High-performing executive teams are central to delivering on shareholder commitments and delivering value, but team development goes beyond the team-building exercises many of us have experienced. Today's demanding corporate environment and unpredictability needs less focus on Kumbaya sessions and more on getting things done faster, more efficiently, and with clarity--while inspiring and engaging the organization.

There must be a renewed focus on not just getting along but performing. True team performance acceleration improves alignment, accountability, and efficiency, so the organization collectively leads from the top. Summit's research and deep industry experience has shown that while management teams are normally aligned on overall vision and strategy, they're often misaligned on executing strategy and their specific roles. 

What we learned working with top teams

Summit Leadership Partner's 2020 Study of 200 CEO's Critical CEO Capabilities found that building high-performing teams is the most important attribute for success. Our years of management team assessment data shows most top teams struggle with aligning on executing strategy, being direct, using conflict to improve the business, and holding each other accountable.

Teams tend to score higher on how they are structured and coordinated which are foundational factors. You must have the right talent and common goals in place. While 60 percent of teams buy into their company's strategy, only 33 percent believe they are aligned on execution. Our assessments have found that 61 percent of teams are unclear on peer accountabilities and deliverables.

While most teams feel they have the right players and are aligned on strategy and high-level goals, they struggle with dealing with conflict, making timely decisions, and agreeing on how to collectively engage lower in the organization. Our focus in accelerating management team performance centers on how executives collectively lead the enterprise. This is not just the CEO's job.

Our research has also shown that C-level leaders often face challenges quickly adapting and putting the enterprise's goals ahead of their own function or business. Misalignment creates exponential ripples throughout the organization. The pandemic has thrown in additional challenges. You still must clarify strategy, roles, and peer accountability, but it is harder because you don't always see each other.

Common misconceptions of great management teams

Most CEOs have preconceived ideas on how to improve their teams. Too often management teams focus on improving meeting etiquette and ensuring everyone collaborates and communicates. However, a well-run management meeting does not ensure high performance. Collegiality is foundational but doesn't drive business to peak levels. It is critical to dispel the following long-held myths of great teams in order to ensure management teams are honing the right areas.

·       Teams that get along are high performing. While important to engage effectively and productively, management team members do not have to be buddies. We have worked with friendly teams that accomplish nothing. I often tell the C-suite team they are paid a lot of money for their expertise and opinions and owe it to each other to share it.

·       A group of smart, high-performing individuals will make a high-performing team. Most leaders make it the to the C-level because they are competent and driven. This does not mean they will perform well together.

 

·       Talented individuals will be successful in any team. A highly successful executive with a great track record may not thrive on every management team. Teams have their own unique culture and operating cadence.

 

·       It's good to have the team work together on every problem or challenge. Management teams are not democracies where everyone has vote. In today's hyper-changing business landscape, problems must be resolved quickly and effectively. The chief human resources officer doesn't need to attend the commodity hedging meeting unless she can add value.

·       The top team's purpose, primary goals, and roles are obvious. This is the most frequent misconception about management teams. We interview each C-level executive before an engagement, asking about shared versus individual goals, decision rights, the management team's main priorities, and whether they spend the right amount of time on the right topics. Responses are all over the map. This lack of clarity hurts speed and accountability.

Critical factors for management team performance

These are the areas that must be developed and aligned to ensure high management team performance:

·       Right players on the team.  You must have great talent. You will not win the World Series with minor league players. Too often investors and CEOs think it stops here, but it starts here. Hire and place great talent.

·       Clear alignment on strategic priorities. ­Do not assume everyone bought into the game plan. When we work with C-level executives, they sing in unison the company vision, mission, and high-level strategic pillars. When asked how they make this happen (initiatives, resources and capital deployment), it often unravels to include different views, agendas, and assumptions.

 

·       Clarity on top roles and accountabilities. High-performance C-level teams are clear on the role the team plays in driving the business and value creation. They know each member's part and trust their competence to deliver.  

 

·       Established operating cadence. It is important that the C-level folks understand and agree on how they run the company together, including how to spend time as a group, when to meet, and critical priorities. Beyond financials, what KPIs are they reviewing together? Operating systems succeed or fail by the management team's operating cadence.

 

·       Peer accountability. The most difficult factor for a top performance management team is to hold each other accountable. Mediocre management teams expect and wait for the CEO to hold their peers accountable. High-performing teams hold each other accountable. This requires courage, vulnerability, trust, and skill.

I often ask management teams to reflect on their best childhood team experiences, in order for them to remember the emotion of being on a high-performing team. They usually share stories of athletic or debate teams, church groups, science clubs, or a neighborhood project. I do not often hear "we liked each other; we had meeting norms; we had the best player in the state." 

Instead, I hear comments such as "we pushed each other; we were clear on goals; we understood our roles; we held each other accountable; we made each other better." Management team effectiveness is meaningless without focus on peak performance.

Building relationships, communications, and enjoying the people who are on you team matters, but it can't stop there. The demands for the top team have never been more challenging. Alignment and agility are more important than simply getting along well with each other.