Team Leadership: Does Your Leadership Team Really Talk? Part 2

by Ed Creasey - Date: 2006-12-22 - Word Count: 1028 Share This!

It's the ability to engage in quality conversations that sets high-performing teams apart. And there are significant commercial advantages, too - not least, better decision-making, improved efficiency and delivering organisational change more effectively. Team Performance expert Philip Houghton has come up with the key questions leaders must ask their teams.

SUMMARY OF THE ISSUES FROM PART 1 Success for today's companies requires more than the brilliance of any individual. Leadership teams full of strong individuals do not produce high quality teamwork. If each individual just delivers on his or her own competencies, however effectively, the team is not truly functional. 'Synergy' created between talented individuals - tapping collective potential - lies at the heart of successful leadership teams.Research shows: 70%1 of executive teams lack clarity on what they are aiming to deliver to customers, effective strategy implementation remains a key concern for most CEOs2, and trust is a real issue in 65% of teams3. THE BIG QUESTIONS Are you having the quality of conversations to make a significant difference in your business and markets? Does your team realise the commercial value of its collective thinking, or only its individual thinking? And, how could you ensure the time you spend together is transformational, rather than just transactional?THE SOLUTION The ability to engage in high-quality conversations sets high-performing teams apart.Teams who engage in regular, quality, focused debate about their strategy, capabilities and behaviours are significantly more successful than those that don't. The job of leadership is to ask and answer the right questions. As discussed in part 1 of 'Team Leadership: Does Your Leadership Team Really Talk?', the job of leadership is to ask and answer the right questions about strategy and purpose. In part 2, we discuss the conversations about capability that leaders must use to ensure their teams are high performing.


"What capabilities are needed to execute our strategy?" Clearly any conversation about strategy, working practices and resources also needs some objective discussion of team and individual capabilities. However, many teams fail to even consider these issues, let alone introduce objectivity into the process. This form of insularity, bred by a lack of self-evaluation and internal challenge, often lies at the heart of team underperformance. And even with the spotlight on important strategic capabilities, leadership and management teams rarely receive sufficient, targeted, development. While it is the leader's responsibility to bring the right type and quality of talent into the team, the ability of teams to subsequently identify and close important capability gaps, as business conditions change, is crucial to ensuring effective strategy execution. "Do we have sufficient diversity in the team?" Many leaders recruit in their own image, rather than positively seeking diversity. And many teams put the lid on acknowledging let alone actively discussing their differences. Both these approaches limit the potential for 'synergy'. Whilst it's a significant challenge for all senior teams to harness differences, the rewards are much greater when they do. Diversity of thinking style, experience and perspective can lead to more competitive products, services, strategies and business cultures. In practice, teams will need to consider whether they have an effective balance of styles - for example 'drivers' (to push for results), more cautious thinkers (to play "devil's advocate"), creative problem-solvers (to help with unexpected challenges), detailed planners (to re-adjust operational requirements) and relationship builders (to help manage stakeholders). A diverse team working collectively not only creates a balanced business but one with many more opportunities."Are we at the leading-edge of thinking?" Winning teams retain a high degree of strategic and tactical awareness that ensures they continually question their own approach and thinking. This type of self-challenge enables a team to determine whether it's the right time to invest heavily in a new opportunity, withdraw from declining markets or continue its current approach. Teams that become too insular and self-absorbed can fail to recognise potential threats, challenge the status-quo or judge themselves by wider industry best-practices. A lack of up-to-the-minute commercial awareness can also contribute to teams losing touch with what actions drive results, and lead to a slow but inevitable decline in performance. Case Study: A leading brand FMCG company was facing increasing competition in their core markets - leading to constant pressure on prices and an inevitable decline in margins. With new products some way off they needed to find a way of increasing the profitability of their traditional business, while driving greater productivity from their operations. Following a series of off-site working sessions to determine strategy, the leadership team decided to adopt a customer-intimacy approach that would involve them closely partnering with chosen multiple retailers. The core of the strategy involved driving up brand equity and prices, and sharing margin improvements with their chosen distributors. Success required a strong marketing and relationship strategy, supported by their ability to deliver a new, marketing-led, economic model for the business. Short-term success was good with the majority of major retailers supporting the new strategy. Extensive category-focused marketing campaigns were developed and launched - with a combination of in-store and multi-media promotions - and the re-branded products were selling well at the increased prices. However, margins did not improve and in some cases got worse. Six months into the new strategy the CEO was becoming very concerned about financial performance, and called the team together for a major review. Discussions highlighted a number of unexpected challenges. Firstly, the business was failing to meet its efficiency targets - key projects to reduce costs were behind schedule. Secondly, marketing and sales were not working together effectively - causing inconsistent communications with key customers. And thirdly, some key customers hadn't bought into the new strategy at all. Following significant, impassioned debate about the causes of these various challenges, the CEO - in a quiet moment - realised that he had asked a traditionally 'operations focused' management team to execute a significant change programme. Despite their passion, enthusiasm and buy-in, they had not identified whether they had the capabilities to deliver.

Part 3 will discuss conversations about behaviour, and how a leader can create the environment for high performance.


1: Kaplan & Norton: Having Trouble With Your Strategy, Then Map it? (2004)

2: Monitor Research Analysis: Survey of over 300 Senior Executives Across Industry Sectors (2006)

3: McKinsey: Teams At The Top (2004)

Related Tags: teamwork, conversations, team, power, strategy, behaviour, team leadership, capability, releasing

Philip Houghton ( is a founder Partner of Cavendish2 ( This Bristol, England based partnership consults to leading brand organisations on team performance issues - including Deutsche Post, DaimlerChrysler, Axa Life, Whitbread and Inbev. After studying Business Administration Philip worked within B2B services with a leading recruitment brand and subsequently DHL International. At DHL he held positions in Sales and Country Management and spent three years in the middle east; including Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Kuwait. On his return Philip joined PA Consulting and operated as an Executive Head-hunter. Subsequently he moved into Organisation Development and held positions with Coutts, Deloitte & Touche and Sibson Consulting, working in all areas of Leadership development, culture improvement, talent consulting and team performance.

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