BOOKCASE : Senior Leadership Teams: What it takes to make them great


• Ruth Wageman, Debra Nunes, James Burruss, J Richard Hackman • Harvard Business School Press • RRP $60.00

It’s treat to be able to pick up book on what could be fairly dry topic and not only clearly understand what is being said, and what the takeaway advice is, but to find it presented in refreshingly simple and practical way. And with real and interesting examples from around the world.
Senior Leadership Teams stems from initial research into the dynamics of top executive teams and their impact on organisation performance. The work – conducted jointly by Harvard University and Hay Group – originally led to working paper on Top Teams in 2001 and this has been expanded and updated to result in this book.
It debunks the myth that an organisation’s fate hinges on its chief executive, focusing instead on the growing importance of the role played by senior leadership teams. The authors hone in on how to create these teams, how to provide supportive and enabling environment, and how to handle difficulties which may arise.
One of the challenges addressed is how to harness group of senior executives – who all have their own goals and agendas – to work together for the overall benefit of the organisation. Not necessarily as easy as it sounds.
They have three essential conditions and three enabling ones for leadership team success. The essentials are:
• It has to be real team with clear boundaries as to who is there and why.
• There must be clear and compelling purpose for the team to exist. This must be clearly defined and understood. The issue must need team, rather than the team needing an issue.
• It is important to get the right people on the team – and the wrong people off.
Once these are in place, three things will enable team to prosper:
• A structure within the business for the team to operate effectively within.
• A supportive framework for the team to operate in in terms of logistics (time, space, research).
• Support for the team, perhaps in the form of external coaching.
The authors draw on their work and study of over 100 senior teams from around the world, including from IBM, Sainsbury’s, Shell, and Unilever, to illustrate each condition and show how it can be aided and achieved. They accept that leading and participating in senior leadership team is learned skill and this book offers step-by-step guide to acquiring it. The result, stronger push towards any organisation’s ultimate goal.

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