dr carl robinson
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The Currency of Success - Interpersonal Intelligence™

Building High-Performance Executive Teams

In a previous executive briefing titled Building Top Teams: What it Takes, I outlined the five basic conditions executives need to create and provide for ensuring the success of teams:

  1. Establish a clear and compelling direction
  2. Create an appropriate structure
  3. Select the right people
  4. Support the top team
  5. Provide development

While those five conditions are essential for top team success, there is one additional component: Keep team members focused on self-improvement vs. other improvement.

Rather than building and fine-tuning their own competencies, sometimes executives point their fingers at other people’s weaknesses because it’s easier. But as one CEO I worked with so aptly stated, “The speed of the pack is dependent on the speed of the leader.” He knew that if he worked on enhancing his leadership capabilities, he would both set a good example and help accelerate his team’s performance.

Use a short feedback survey to guide your team’s development

There’s one method for focusing on self-improvement that I recommend to executives: have each team member conduct a mini-feedback survey and then use that data to help guide their development. It’s easy and takes little time to put in place.

For this survey, have each member of your team ask fellow team members to list three things they do well, and three things they could do differently to help them be a more effective team member. A high level of trust between team members is needed for this survey process; there’s no hiding behind anonymity.

Once your team members have completed their surveys, take a look at the responses. Most executives will find two or three things consistently listed by others as their strengths or weaknesses. Current research on leadership effectiveness has shown that “extraordinary leaders” are consistently rated high on at least three competencies: at least 4.5 on a 5 point scale. Being rated average without any major flaws is not enough to be considered an outstanding leader. You need to shine in at least three areas.

After analyzing the survey responses, develop an action plan. Your plan work on one or two of your team’s developmental needs and should strive to improve their strengths. Be sure to ask each team member to become a “change partner” by providing their support and feedback. By enlisting others as change partners, everyone will be working together to help each other grow. No one on the team is singled out as a problem. It’s a team effort.

Touch base with teammates once a month

Next, each executive should touch bases with their teammates once a month and ask how they are doing on their action plan items. There’s no need for it to be a long meeting; it should be a five-minute conversation at most.

Three things will occur as a result:

  1. If you’re making changes, your teammates will see it and you’ll receive reinforcement for your efforts.
  2. Because you’re actively engaged in development, and they are now your “change partners,” you’ll be seen in a favorable light.
  3. If you’re off track, you’ll find about it quickly so that you can make adjustments to improve.

Conduct the survey again every four months

Every four months, team members should analyze each other again. List the three developmental items and ask for a rating on a five point scale. “No improvements” would be at the bottom of the scale, and “no change needed” is at the top of the scale. Tally the ratings and determine if you still need to work on your developmental needs, or if it’s time to move on to the next challenge.

Why this method works

Most survey processes provide participants with feedback every twelve to twenty-four months. But feedback and reinforcement for new behavior needs to occur much more frequently than yearly or bi-yearly. This type of developmental process is effective because it is highly focused, includes disciplined feedback and follow-up, does not waste time, and causes participants to focus on self-improvement.

Many team-building processes fail because team members are primarily focused on solving someone else’s problems. In other team-building activities like ropes courses or river rafting, the transferable learning can dissipate within a week. With frequent and regular surveys, team members are encouraged to focus primarily on solving their own problems at work.