Anneloes Raes is Professor in the Department of Managing People in Organisations and holder of the PUIG Chair of Global Leadership Development as IESE. She holds a PhD in Organisational Behaviour from Maastricht University and an MA in Psychology at the Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands. Anneloes’s research has been published in academic journals such as the Academy of Management Review, The Journal of Applied Psychology, Human Relations and Small Group Work. Her research has also featured in press outlets such as the Financial Times and La Vanguardia. Anneloes lives in Barcelona with her Husband and two young boys.
Podcast Episode Summary
Teamness at the Top is not as prevalent as one might expect. Only 21-30% of teams across the globe can satisfy the elements that describe a real team. The world of today and tomorrow asks that organisations can solve complex and wicked problems. That becomes possible if teams are able to mine the collective wisdom of teams, collaborate and share information so the best strategic decisions can be made. Anneloes illuminates what needs to shift to make this phenomenon a reality for top teams.
Points made over the episode
- Anneloes started this podcast by describing her journey into this field of work. Her interest in this field started by way of her research for her PhD at Maastricht. Her formative studies in Psychology meant she was already interested in the interpersonal dynamics between people. Very early on she got the opportunity as part of her studies to sit in on the discussions of a board.
- That experience shaped her thinking about top management teams. The reality of top teams making strategic decisions, sharing information together and collaborating well together is often far from what you might expect. These teams like others comprise human beings with all of their flaws and differing perspectives.
- Team Based Leadership at the top is as crucial as it is the requirement for effective teams across the organisation, even when often people wonder if it is feasible or possible. When we look at organisational life we appreciate that so much of its success is dependent on teams and collaboration. It is true too that we accept that we can achieve more together by way of the diversity and also the complementarity of team members, knowing that and especially where the work is too complex to do by an individual the default is team.
- The work at the top is particularly complex with a high volume of task and uncertainty.
- It is almost hard to understand that top teams would not work as a team.
- We expect our leaders to be role models and we expect everyone in the organisation to be team players, how is it then that a top team can get away with not being a team?
- Real opportunity for the top team to exemplify real team work, given the need to solve complex problems and model behaviour for the rest of the organisation.
- Why then does it not prevail? There are many different versions of team work that top teams aspire or desire. It is not as binary as either or dilemma. There are degrees of teamness. There is also the real possibility that members of the team have very different perspectives of the order of teamwork required.
- Anneloes work takes an evidence based approach. In her research she found 3 significant reasons why a Top Team might choose better teamness
- Strategic Decision Making at the Top; The Executive take better decisions by combining more and diverse perspectives. It is important to have a good process in place to combine these perspectives.
- Organisation Stability & Executive Sustainability -Being at the top of an organisation is a very demanding job. Operating in a truly functioning team can provide a lot of support. We say for a reason “its lonely at the top” sharing the load of responsibility and creating a system of social support can mitigate this felt loneliness. It also makes sense when you consider the current focus on mental health and wellness and the increased openness to expressing vulnerability and concerns by employees in general. The great man theory of Leadership is the oldest perspective on Leadership and one that is slowly being overturned for greater and greater degrees of peer executives teams. True teamness doesn’t come from scratch it requires effort even with the most benign of Leaders who welcome a strong leadership team around them. Time together & the maintenance of a well-functioning team needs investment.
- Setting the Tone at the Top. What are the implications for others in the organisation by way of the behaviours exhibited by the top team? The outcomes, decisions and types of conversation held at the top, how the team interacts their style, the unity they do or do not espouse all has an impact on others in the organisation. Anneloes took a real interest in this area and the relationship between the tone set from the top and the organisational climate. She expanded on this research to wonder about the implications this same tone had on employee wellness.
There is a powerful cascading affect between the behaviour at the top and how it trickles down into the rest of the organisation. Empirical studies show strong connections and can refute the natural scepticism that might prevail to wonder if boardroom conversations behind closed doors can impact individuals who never come into contact with those same leaders. The tide is turning and in favour of this focus, where employees are now considered an incredibly important stakeholder about whom the top team needs to be responsible.
- Top Management cannot assume that their conversations behind closed doors remain just that, behind closed doors. The conversation leaks out and has an impact on employees.
- Teamness at the top needs a variety of support and structuring in terms of time , relationship management and task completion as well as external professional help.
- 8 hours together in terms of relationship equity is a good start and top teams need to be able to manage the distractions that could impose on or collapse the time focused on building relations even when teams do not have the vocabulary, comfort etc..
- We could collapses the notion of what it means to work and appreciate the importance of collaboration and relations and it does not have to be so difficult. Teams do not have to get too worked up about how “it should be” and run the risk of being discouraged because they cannot achieve relationship excellence.
- Don Hambrick has designed an assessment for Management Teams that can be used to assess the Teamness of Top Teams. This assessment tool has a series of questions in three dimensions; Joint Decision Making, Information Exchange and Collaborative Behaviour. It is a very practical check list that top teams can use for conversation and contracting. It is also a very useful tool by which a team can explore different perspectives held on the team
- Anneloes refers back to the team she observed while she was researching for her PhD. She recalls how ably the team were to align their calendars and offer support to each other.
- Teamness at the top is often stymied or hampered by the mindset that is held by the members of the top team. The idea of a strong one Captain on a ship notion gets in the way of real teamness. The real fear that the people on the team will get into conflict if they try to become a real team. Similarly the fear that the team will take forever to make decisions or does not have the accountability to do so are other reasons why top teams might stay shy of becoming a real team.
- These fears are often valid as Team Work is not necessarily easy or even in all cases a good thing. Group think for example is a risk or trap teams fall into when they do not want conflict. On balance these concerns are held in the minds of Leaders but don’t necessarily play out in reality. Good process management for teams can prevent some of these perceived risks.
- Being explicit about the teams mindset, their level of awareness, the common goals they want to achieve are ways that invite dialogue and help teams get into action as a team.
- Having a common purpose, a why, can put the need for team into perspective and help the Top Team navigate what might initially be awkward conversations, fears etc.
- Anneloes’ suggests a team can start by creating a common understanding of where the team is and where it wants to go. She uses the checklist mentioned above with the three dimensions, Joint Decision Marking, Information Exchange and Collaboration to discover with the team where they might against each dimension. It helps to have a common vocabulary. Anneloes is fully aware that of course there are so many more dimensions by which to asses a team for example in terms of interpersonal relations etc. but this check list serves as a starting point.
- Facilitating discussions, putting in place learning mindsets and creating the conditions for a safe space to express perspectives always in service of the collective goal are some of the processes Anneloes employs with Top Teams.
- Having a discussion to really bottom out & understand what is the Tops Teams collective goal and what the strategic priorities is an important & relevant discussion.
- Having the “What” we are here to do and the “How” we are going to get there along with a learning mindset, appreciating there will be hurdles along the way and it is a journey, can advance the Top Team on a good level of Teamness.
- The future of work would be better served in Anneloes’s opinion if teams and individuals alike had a better mindset around collaboration. The idea of a One Man Leader is very limiting to address the complexities 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 about teams. They fear overt conflict, tunnel vision, lack of accountability and indifference to the interests of the organisation as a whole” ….their fear of delegating -losing control-reinforces the stereotype of the heroic leader who handles it all.”
Manfred Kets De Vries, 2020