Teams at the Top

Teams are back. At least teams at the “top” are, according to research released by international human resources management consultancy, The Hay Group.
The Hay Group commissioned Harvard University and Britain’s Dartmouth College to carry out an in-depth study of the dynamics and effectiveness of top executive teams in major international organisations. The results of the four-year study are contained in white paper entitled “Top Teams: why some work and some do not.”
The research looked at company boards and executive level teams at leading global organisations in the telecommunications, beverages, computer software and manufacturing sectors. Each team was led by chief executive officer or other executive decision-maker and comprised of top business unit or geographic-area leaders.
One of the aims of the research was to identify exactly what true teamwork is. The researchers found that “outstanding” team performance was determined through four key criteria:
* Financial performance.
* Team climate.
* Customer satisfaction.
* Growth and development of the team and its members.
The Hay Group is now working with top teams in organisations in Australia and New Zealand. According to the Group’s Pacific Region director, Helen Scotts, the “general concept” of teams is back. “But,” she says “we are talking about teams at the top.
“Many CEOs mistakenly believe that their group of 12 to 15 executives is team. Many of these groups actually consist of executives reporting on the activities of quite separate silos of business, rather than actively sharing information and ideas and using their colleagues’ expertise as resource,” she added.
According to Scotts, organisations now have to make complex decisions quickly and the combination of complexity and speed is frequently beyond the capability of one person, no matter how skilled they are as individuals. The charismatic CEO is therefore being replaced by the Top Team approach.
The leadership style adopted by the CEO or team leader is, however, critically important to top team management. The Hay research suggests that the most successful leaders utilise combination of the authoritative and democratic management styles. The approach provides structures and boundaries to the team, but still allows for participation and real input from the team members, who are themselves senior team leaders.
The leadership conditions critical to successful top teams include:
* Articulate clear and compelling direction for the team.
* Establish team structure that helps the team do its work.
* Select the best people and keep them motivated.
* Provide ongoing organisational support.
* Provide expert coaching.
The Hay Group report suggests that effective top teams deliver “three big” benefits: faster execution of the CEO’s agenda; improved responsiveness to market changes; and higher perceived valuations from institutional investors. “The latter should provide particular comfort – and job security – for CEOs,” says the report.
But creating and sustaining effective top teams is hard work. Top teams are organic units. Effective CEOs will need to “take care to nourish and renew them”. Leaders should take pride when “their efforts create exceptional levels of harmony and focus, bring out the best in people and generate breakthrough thinking”. The report also warns that external conditions and the complexities of interpersonal relationships on top teams “will conspire to erode” harmony and focus.
For senior executives who have never run top team or whose past experience makes them cynical about teamwork at executive level, the five conditions “offer road map for creating successful top teams”.
The way in which teams work was spelled out by an executive from AeroMexico who said: “On top teams you have very talented individuals who demand lot of themselves but, who also have the team demanding more and more of them. People feel tremendous pressure from the group. So you get results that you wouldn’t get from individuals only acting for themselves. That’s the reach richness of teams.”

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