Feb 1, 2023
Introduction: Anneloes Raes is Professor in the Department ofManaging People in Organisations and holder of the PUIG Chair ofGlobal Leadership Development as IESE. She holds a PhD inOrganisational Behaviour from Maastricht University and an MA inPsychology at the Radboud University Nijmegen in theNetherlands. Anneloes’s research has been published inacademic journals such as the Academy of Management Review, TheJournal of Applied Psychology, Human Relations and Small GroupWork. Her research has also featured in press outlets such as theFinancial Times and La Vanguardia. Anneloes lives in Barcelona withher Husband and two young boys.
Podcast Episode Summary Teamness at the Top is not as prevalent as onemight expect. Only 21-30% of teams across the globe can satisfy theelements that describe a real team. The world of today andtomorrow asks that organisations can solve complex and wickedproblems. That becomes possible if teams are able to mine thecollective wisdom of teams, collaborate and share information sothe best strategic decisions can be made. Anneloes illuminates whatneeds to shift to make this phenomenon a reality for topteams.
Points made over the episode
- Anneloes startedthis podcast by describing her journey into this field of work. Herinterest in this field started by way of her research for her PhDat Maastricht. Her formative studies in Psychology meant she wasalready interested in the interpersonal dynamics between people.Very early on she got the opportunity as part of her studies to sitin on the discussions of a board.
- That experienceshaped her thinking about top management teams. The reality of topteams making strategic decisions, sharing information together andcollaborating well together is often far from what you mightexpect. These teams like others comprise human beings with all oftheir flaws and differing perspectives.
- Team BasedLeadership at the top is as crucial as it is the requirement foreffective teams across the organisation, even when often peoplewonder if it is feasible or possible. When we look atorganisational life we appreciate that so much of its success isdependent on teams and collaboration. It is true too that weaccept that we can achieve more together by way of the diversityand also the complementarity of team members, knowing that andespecially where the work is too complex to do by an individual thedefault is team.
- The work at thetop is particularly complex with a high volume of task anduncertainty.
- It is almosthard to understand that top teams would not work as ateam.
- We expect ourleaders to be role models and we expect everyone in theorganisation to be team players, how is it then that a top team canget away with not being a team?
- Real opportunity for the top team to exemplifyreal team work, given the need to solve complex problems and modelbehaviour for the rest of the organisation.
- Why then does itnot prevail? There are many different versions of team work thattop teams aspire or desire. It is not as binary as either ordilemma. There are degrees of teamness. There is also the realpossibility that members of the team have very differentperspectives of the order of teamwork required.
- Anneloes worktakes an evidence based approach. In her research she found 3 significant reasonswhy a Top Team might choose better teamness
- StrategicDecision Making at the Top; The Executive take better decisions bycombining more and diverse perspectives. It is important to have agood process in place to combine theseperspectives.
- OrganisationStability & Executive Sustainability -Being at the top of an organisation is a verydemanding job. Operating in a truly functioning team can provide alot of support. We say for a reason “its lonely at the top”sharing the load of responsibility and creating a system of socialsupport can mitigate this felt loneliness. It also makes sense whenyou consider the current focus on mental health and wellness andthe increased openness to expressing vulnerability and concerns byemployees in general. The great man theory of Leadership isthe oldest perspective on Leadership and one that is slowly beingoverturned for greater and greater degrees of peer executivesteams. True teamness doesn’t come from scratch it requires efforteven with the most benign of Leaders who welcome a strongleadership team around them. Time together & the maintenance ofa well-functioning team needs investment.
- Setting theTone at the Top. What arethe implications for others in the organisation by way of thebehaviours exhibited by the top team? The outcomes, decisions andtypes of conversation held at the top, how the team interacts theirstyle, the unity they do or do not espouse all has an impact onothers in the organisation. Anneloes took a real interest in thisarea and the relationship between the tone set from the top and theorganisational climate. She expanded on this research to wonderabout the implications this same tone had on employeewellness.
