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Senior Leadership Teams - Getting the Basics Right

Senior Leadership Teams (SLT) in organisations have a powerful and influential role to play if the organisation is going to achieve its vision, goals and overall potential. These teams shape the strategic direction and the overall culture of the organisation and as such it is absolutely vital that they are seen to be a 'role model' team with each and every SLT member displaying the organisation's values and desired behaviours consistently, competently and confidently. Unfortunately many SLTs are dysfunctional and as such they have a negative effect on employee motivation , morale and productivity. Why is it that so many SLTs become dysfunctional?

The CEO or GM does not have the skills to effectively lead the SLT. This is a common issue with the CEO potentially being 'overpowering' and a 'dictator' meaning that many of the SLT simply play the 'nodding dog' and agree in meetings only to disagree in 'cliques' out-with the Board Room. Many CEOs will display behaviours like this, not because it's their natural style, but more because they can 'buckle' under the pressure of their role. You can also get CEOs who are simply too 'weak' to handle the dynamics of a powerful SLT and as such tend to be railroaded by the 'stronger' individuals within the SLT. All teams need capable leaders and SLTs in particular need to be led by 'chairs' who are skilled in competently managing and leading teams effectively. Without these skills, then the SLT will become dysfunctional with the result that the negative 'vibes' being given out by the SLT will filter right across the organisation.

Change. When change occurs in an organisation, it is the role of the SLT to effectively manage this change whether they have initiated the change or whether they are simply managing the change that has occurred. Too many SLTs are found lacking in this area, particularly around their communication of the change. Managing change constructively is a real skill and it is essential that the SLT members are all skilled in change management. Vitally, every single member of the SLT has to be consistent in their approach and their messaging in all aspects of the change process. The minute there is deviance away from the unified message then employees can seize upon this and chaos can ensue. Leadership has to be strong and focused during any change period and the SLT have to be united in their overall approach and communication. Failure to be a high performance team during change can ignite chaos and agony for the organisation.

'Silo Blinkers' Very often SLTs are composed of 'Heads of Department' who simply attend SLT meetings with their 'Function Blinkers' on. They cannot see beyond their own department and are totally focused on the needs and wants of their own function. This is no way to operate and for senior leaders to have this 'silo mentality' is not conducive to their important senior role. It is not role model team member behaviour. Every member of the SLT regardless of function should be focused on the SLT's purpose and specific team goals - and they should have a large percentage of their overall performance measures linked to the SLT's and organisation's aims and goals. Without the right mindset and the relevant performance measures, 'silo mentality' can destroy SLTs.

Team Performance Basics. Sadly too many SLTs are composed of individuals who think because they have 'risen to the top' and worked in teams many times in their work experience, that they know how to both lead teams effectively and also take part in senior teams. The truth is that many senior leaders of SLTs and indeed members of SLTs have not had the necessary development to equip them to be confident , capable and inspirational team leaders. Their knowledge of teams can be limited to 'Tuckman' and even then when pressed to outline the key steps that they need to take to get the team through the Tuckman stages they will struggle. Many have never been introduced to the concept of 'The Performance Curve' and as such think that their own SLT is a high performance team simply because it is allegedly composed on so-called 'high performance individuals'. The reality is very much that the SLT may actually be a 'Pseudo-Team' which in effect is barely a team as per the team definition, and is in fact, the most poorly performing of all team types. If the SLT is to function as a role model high performance team then they need to ensure that all the necessary basics of team performance are in place and are reviewed regularly. The SLT should have an agreed and clear purpose; its aims and goals are clearly understood; every SLT member knows exactly what their role is within the SLT and what their specific responsibilities and objectives are. Conflict management and Decision making processes are agreed and reward and review agreements are in place. The SLT should also a Team Contract and Team Development Plan. Chances are that very few have these.

As ever with any team situation, a 'stop and think' approach can easily reverse any SLT dysfunctions but the basics of team performance need to be considered and revisited and the overall skills and knowledge of the SLT members assessed and developed where appropriate. SLTs are too important to productivity and the well being of the organisation and its people for them to be dysfunctional.

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