Is There a Recipe for Successful Leadership Team Development?

Design and facilitation of leadership team development comes in many shapes and sizes. And with it, varying degrees of success. Of course there isn’t a single recipe for how to go about doing it. But here are some ingredients that will make the process more impactful. Here are our Top 5 “must have’s” in an excellent leadership team development process!

1. Team Contract

Whether you start up a new leadership team from scratch, or if you added one or two new members to an existing team, your team contract needs ta discussion. A team contract defines the expectations the team members have on each other. Expectations that they will hold themselves accountable to as well. It can include everything from rules for handling phone calls during meetings to what confidentiality means in this team. The commitment to the team contract becomes much stronger when it is co-created by the team members. If it’s mandated by the leader, the sense of ownership is much less. 

To develop a good and useful team contract takes some skill. Usually it’s better done with a facilitator in the room so all, including the team leader, can speak their mind. It’s important to have buy-in from all team members on all items you put on the contract. Giving examples of behaviours you want to see so the contract becomes clear and specific. Take the term “openness” for example: Open about what? Why? All the time? The more you can define your contract, the more useful it will be going forward. 

Many leadership teams are very good at creating a team contract, but not always so good at using it in daily work. Sometimes it becomes a “thing” you should have, and then never reviewed again. To make the team contract more useful, we encourage leadership teams use it in every meeting for the coming 6 months after its creation. You can make a simple scale for all the items in your contract and ask the team members to assess them by the end of your meetings. In this way, it becomes a simple tool for the team to check progress, and also for discussing areas for improvement. 

2. Future Perfect as a Leadership Team

What are you striving for as a leadership team? What does your Future Perfect look like, as a team? How does it feel to be in the team when you have reached your ideal scenario? And what do others notice about your team when you are operating at your best?

Leadership teams are usually great at defining the vision for the company or organisation they lead. But not always so good at defining what they are striving for as a leadership team. By asking the questions above, the team can work out what kind of team they want to be, and then how to get there. 

It is common for team members have different views on what they expect their leadership team to be like. Some might see the team metaphorically, as a group of people playing golf together, where others think of themselves as players in a basketball team. The two need different interactions between team members. Different levels of interdependence, agility and speed. 

We often ask teams to discuss their future perfect in metaphors, to make it more obvious for all how they see the leadership team when working at its best. When you have defined the Future Perfect for the leadership team, it’s then time to discuss what will help you to get there, what is already working for you. And also, what is holding you back, what are the obstacles that you need to minimise or remove to come closer to your Future Perfect? 

3. Build the Trust Needed to Perform Together

Trust is the most valuable asset in a leadership team. Trust is the currency of change and with it, a team can achieve great things. Trust come with time if the team is well led. But it can also be developed in shorter time by using different methods and skills for improving rapport and understanding for each other as human beings. 

You can work with trust-building in different ways. Social team activities such as cooking your own meal together or out-doors adventures will get team members out of their normal roles. And most likely, people will get to know each other better as a result. More focused activities such as sharing your life story, discussing values or giving and receiving feedback will build a strong and profound bond in the team. 

Again, the trust level needed depends on what kind of leadership team you are aspiring to be. If you are going to drive transformational change with a lot of push-back from different parties, you will need to know each other well. You will need to have high degree of trust and certainty so that you will stand up for each other . It will be different if you are more of a leadership team having meetings together once in a while, reporting things from your separate departments. With little interdependence or challenge, a lower level of trust might be fine. It’s important to find out what the need for trust is, so it can be created with the right tools aiming for a relevant level. 

4. Ways of Working

A more practical aspect of leadership team development is to discuss how the team will work together. Are we a leadership team between meetings? In that case, how do we interact and communicate between meetings? Or, do we as a team only “exist” when we are having our monthly meetings? Again, there is no “one way fit all”, but it’s important to define the best way of working for your leadership team!

The leadership team meetings can look very different. But there is one definition that seems important to make in all leadership teams. To what extent are we representing our own areas or functions in the meeting? And to what extent are we here collaborating for the greater good of our organisation? We have seen leadership team meetings where individuals report from their part of the organisation while others are checking e-mails and working on other things. It seems like a waste of time to bring so many talented people into a meeting and not getting more from it. In a well facilitated leadership team development session, this will be discussed and the ways of working defined. It’s usually good to pay extra attention to the team meetings: What is the purpose of the meetings? Why does this meeting exist? How often do we need to meet? Virtual or F2F? What needs to be on the agenda? How do we make best possible preparations? And how do we follow-up after meetings?

5. Commitment to Action

Before starting the leadership team development process, the outcomes are defined. By the end of this process/these sessions, we will have… defined, discussed, identified, decided. The outcomes will guide the whole process. So it’s important to be very precise in what you want to happen as a result of team development

It’s also important that all leadership team members share responsibility for making things happen in daily work. This can never be the responsibility for the team leader only. A good facilitator can help the team to keep track of all possible actions during discussions. Then towards the end of the session ask the key question: Who will commit to doing what, how and when? This is also a great opportunity to step out of the role of representing your function and to step into taking ownership of something that is important for all in the team. Examples could be follow-up of the team contract, create a new agenda for meetings or arranging the next session where team members will do an After Action Review. What did we set out to do? What happened? Why? What have we learnt? What will we do differently?

It’s also important with individual commitments: “I will focus on giving more positive feedback to team members!” Or: “I will contribute more to effectiveness in our team meetings by getting to the point quicker!” Each member of the team is responsible for sticking to their individual commitments. Things you choose and express yourself is for most of us more likely to get done.

So, What Can You Expect as a Result?

To have high performing leadership teams who can inspire, motivate and guide people and teams is a key to success. In times of growth, change and transformation, it becomes even more important to have a leadership team communicating in a congruent and inspirational way. The outcome of a well-designed and facilitated leadership team process is a team with a clear and commonly defined purpose. And working in effective ways towards the co-created vision of the future perfect for the team. It’s a team where people trust each other and where feedback is given and received in a straight-forward but caring way. A high performing leadership team that moves from words to action, and where the team members as individuals are committed to “the team” more than to “me”.