently?” To build better relationships, team members were encouraged to share their vulnerabilities and more information about themselves, their backgrounds, and viewpoints. They began to understand how each other functioned and how they could operate even more effectively together.
Unfiltered conflict, sometimes referred to as “radical candor,” was another way the team learned to collaborate, negotiate, and compromise to achieve their goals. It’s a method of discussing the undiscussable by getting the good, the bad, and the ugly out on the table in a way that garners respect and understanding. It includes key communication skills, such as setting clear expectations, phrasing disagreements in positive language, and ensuring understanding of one another’s viewpoints without judgment.
- A commitment to keep it going: At this company, the work around building a great team isn’t over. What the CEO and his team went through were not your typical teambuilding exercises, which are often viewed as soft and unsustainable. This was uncomfortable, awkward, sometimes downright difficult work, especially because it never went away. The team is now in its third consecutive year of forging skills and relationships that help them climb higher, go deeper, and tear down barriers, all of which has led to some powerful breakthrough accomplishments.
Recently the CEO and his team have tapped into new models of digitalization and innovation using the Sprint Method to test and bring new ideas and products to market. As they apply new and emerging business strategies, the team regularly scores its effectiveness. In addition, the company’s stock price has more than doubled since the IPO.
The team will readily admit that the work never ends, and they credit their success to:
1) individual and combined tenacity, making the work a priority with an absolute commitment to desired outcomes, and 2) the support of a strong coach/facilitator who became an integral part of the process.
Here is a recipe for success to maximize your team’s effectiveness, consistently and with continual improvement:
- Make your plan – short term and long term
- Make your commitment public and visible
- Engage your support team – internal and external
- Don’t stop; it’s a work in progress
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