I first read this book when it was released in 2008. I was lying on a beach by Lake Tahoe and scribbling notes on the pages, highlighting one sentence after another. Senior Leadership Teams described so many of the problems that I had experienced over several years coaching top teams, many of which cluster under one recurring theme- they were not set up for success!

Now looking back through my scruffy, disfigured copy, I am reminded of the wisdom of the text. Wageman et al argue“teams are not only a feasible means of providing organizational leadership, but they are also increasingly necessary as the demands of the top roles outdistance the capacities of any single person.” 

These days, almost all enterprises are structured around teams as the primary unit of work. Yet many CEOs often don’t give enough thought to creating a leadership team, often defaulting to grouping their direct reports into the ‘Executive Team’ and convening regular meetings – following the formula role modelled by their own previous bosses.  Without setting the team up with the best possible conditions, instead of being a source of creativity and enterprise wide decision-making, the teams frequently and rapidly descend into the silos and turf wars that prevent the talented individuals from achieving their potential as a team.

Senior Leadership Teams is based on significant research undertaken by two Harvard Business School academics and two seasoned consultants who studied 120 senior leadership teams around the world over the course of ten years. They found that less than 25% of these teams were outstanding in three criteria:

  1. Meeting or exceeding stakeholder expectations of performance
  2. The team’s capability to work together towards performance goals increased over time
  3. The team experience contributed to the learning and personal development of individual team members

The book describes in depth the main findings of their research – the six conditions of senior leadership team effectiveness.  Of the six conditions, three are the essential prerequisites for good team performance: Compelling Purpose, Real Team, Right People.  The three enabling conditions allow the team to take full advantage of the foundation provided by the essentials: Sound Structure, Supportive Context and you may be glad to hear, Team Coaching!

You may not be a CEO so, as a coach why spend your time digesting this book when there are countless others on coaching tools and approaches? Well, coaching a team when the team design provides poor conditions for team effectiveness is like planting top quality seeds in the poorest soil and providing no nutrients or water- a bumper crop is unlikely!  When the soil is well-prepared then the crop has the conditions to flourish. Consider supporting your CEO and senior leadership clients around setting up their teams for success before coaching around the team getting to know each other and becoming more cohesive.

If you would like to find out more about the Six Conditions that account for up to 80% of team effectiveness, join Dr Ruth Wageman, Dr Krister Lowe and ECS Principal, Georgina Woudstra in a free webinar “The Science and Art of Great Teams” on 28th February 2019 at 4.30 UK, 11.30 EST.