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5 Warning Signs that your Executive team is Poor Performing

Today’s fast-changing world features speed, complexity and dense interdependencies. The ability to problem solve in real time is critical, in order to advance an organisation forward.

At its core, this requires an energetic leadership team that is incredibly focused on delivering the right customer outcomes. Uniting together as a harmonised collective - prioritising, communicating and co-ordinating work in alignment with a clear vision.

Yet, a study from the Center of Creative Leadership found that only 1 in 5 executives rate their leadership team as "very effective." Let's take a look at the common signs that I find indicate a leadership team whose performance is under par.

1. Make slow decisions

According to research by Joseph Grenny, the approximate health of a team or organisation can be measured by how quickly problems get solved.   

Unfortunately, a remarkably common issue with poor performing leadership teams is that they are slow in making decisions or they revert back to issues that were thought to be closed. Even more problematic is when decisions are made outside of the team.

One CEO I talked to from a midsize organisation estimated that his leadership team wasted at least $225,000 a year or more spinning their wheels discussing issues and back tracking.

Leaders who are keen to protect their turf or resources or who don't truly understand the roles of their peers will spend literally hours rehashing the same old issues over and over again. Simple issues are made over-complicated and it takes hours to talk things through. People simply aren't listening to one another. Instead, it's more about being heard, even when little is known on the topic at hand.

2. Celebrate achievements, but fail to learn from failures

In my research with organisations, strong leadership teams spend the time learning about what went right and wrong.  They spend time reflecting on what has been achieved.

Poor performing teams will celebrate wins, but fail to lift the lid on why executives and their departments are missing their targets. In this environment, high performing executives will confess that they are not being challenged.

In my research among other stakeholders, employees will question why a lack of accountability is acceptable. It makes them fearful about the future success of the company when failure is ignored, or even dismissed. In their minds, they want to know why milestones aren't being reached and what the plans are to achieve success, despite the obstacles.

3. Avoid meetings

This is a hallmark of poor performing leadership teams when executives make excuses to not attend leadership team meetings.

After having observed countless leadership team meetings, it's little wonder that few people want to attend them. In my research with leadership teams, a paltry 43% of executives rate their "Team meetings are compelling and productive."

Leaders spend their time listening to one another sharing information. No-one asks questions, challenges one another nor shares their concerns about future plans. Everything is kept friendly and well, boring. Groupthink has set in and people just go along with everything in the name of team harmony.

It is little wonder that busy executives would prefer to be working than listen to mindless individual reporting that has little impact on the work they do. 

4. No consultation or communication with each other outside of leadership team meetings

Poor performing leadership teams tend to have a limited understanding of one another. The result is that they tend to work in silos and don't even think to consult their peers. They avoid one another which is often observed by their teams who then follow the boss and refuse to collaborate with fellow teams.

On the other hand, high performing teams love to learn from one another and seek advice. They recognise and respect their team member's expertise. You’ll find high performing teams will often spend time with each other outside of team meetings - calling upon each other for advice or support. This even includes sorting out issues with the CEO's involvement.

One team I worked with loved hanging out with their peers. At least once a week, some of the executives would drop into a team member's office and talk about what was going on and share experiences and learnings. For one team member, he mentioned it was the highlight of his day.

Research on senior leadership teams by Ruth Wageman et al, found that senior leadership teams that become more capable in working together also contribute substantially to the development of individual members. In other words, in high performing leadership teams team members love being part of the team and describe the experience as significantly growing their learning and growth. 

5. Little effort is made to improve the team performance

Leading a team of leaders is not easy. They all come with their own perspectives, biases, blind spots and strongly held opinions. Combining independent and smart people into a united front is hard work.

One of the underlying issues with leadership team performance is how frequently the CEO spends time working with executives and encouraging leaders to work together to move the organisation forward. The CEO needs to spend time creating the right conditions to harness the inherent power and collective intelligence in the team.

Teams that are poor in collaborating, often have a leader that hasn't created the right team structure and dynamics to ensure a "one-firm" focus. Leaders are left to their own devices to figure out how to work together. This isn't easy for self-focused executives who have spent their careers being rewarded for their individual performance.

A common misunderstanding is that if you gather a bunch of talented high performers they will seamlessly gel – creating a top team. Unfortunately, this sounds great in theory, but rarely works in practice. Getting a team of top executives to understand and include one another takes time and dedication.

It requires a courageous CEO who is willing to change their behaviours to lead the team and make some tough decisions such as ensuring the right people are on the team, creating a clear vision and deciding on the right team behaviours required for success.

If you would like to learn more about how to improve trust and alignment in your leadership team, register for my free webinar here or download the free leadership team insights paper.

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