What Does It Take To Build an Effective Leadership Team?
One of the biggest companies to emerge from the last few years is the video conferencing giant Zoom. When Zoom went public in the summer of 2019, it opened at $65 per share, making it the best performing IPO of the year. In 2021, Zoom’s stock averaged well over $300.
Despite being one in several video conferencing apps, Zoom was able to capture a lion’s share of the market during the lockdowns, becoming virtually synonymous with video calling and work-from-home over the last two years. And they did it despite having a few significant handicaps that their competition didn’t share. Teams, being a Microsoft product had the advantage of much larger revenues. Skype had the very bankable advantage of being an industry leader, established over a decade earlier. Yet neither brand managed to capture the public’s imagination quite as successfully. What was the difference?
In the opinion of experts, a large part of Zoom’s success is its highly-effective and cohesive leadership team. Eric Yuan, Zoom’s Founder/CEO, and Kelly Steckelberg, the CFO, are known to work closely and in tandem. A study conducted on Zoom’s senior leadership found that the team members are a mix of different but complementary personalities. They also set the pace expected from leadership teams further down in the corporate structure. One employee, leaving his review on Zoom’s workplace survey page on Glassdoor, opined.
"I think at the uppermost level the leadership team lead by a great example. There are some challenges with middle management but Eric and team are phenomenal (sic)."
Recent research by global consultancy McKinsey has suggested that executives who work in a high-performing leadership team are five times more productive. The same report also declared that that 90% of investors consider the performance of an organization’s senior management team as the single most important non-financial factor when evaluating its IPO. An organization’s leadership is its most visible representative, after all. And a team of leaders has a distinct advantage over leaders who choose to go it alone. In the words of LinkedIn co-founder, Reid Hoffman,
“No matter how brilliant your mind or strategy, if you’re playing a solo game, you’ll always lose out to a team.”
If you want to start melding your senior leaders into an effective and efficient team, then you need to start with some of the basics.
Break down silos
Groups of senior executives do not become teams automatically. In many organizations, though they may be called a leadership “team”, senior executives function relatively independently of each other within their structural silos. As the senior-most executive in their department, they act as a conduit of communication between the department and the chief executive, but this remains a two-way relationship that doesn’t involve their peers.
Such structural silos not only limit teamwork but also place an added burden of intra-departmental cooperation on the chief executive. The first step towards building an effective executive team is to break down these silos and retrain senior management to view themselves as members of a peer-collective.
Develop a shared growth mindset
The next step, after building team consciousness within the senior executives, is to turn their focus towards shared goals. Not shared organizational goals, which as department leaders in the company they would already be working towards, but rather, a shared goal for the team. Develop objectives that can only be achieved through teamwork at the executive leadership level.
Jack Welch, the CEO of General Electric, is celebrated not only for increasing GE's revenues by almost sevenfold but also for developing GE’s leadership team into one of the strongest amongst any Fortune 500 company. In Jack’s own words,
"We've developed an incredibly talented team of people running our major businesses, and, perhaps more important, there's a healthy sense of collegiality, mutual trust, and respect for performance that pervades this organization."
Evaluate for the dynamics of size
Finding the Goldilocks number when it comes to the size of your leadership is key. While the structure of your organization will have an impact on the size of the team, it should not dictate it. An effective team must be small—but not too small. Too few members and you hamper decision-making. You lose out on diversity and will overwork the individuals on the team. Small teams can also limit your options when planning for succession.
On the other hand, too large a team and you lose cohesion. Decision-making can once again be hampered, if for the opposite reasons. Research suggests that the ideal number might lie somewhere between six and ten members.
Bringing together a group of senior executives together does not automatically make them a team. A team needs to be built, composed of carefully chosen individuals who have been taught to pull together in the same direction and on the path to a common goal. That takes work and some understanding, not only of teamwork but also the psychology of leaders.
Fostering teamwork in employees is simple since they already identify as a part of a larger entity, but fostering teamwork in a group of individuals who have a habit of being at the top of the pack, can be a challenge. But getting your basics in place would be the best first step.