In today's world, it seems everyone needs to verify your identity - when you use your credit card, when you go through airport security, and when you open a bank account. Some of you may even have to show your ID when you go to your favorite drinking establishment.

When I work with a team, I need to verify their identity also. I don't ask for their drivers license or passport. I also don't ask for the last 4 digits of their social security number. I don't even ask for their 8 digit alphanumeric password on their account. I'm actually not interested in each team member's identity. I am only interested in verifying whether the team members have a Team Identity.

In working with teams, I have found that a strong TEAM IDENTITY is a core teamwork competency, especially for a leadership team. In 2010, I developed TeamScene - A Teamwork Competency Model for Leadership Teams. Some of my recent Goodfriend Insights articles have discussed two of these teamwork competencies - BELIEVE In Each Other and UNITE With a Game Plan.

Leadership teams, more than other work teams, don't instinctively identify as a team or naturally collaborate. They usually have different areas of expertise or knowledge. For example, the CFO's knowledge and work requirements are quite different than for the VP of Manufacturing. On an HR Leadership Team, the Director of Recruiting and the Director of Organizational Development are both involved in improving the talent level in the organization but what they work on is quite different.

The Silo Trap

A silo is a fortified, containment structure that lets only selected things in and keeps unwanted things out. Many leaders (and the teams they manage) create silos for security purposes -- to keep unwanted distractions, priorities or people out. Silos spring up naturally and leadership team members find themselves feeling quite comfortable sitting on top of a well-fortified silo -- because they have protected themselves from a peer that they might not trust or from work activities that they cannot influence/control. But that thinking is a trap -- that a strong individual contribution is more important to the team results than the interdependent connections that are needed for the leadership team to deliver collectively.

That would be like a baseball player who is most concerned about his own homerun totals without focusing on what it takes for the team to win. That would also be like a VP of Manufacturing seeing the CFO as a "cost/regulatory cop" and then keeping the CFO from providing valuable input on cost analyses.

The Leader of the Leadership Team

Improving Team Identity has to start with the leader of the leadership team -- who needs to influence the leadership team members to work together, to articulate the case to his/her team that their success will be greater if they work together and to hold the leadership team collectively accountable to deliver results as promised. I have found this is difficult for many executives that lead a leadership team since they might be more comfortable with the interpersonal dynamics involved in overseeing an individual leader rather than the dynamics of holding a team collectively accountable.

Team Identity - Success Factors

Common Direction

Leadership team members should work as a team to set a common direction -- as driven by the leader of the leadership team. This starts with strategic foundational statements - the core purpose (mission), their breakthrough longer-term objectives (vision) and core guiding principles. More specific direction can be built upon these foundational statements -- differentiation strategy, overarching goals, etc. that lead the broader team around priorities, resource allocation and annual targets.

Many leadership team members have a bad taste in their mouth for these types of statements because of hours spent in past sessions wordsmithing these statements, filing these statements without ever communicating it to the wider team, or not using the statements to drive any real change in strategy/objectives, etc.

But these statements help set direction as a team. A client (the leader of the leadership team for a technical function) communicated to me how their Mission (Solving ABC Company's Toughest Technical Challenges) and Vision (Catalyst of Integrated Solutions Throughout the Company) statements have helped their leadership team set/communicate a common direction:

  • The Mission and Vision statements have been a guideline to consider/screen new project requests so work can be focused on higher value opportunities needing integrated solutions
  • Established metrics that more effectively measure success based on the Mission/Vision
  • Organized and aligned staff to deliver based on project type

Identification as a Team

The real advantage for a leadership team is when team members see themselves as collectively delivering to the leader -- not only through exceptional performance of their individual units/functions but from delivering collective results that can only be achieved by working together.

In some of my team building workshops, I use a great simulation called "Lego Man." I have used it for many years and I have observed that the success of the team(s) in this simulation is dependent on how effective they are at collectively planning and delivering. The teams in the simulation do well if they collaborate and work as a team in both planning and execution. The teams that don't do well usually lack the communication and collaboration needed during both the planning and execution phases. I can tell you from the many years of using this exercise is that what I see in the Lego Man generally simulates how effective the team is, at that time, in working together. I recently was working with a team and they learned about the importance of understanding and discussing business requirements as a team (and the cost when they are not aligned on business requirements) -- and now use the Lego Man as a reminder to ensure that they do this.

Team's Leader Expects Team Members to Work Together Effectively as a Team

A leadership team's leader has significant influence over whether team members identify themselves as a team that collectively delivers to him/her. The leader has to be the "evangelist" and the role model for the team to drive more teamwork and collaboration among the leadership team. If you are a leader of a leadership team, you can influence the team to work together -- in the following ways:

  • Stop being the arbiter and problem solver for business or interpersonal issues between two leadership team members. Require those members to work it out to do the team's business.
  • Encourage leadership team members to identify and articulate untapped value potential from greater integration of efforts between leadership team members
  • Recognize results or value generation that occurred as a result of leadership team members collaborating or working as a team
  • Suggest that the team have periodic execution planning or progress review meetings without you
  • Hold the team accountable for a results problem within a function/unit that one team member leads

One leadership team I worked with (leading a key business function) had unit leaders and discipline leaders as part of the leadership team. The unit leaders spent most of their time in the geographically dispersed unit locations while the discipline leaders were subject matter experts in the same central location as the team's leader. The team was a high performing group in terms of results and each individual was very motivated to deliver for the team's leader. But since their ongoing objectives were really to help drive cost savings in the organization through standard, centralized processes in a highly decentralized environment, the leader knew that his leadership team needed to collaborate effectively and have common standards to be successful at achieving their objectives within the larger organization. The team's leader is now driving debate within the team on controversial ideas like centralizing the unit leaders in the central location instead of the unit location, having unit leaders of initiatives in one location also implement the initiative in locations of other unit leaders, etc. For a highly decentralized environment, this is a major shift. But it may drive the team members to deliver more value as a team that it cannot deliver individually.

Team-Based Recognition and Incentives

One consulting project I had with an executive leadership team convinced me that TEAM IDENTITY is really at the core of effective leadership teams. They were at the top of their industry in terms of relative business performance. The leadership culture was historically driven around debates and heated arguments about solutions to important business issues. The debate often felt personal and competitive so some members lacked trust in each other's true intentions. When asked about their success, many attributed how they delivered as a team to their bonus/incentives being based on the company's business performance, not just their own. When I asked them individually about the reason their team performs well despite some working relationship issues, most everyone attributed it to their very strong identity as a team despite the working relationship issues. They still needed to learn how to BELIEVE In Each Other (before a team member had a stress event or resigned) but their TEAM IDENTITY teamwork competency was at the core of their achievement of great business results as a team.

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As you can see, I am very passionate about the opportunities for a leadership team that can work together effectively. It starts with a core belief that the leadership team can deliver more value collectively than they can as individual members delivering to their leader. So the next time you see me at your company and I ask to see your ID, don't show me your drivers license. Show me that you have a strong TEAM IDENTITY.

© Michael R. Goodfriend, Goodfriend & Associates, Inc., 2011

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