It’s never been more important for CEOs to lead high performing teams and also never more challenging. If there’s one theme I’ve been hearing about from nearly all my clients – CEOs and others – it’s how they are demanding more from their teams than ever before, and the results are mixed. While some leaders are quick to point out how their teams are doing outstanding work during an incredibly demanding time, here’s what else they are saying:

  • The team still isn’t able to make a decision about our future strategy
  • I’m not seeing enough of a sense of urgency from the team right now
  • Everybody is protecting their own turf instead of acting like a team
  • I’m seeing too much resistance to the changes we need to make
  • I’m not convinced everyone on this team has the capability to deliver
  • Team members won’t be honest with each other, so the real issues don’t get discussed

There’s plenty to address when it comes to tackling any of the issues above, but in light of Covid-19, leaders and teams have only so much time and energy right now to take some of this on, with good reason. Instead, consider a couple of simpler measures and smaller steps to take right now. For instance:

Revisit your team operating agreements.

High performing teams have put thought, care, and time into creating guidelines that govern everything from how they operate, communicate, share information, and run meetings. That said, it’s one thing to create guidelines. It’s another for a team to actually live by them and hold each other accountable for doing so. Not surprisingly, when they don’t, things can deteriorate quickly.

Consider the case of one CEO witnessing her team’s lack of candor and the impact it was having on the company. “My team members refuse to be open with one another, so the real conversations don’t happen in our meetings.” She was frustrated, knowing team members would only voice their concerns to her behind closed doors. Progress stalled, with the team unable to make key decisions about company priorities and future investments.

At her next team meeting, she reminded the team that candor and transparency were two key aspects of the operating guidelines they had developed together the previous year. “Turns out most of the team had completed forgotten about the agreements we had created and more importantly, the rationale behind those agreements,” the CEO recalled. “No wonder we weren’t honoring them.” It was a powerful reminder that creating team agreements isn’t just a nice exercise or single event, but something that must remain front-and-center in order to have the intended impact. As she put it, “Even the act of dusting off our agreements and reflecting on them as a team was incredibly effective and reminded us of what matters to us and why.”

Keep it extremely clear and simple.

Teams are doing some very heavy lifting right now, and the pressure and stress levels they are facing are real, so recognize what amounts to overload. Take the case of the team who was asked to agree on key strategic priorities to fund, which to stop funding, while also reviewing the previous quarter’s performance and determining restructuring plans – all in one two-day meeting. To call the agenda ambitious was a major understatement, and it was no surprise that the team quickly got stuck and ended the discussion frustrated and no closer to determining priorities or next steps than they had before the meeting started.

To prevent this, consider 3 simple steps that leaders can take to minimize decision fatigue and overwhelming their teams.

1.   Cut your agenda in half.

Senior leadership teams are ambitious and busy but cramming too much into a single meeting, asking for too many decisions to be made at once or shortchanging important discussions is counterproductive and usually winds up frustrating everyone.

2.   Decide what to decide.

In advance of meetings, take five minutes and list out what needs to get decided during the meeting. Determine decision-makers in advance along with the process needed to make the decision. Sounds simple, but a lack of clarity about decision-making (“am I making this decision? Are you?”) is a major source of misunderstandings on teams that can often be easily remedied.

3.   Say more out loud.

Use explicit language like, “The purpose of this discussion is….” or “The decision we need to make in the next hour is……” or “The most important thing you’ve got to deliver on is…” With so much happening right now, leaders need to take extra measures to confirm understanding and create clarity.

In difficult times, what is often underestimated is the impact even small changes can have on complex situations. This is often the case for senior leaders and their teams, who can see major results simply by making small tweaks to how they interact, communicate, and operate. Now more than ever, teams don’t have time for complicated, time-consuming solutions, and that’s good news, because very small steps can work beautifully for any team, at any time.

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