Three development priorities for leadership teams.

Leaders of leaders meet in leadership teams. What are they doing there? In this post, I share my insights from developing leadership teams. Regardless of the respective context, three focal points come into focus: defining a unique contribution to the system, including the 2nd and 3rd lines and strengthening one’s own self-reflection.

Define your own contribution

Wageman et al. (2008) call this contribution compelling direction and present three criteria: The contribution should be unique. I like to initiate team workshops with the following question: “What wouldn’t be possible if this team didn’t exist?” The resulting discussion shows different opinions. Managers of leadership teams are often surprised at how scattered these opinions can be.

Furthermore, the contribution should be consequential, which means that the effects of this contribution should be clearly recognizable and actually influence the system. This discussion shows whether leadership teams are addressing the right issues.

Ultimately, the contribution should be challenging. I like to test this criterion by asking whether the defined contribution of the management team makes the team members individually proud. Would you enjoy talking about this article with your partner, children or friends? I find this last check particularly helpful, because so far the discussion about meaning and meaning has generally focused on employees. Leadership teams should also experience an identifying purpose and recognize their contribution to the organization - and experience joy.

There is neither a right nor a wrong compelling direction. However, the discussion about this inevitably leads to management teams becoming aware of what they should specifically deliver under the current conditions and with regard to the strategic goals. And you can then check to what extent they are actually delivering.

Include the 2nd and 3rd lines

The next management levels or functions represent the implementation energy of the system. Regardless of whether it is about concrete changes to the system or more subtle impulses for cooperation or culture, there is no way around the next management lines.

However, this is not about a functional, but rather an integrative view. Because complexity requires diversity – in thinking and acting. And this requirement means that leadership teams “open up downwards”. Nevertheless, management teams in particular are surprisingly resistant and fear a loss of control and/or power. So far I have been able to accompany some management teams on the path to this opening. And their comments were often similar to those of hip surgery patients: “If we had known how much easier, less tense and more dynamic it would be, then we wouldn’t have put off this step for so long!”

Strengthen your own self-reflection

Leadership teams should anchor feedback loops. In concrete terms, this means that you agree on how to a) criticize each other and b) get useful feedback as a team. This is far less trivial than it sounds.

The fact that two people criticize each other in order to help each other become better is a commendable motivation. It is easier to implement in a bilateral relationship than in a team. Because there the fear of injuries or a change in group dynamics is greater. And members often fear an undesirable reaction later. I’ve written about feedback and psychological safety in previous posts. That’s why I would like to address another facet here: the honest analysis of the causes.

When things don’t go optimally, people react differently. Some externalize (i.e. blame others for it), others internalize (find the fault exclusively in themselves). Both are of little help for consistent and consistent upstream thinking (Heath; 2020). The following discussion points may help:

  • We have described and analyzed problem X
  • We designed and implemented solution Y
  • Nevertheless, problem X still exists:
  • What does this mean for our ability to analyze?
  • What does this mean for our ability to find adequate solutions?
  • What does this mean for our ability to implement?
  • What new solution do we propose and why do we expect it to be more effective than the old one? What did we do differently for the new solution than before? What do we do differently in implementation? What are our lessons learned as a team and as individuals?

I see this third development focus not only as an intervention limited to the team, but also as a contribution to cooperation and culture in a company. I am convinced that the way in which a management team consciously learns and advances itself is extremely helpful and exemplary in a system. Because leaders are always being watched and copied. You can use that to your advantage sometimes, right?

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