The Five Characteristics of Elite Leadership Teams

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I recently worked with a troubled leadership team.

It was still producing solid revenue results, but internal conflicts and damaged trust were inhibiting the team’s ability to align goals and support each other’s efforts. The team included the long-revered co-founders of the organization plus the heir apparent to the president’s role.

These leaders were all committed to developing and empowering the next tier of company management. They wanted to see leadership courage in these individuals to tackle tough issues, the ability to collaborate and resolve conflict, and self-empowerment.

Every decision was argued from the top

They were concerned about the lack of trust among team members; the habits some had to operate in silos or cliques; and, the tendency to become impatient and critical of those with different business priorities, ways of working, and their ability to deal with conflict.

The challenge was compounded by the leaders themselves — people naturally gravitated toward and looked for resolution from them. They had unintentionally become benevolent dictators, not in the sense of demanding their edicts be followed, but in the sense of creating a belief that every decision, no matter how minor, had to be approved or blessed from above.

If a fundamental disagreement surfaced, resolution could only be achieved after it was escalated and debated or argued out at the top.

This belief and associated wait-and-see behavior produced a sense of powerlessness and resignation at the next level of company management, perceptions and concerns that were surfaced through a 360-degree feedback process.

Putting their team first

Once the senior leaders and managers became aware of their behaviors and the unintended impact they were having on each other, they committed to working with me on a strategic leadership journey. Our work would ultimately produce a high-functioning management team, an elite team that would demonstrate team member’s mutual support, develop productive ways of working together and resolving conflict, and establish real leadership at their own level.

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Their accomplishments had a trickle-down effect in the organization. With their new awareness, skills, and commitment, they were also able to affect positive change and team behaviors within the functional teams for which they had responsibility.

So what are the characteristics of elite leadership teams?

Elite teams put their “first” team first and work together to achieve the team goals. Members organize the resources of the teams they manage to align with the strategy of the leadership team.

Everyone has each other’s back and looks for ways to support each other’s success. They engage in healthy conflict about important issues and then support the final decision.

5 things that make for an elite leadership team

Here are five characteristics and behaviors of elite leadership teams:

  1. An elite team puts highest priority on the work of that team. This means that team members do not prioritize their functional team’s action items as more important than the leadership team’s action items.
  2. Team members can articulate the unifying goal to which they are all committed. They don’t parrot the same words, but when you hear them speak about the team purpose in their own words, you see how their perspectives are aligned. In addition to alignment around a common purpose, the team is aligned around how to accomplish the purpose.
  3. Individual members don’t always have to have decisions go their way – they listen, consider, and openly debate the way forward — then when the decision is made, they wholeheartedly support it and actively work to make it successful.
  4. Team members support each other, look out for each other, and give each other frank and honest feedback with the intention to help each other become even more effective.
  5. They talk frequently and look forward to spending time together because they value each other’s perspectives and contributions.

Linda Linfield is the Director of Talent Assessment at DecisionWise, a management consulting firm specializing in leadership and organization development using assessments, feedback, coaching, and training. She is a catalyst for change with a passion for leadership development and a talent for challenging high-potential leaders and teams to become increasingly effective.

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