There is a powerful cascading affect between thebehaviour at the top and how it trickles down into the rest of theorganisation. Empiricalstudies show strong connections and can refute the naturalscepticism that might prevail to wonder if boardroom conversationsbehind closed doors can impact individuals who never come intocontact with those same leaders. The tide is turning and in favourof this focus, where employees are now considered an incrediblyimportant stakeholder about whom the top team needs to beresponsible.
- Top Management cannot assume that theirconversations behind closed doors remain just that, behind closeddoors. The conversation leaks out and has an impact onemployees.
- Teamness at the topneeds a variety of support andstructuring in terms of time , relationship management and taskcompletion as well as external professional help.
- 8 hours together in terms ofrelationship equity is agood start and top teams need to be able to manage the distractionsthat could impose on or collapse the time focused on buildingrelations even when teams do not have the vocabulary, comfortetc..
- We could collapses the notion of what itmeans to work andappreciate the importance of collaboration and relations and itdoes not have to be so difficult. Teams do not have to get tooworked up about how “it should be” and run the risk of beingdiscouraged because they cannot achieve relationshipexcellence.
- Don Hambrick has designed an assessment for Management Teamsthat can be used to assess the Teamness of Top Teams. Thisassessment tool has a series of questions in three dimensions;Joint Decision Making, Information Exchange and CollaborativeBehaviour. It is a very practical check list that top teams can usefor conversation and contracting. It is also a very useful tool bywhich a team can explore different perspectives held on theteam
- Anneloes refers back to the team she observed while shewas researching for her PhD. She recalls how ably the team were toalign their calendars and offer support to eachother.
- Teamness at thetop is often stymied or hampered by the mindset that is held by themembers of the top team. The idea of a strong one Captain on a shipnotion gets in the way of real teamness. The real fear that thepeople on the team will get into conflict if they try to become areal team. Similarly the fear that the team will take forever tomake decisions or does not have the accountability to do so areother reasons why top teams might stay shy of becoming a realteam.
- These fears areoften valid as Team Work is not necessarily easy or even in allcases a good thing. Group think for example is a risk or trap teamsfall into when they do not want conflict. On balance these concernsare held in the minds of Leaders but don’t necessarily play out inreality. Good process management for teams can prevent some ofthese perceived risks.
- Being explicitabout the teams mindset, their level of awareness, the common goalsthey want to achieve are ways that invite dialogue and help teamsget into action as a team.
- Having a commonpurpose, a why, can put the need for team into perspective and helpthe Top Team navigate what might initially be awkwardconversations, fears etc.
- Anneloes’suggests a team can start by creating a common understanding ofwhere the team is and where it wants to go. She uses the checklistmentioned above with the three dimensions, Joint Decision Marking,Information Exchange and Collaboration to discover with the teamwhere they might against each dimension. It helps to have a commonvocabulary. Anneloes is fully aware that of course there are somany more dimensions by which to asses a team for example in termsof interpersonal relations etc. but this check list serves as astarting point.
- Facilitatingdiscussions, putting in place learning mindsets and creating theconditions for a safe space to express perspectives always inservice of the collective goal are some of the processes Anneloesemploys with Top Teams.
- Having adiscussion to really bottom out & understand what is the TopsTeams collective goal and what the strategic priorities is animportant & relevant discussion.
- Having the“What” we are here to do and the “How” we are going to get therealong with a learning mindset, appreciating there will be hurdlesalong the way and it is a journey, can advance the Top Teamon a good level of Teamness.
- The future ofwork would be better served in Anneloes’s opinion if teams andindividuals alike had a better mindset around collaboration. Theidea of a One Man Leader is very limiting to address thecomplexities of our world.
Resources Mentioned Across this Episode
- IESE Business School www.iese.edu
- The “Teamness” of Top Teams based on Hambrick,1994, Simesek et al., 2005 and Raes et al., 2013
- “Many Leaders, however are ambivalent aboutteams. They fear overt conflict, tunnel vision, lack ofaccountability and indifference to the interests of theorganisation as a whole” ….their fear of delegating -losingcontrol-reinforces the stereotype of the heroic leader who handlesit all.”
Manfred Kets De Vries,2020