The three challenges for leadership teams and the types of intelligence required

And yet, it is not easy to build an effective leadership team. To be effective, a leadership team is responsible for three things: articulating a strategy, co-ordinating delivery of plans, and creating a strong culture in the organisation. So, how do our organisations do in these three areas?

The three challenges for leadership teams
On strategy, according to Kaplan and Norton, just 7% of employees fully understand their organisation’s strategy and what it means for them.

In my experience of working with dozens of senior teams, these are the top three challenges facing most leadership teams. Strategy, Execution and People.

To try and solve these challenges, it’s not that helpful to spend more time on these issues, or to work harder on them. Instead, you need to start with fixing the leadership team itself. A leadership team should be smarter than the sum of its parts – and yet often the dynamics in the team mean that the collective intelligence of the team isn’t realized.

In practise that means meetings which bounce between boredom and conflict; a focus on operational issues instead of strategy; a leadership team that is more like a committee than a team – teams should support each other and collaborate.

Leadership teams can be smarter than the sum of their parts
To unlock the hidden intelligence in your leadership team means understanding the three types of intelligence that senior teams need.

Emotional intelligence or EQ: ‘How strong are our relationships within the leadership team?’
Creative-Analytical Intelligence or IQ ‘How effective are we at thinking through problems together, developing solutions and making collective decisions?”
Practical Intelligence or PQ: ‘How good are we at delivering results, executing projects, and driving transformation?”
EQ, IQ, and PQ can be assessed using a diagnostic, allowing you to adapt the way the leadership team works to unlock its collective intelligence.

Often that means starting with the team’s emotional intelligence. This is foundational, as evidenced by the research of Anita Williams Woolley and the MIT Centre for Collective Intelligence which shows that a team’s ability to solve problems together is predicted by its member’s social sensitivity. Specifically, they saw teams who were good at interpreting how other members were feeling, and teams where people took turns to speak, were better at solving complex problems.

Here’s how you can help your team build its emotional intelligence. Get the team together and get them aligned on three questions: why, what, and how.

Why do we exist as a team – what value do we create and for whom?

…Therefore, what should we be focused on, what are our priorities, what should we talk about in meetings?

…And therefore, how often should we meet, what different types of meetings do we need to have, and how should we behave?

Answering these questions helps create the ‘emotional foundations’ of the team; it creates the conditions where trust, honesty, and psychological safety are possible.

Turning ideas into action
Once the team has solid emotional foundations, you can then get down to improving strategic thinking and execution excellence.

Improving strategic thinking typically involves stretching the team’s thinking in three dimensions.

Get them thinking deeper – what are the real underlying issues?
Consider a wider range of options – do you go beyond the first, obvious solutions?
Plan further ahead – what might be the knock-on consequences of this idea?
Once a well-thought-out strategy is articulated, you then need your team’s practical intelligence (PQ) to turn it into a roadmap, metrics & dashboards, and a communications plan to make sure each individual understands their role in the strategy. Gone are the days when you could do an all-staff presentation to showcase the strategy and assume everyone knew what to do.

The power in the leadership team
Your leadership team will succeed if you can make it a real team that is smarter than the sum of its parts. The leadership team can then power a strategy that everyone understands, detailed plans which coordinate the whole organization’s work, and a culture that unlocks the potential in each team member.


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