The Essential Dynamics of Stellar Teams

by Anneloes Raes

Throughout the ages, business leaders, coaches, authors and athletes have stressed the importance of teamwork to achieve something greater than individual triumph.

Andrew Carnegie expressed it this way: “Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision. The ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.” Or as management expert Ken Blanchard said more succinctly, “None of us is as smart as all of us.”

In a business context, the ability to cultivate cohesive, creative and motivated teams is the end goal for organizations competing in fast-paced and complex markets. Although it may sound easy, fostering the necessary climate of trust and commitment conducive to highly committed teams doesn’t happen overnight. On the contrary, it takes time, effort and commitment at all levels of the organization.

So where to start? Based on my research on effective top management teams (TMTs), breakthrough performance starts at the top – but doesn’t end there.

Senior executives may report to the same CEO, but they often work in siloed isolation with limited exposure to cross-functional communication and information flows. While common, this practice undermines corporate performance as a whole.

In contrast, when the C-suite makes a concerted effort to achieve TMT unity – what I refer to as high levels of “teamness” – they unleash positive energy throughout the organization that manifests in elevated productivity, energy, higher job satisfaction and lower turnover.

But while the top echelons put the ball into motion, TMT unity alone isn’t enough to achieve stellar organizational performance. Beyond the C-suite, senior executives need to recognize the strong organizational power that middle managers wield to execute – or undercut – their vision.

On the frontlines of the firm, middle managers create alignment by synthesizing information, championing alternatives and selling ideas, so TMTs must do their utmost to build their trust or, at very least, their compliance.

In this context, the trust between the TMT and middle managers becomes the glue that holds these two parties together. Building this trust requires a second set of competencies for TMTs and middle managers alike.

Anneloes Raes is an associate professor of Managing People in Organizations at IESE and recipient of numerous accolades for her research, which has featured in top international media outlets. Prof. Raes will serve as the academic director of “Building and Leading High-Performance Teams,” designed for senior managers responsible for leading teams. The next edition will be held on IESE’s Barcelona campus from November 20-22, 2018.

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