What makes teams of leaders leadable? [Wageman and Hackman]

Senior leadership teams: what it takes to make them great by Ruth Wageman

What makes teams of leaders leadable? by Ruth Wagerman and Richard Hackman

Definition of leadership team

A leadership team is a group of individuals, each of whom has personal responsibility for leading some part of an organization, who are inter-dependent for the purpose of providing overall leadership to a larger enterprise… members of such team also have a collective responsibility for aligning the various parts of the organization into a coherent whole and fostering its overall effectiveness.

The 4 types of leadership teams

  1.  Information sharing (alignment) teams — these teams exchange information about various organizational matters and bring together in one place external intelligence that may be useful to other parts of the organization or to the enterprise as a whole. They also hear about direction and initiatives from the team leader, which helps make the individual leaders on the team better informed, better aligned and more able to do their individual jobs well.
  2. Consultative teams — aim to make the team leader better informed and better able to make his or her own decisions. In contrast to informational teams, consultative teams actively debate key issues, giving members the chance to learn from one another — but the final call is made by the team leader.
  3. Coordinating teams — are those whose members come together to coordinate their leadership activities as they execute strategically important initiatives. Members of coordinating teams are highly interdependent, have shared responsibilities, and must work together frequently and flexibly to accomplish their shared purpose. Coordinating teams also serve info-sharing and consultative functions.
  4. Decision making teams — make the small number of critical decisions that are most consequential for the enterprise as a whole.

While these types are listed in order of growing value to the organization, without proactive management to the leadership team as an entity, there’s a natural drift in the opposite direction (from “decision making” to “info sharing”).

The ironic features of leadership teams

  1.  Leader teams are composed of powerful people — yet they tend to be undersigned, under-led and under-resourced.
  2. Membership is important and coveted — but members often don’t know who is on the team, and they do not really want to come to team meetings.
  3. Members are overloaded — but they tend to waste enormous amount of time in team meetings.
  4. Authority dynamics pervade leadership teams and complicate team process — but members won’t talk about them.

The 3rd irony in particular deserves a deeper look. Leadership teams waste their time in three ways:

  • They focus on surprisingly trivial matters. They do make decisions together but often about issues that are not consequential for the team’s core leadership work.
  • When they do address important matters, leadership teams tend to become caught up in seemingly irresolvable conflicts. Conflicts in senior team often stem from members’ views that their main responsibilities are to maximize the effectiveness of the unit they lead.
  • They cut short potentially vital discussions by agreeing to disagree and then moving on.

The 6 enabling conditions for an effective leadership team

1. A real team

  • Bounded — clear who is — and who is not — on the leadership team.
  • Stable — membership is kept in tact for some period of time.
  • Interdependent — members share accountability for a common purpose.

2. A compelling purpose

  • Clear — can imagine what it would look like if we achieved it.
  • Challenging — a stretch of capability to achieve it, but not impossible.
  • Consequential — important impact on the success of the organization and on the lives and work of others.

3. The right people

  • Members are people who can take an enterprise perspective.
  • Members have the ability to work collaboratively.
  • All the “derailers” are removed — those who undermine others, bring out the worst in others, exhibit lack of integrity, are unable to see other’s perspectives.

4. Solid structure

  • Right size — keep it small.
  • Meaningful team tasks — the work members do together is vital and connected to the strategy.
  • Norms of conduct — members understand what must always be done, what must never be done.

5. A supportive context

Rewards do not themselves create collaboration, they can be a powerful negative; they can divide (status, fairness).

  • Information — what data the team needs — in a form they can use.
  • Education — training and technical consultation to build expertise.
  • Material resources — the space, time and “stuff” for working together on hard decisions.

6. Expert team coaching

  • Team coaching — as an entity.
  • Coaching and participating is often too hard — consider an external coach.
  • Demand of yourself the same work ethic about leading the team as you would have about every other professional responsibility.
What makes teams of leaders leadable? [Wageman and Hackman]

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