High-performing leadership team


24th September, 2020

Building a high-performing leadership team

Whether planning for growth now or later, all the responsibilities of a successful company can’t rest with just one person. Here’s how to start building a high-performance leadership team to support your objectives.

Starting out in business, you either work your way up the ranks of someone else’s company, or you go about building your own from the ground up.

No matter your path to the top, once you arrive it’s easy to see how the way a leadership team functions can have dramatic impacts on the business overall. This is why — if you’re an owner, founder, chief executive or managing director — knowing how to identify the right people for your team, as well as how to correctly ‘bring them into the tent’ is of critical importance.

Alas, there’s no secret formula, and there are a great many things that need to go right in order to reach an optimal level of communication, collaboration and, ultimately, productivity.

To help provide a framework for anyone embarking on such an initiative, here’s a step-wise approach to developing a group of exceptional individuals into a high-performing team.

Start with an honest self-appraisal

You may be in the process of growing a business into a much larger entity, and as such you’ve decided you need to step away from the day-to-day. On the other hand, you might be looking at having an existing leader retire or leave the business for whatever reason, and you’re considering how this might impact the leadership group.

Whatever your situation, you can’t begin to recruit people for the ‘right fit’ if you don’t even know what they’re trying to fit into. And this means getting serious about yourself and your business.

What are your best attributes as a leader, and where are you lacking? What expertise do you already have in your business, and what opportunities are being missed?

Create a shopping list of all the things your business could benefit from by having fresh talent and knowledge incorporated from the top down.
And here’s a hot take for first-timers: get your financial and business advisors involved with decision making. Not only can they give you an idea of what you can afford to spend on new hires, but they’ll also have insight into the sort of talent your business needs.

Seek out the right talent

Next up, you’ll need to overcome the challenge of finding and recruiting your ideal hires, and this is something that pays to get right the first time.

Jodette Cleary, hipages
Jodette Cleary, chief people and innovation officer, hipages.

As Jodette Cleary, chief people and innovation officer at leading online service directory hipages recently told us, making the wrong selection at the leadership level can be incredibly costly to a business.

“The wrong hire can disrupt the whole team dynamic and be a big distraction to achieving business objectives.”

Be selective about your choices and honestly evaluate both current team members and potential external hires on their talent and abilities.

Cleary suggested new hires should be based on “functional expertise with proven measurable results achieved over long stints in organisations”.

If people have been there less than 18 months, she noted: “it’s not long enough to determine their real impact”.

Key leadership qualities to hire for

Cleary said she always looks for leaders who are innately curious and have a natural flair for bringing people on board with their ideas.

Other traits Cleary said to look out for includes:

  • Naturally collaborative
  • Strong communication skills
  • Strategic thinking
  • Demonstrable commercial acumen
  • Real work ethic

“I also like to see a genuine interest in what we do as a company, our purpose, and an eagerness to help us realise our company potential,” said Cleary.

And, when you do find someone who looks like they fit the bill, it’s important you go the extra mile for due diligence before making any final decisions.

“I recommend 360-degree references: direct managers, peers, and direct reports,” said Cleary. “Some leaders may be good at managing up but not working well with peers or leading teams, for example.”

Develop your individual leaders into a true team

To build a leadership team that you can rely on to deliver long-term results, you not only need to get all the right heads in the one place, you also need to find a way of seeking alignment among the team and beyond.

The success of any organisation can be easily jeopardised when leaders don’t see eye-to-eye, and so fostering collaboration and teamwork should be considered of utmost importance.

The more trust your leaders have with each other, the more cohesive a unit they can be.

“The two biggest challenges to an effective leadership team are ensuring sufficient time is set aside to build social connection and to allow for true cross-functional collaboration and, secondly, creating an environment of psychological safety,” said Cleary.

“Without commitment and discipline to invest in the ‘team’ aspect of the leadership team it’s too easy to get bogged down in the urgencies of the business operations and to therefore de-prioritise allowing for social, teaming and strategic collaborative sessions, which are vital to high-performance leadership teams.”

And, it simply can’t be overstated, but one of the greatest attributes of any leadership team is the trust they have in their ability to deliver, and in the support they receive from one another and the business at large.

In fact, Cleary said the best leaders “have high levels of trust among each other to speak frankly and contribute cross-functionally without fear of repercussions or interpreting the feedback as personal criticism”.

Encourage your top executives to feel secure by listening to them with empathy and compassion and respecting them always.

When executives feel heard and understood, they can open up more freely with you and each other. And in leading by example this way, you’ll also show your leadership team how you want them to not only interact with each other but also with the staff members that report to them.

Maintain alignment for all seasons and situations

Once you have the right talent for your needs and have begun to weld them into a functional leadership group, the next challenge will be how to best direct them for the future.

This essentially entails providing a framework that each of your leaders can not only embrace, but embody, so that you can be confident in the direction they’ll take without excessive guidance from you or others. To this end, each person at the top of your company should be absolutely clear on the organisation’s values, purpose, and goals, as well as how each of them should influence day-to-day activities.

Regular and collaborative reporting on business activities, KPIs, market trends and even personal successes are another great way of ensuring alignment ongoing. Creating a regular cadence of these types of meetings and actions will lend additional sense of stability.

All of this activity is what Cleary described as the “core behaviours” that you’re seeking to instil in your leadership team.

“Make new leaders aware of these core behaviours at the selection stage to see if there is any misalignment in style/approach,” Cleary recommended.

Once you’ve done that, keep the messaging front of mind, too.

“Bring those behaviours to life,” said Cleary, “via regularly referring to them and using them to guide communications and decisions.

“Connection with any team is enhanced when the team feels joint ownership in the outcomes and understands and respects the input of all members of the team.”

So, while it’s necessary to have clearly defined roles and responsibilities, your team must also have shared accountability and goals.

In under-performing teams, Cleary said people often “are only concerned with their own functional area and not interested and invested across the whole business”.

“Company strategy sessions that have everyone debating and inputting into all areas will produce better quality results,” said Cleary, “as well as a cohesive commitment to support the agreed strategy.”

When it comes to running these sessions, it pays to use an expert external facilitator.

Cleary recommended “building time into the agenda to connect on a personal level, and review things such as company culture and commitment to purpose”.

“Also, set time to enhance teaming skills,” she said.

Evolving a group of people into a cohesive unit is complex and often time-consuming, but certainly achievable. And, if your organisation is to fully realise its potential, it needs to grow beyond the efforts of just one individual (you) to become a fully-featured enterprise in its own right.