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Any organization that wants to change, transform, or grow beyond market rates requires, first and foremost, a high-performance senior team. When the next-level-down leaders of many organizations are asked what they think about their company’s new vision or strategy, they always respond with the same comment: “The strategy isn’t the issue. It’s our fundamental disbelief that our senior-most leaders will change their behaviors to bring this new strategy to life.” Change can’t be intellectual for the senior team and emotional and behavioral for everyone else. In blunt terms, that dog won’t hunt! To change metaphors, any senior team must be the pace car for the behavioral change that’s hoped for in the organization. Simply put, for any team to be a high-performance team, each member must make change very personal with their own behaviors, practices, and routines. They must change first, before the organization will follow. The best way to start is to create a set of behavioral ground rules that becomes a personal contract among team members for how they’ll work together and treat each other on their journey to a high-performance team focused on the vision for the future. Having worked with hundreds of senior teams to create these behavioral ground rules, here are the top behaviors that are almost always included.

  1. Assume positive intent is by far the top behavioral ground rule for high-performing teams.
  2. Be tough on the issues and civil and respectful of the people. For some reason, what we’ve found with most teams is a strong practice of being soft on the issues and tough on the people creating the issues or those taking the issues personally.
  3. Balance the need to make fact-based decisions with the urgency to act. Somehow, many senior teams lack clarity on the decision-maker, the appropriate fact base, and the urgency to act before the decision time window closes.
  4. Own the whole before your piece. More teams are suboptimized by members who own their piece before the whole than by any other behavior.
  5. Listen to understand as opposed to listening to respond. High-performing teams make better decisions by listening to each other rather than lobbying for their own ideas or points of view to win – a rare behavior in most senior teams with a lot of type A personalities.
  6. Invite and provide candid, direct feedback to each other and not to someone else. Unfortunately, many teams demonstrate passive-aggressive behavior or value relationship harmony over having direct, critical conversations that need to occur.
  7. Robustly debate the issues in the room, but when we leave the room, speak with one voice. If it needs to be reconsidered, bring it back to the room. Nothing kills a high-performance team more than saying, “I didn’t vote for this decision” or lobbying to change it outside the room with a meeting after the meeting.
  8. Establish the practice of conversation over presentation. Dialogue is the oxygen of high-performance teams where the team constantly knows how to ask questions, explores alternatives, listens to each other, and combines multiple perspectives to create breakthrough results.
  9. Celebrate learnings in success or failure. Celebrate both first, and then realize that all huge successes are built on a pile of small, fast, cheap failures.
  10. Acknowledge not knowing and ask for help. This is what the team is for, and high-performance ones eventually realize that showing public vulnerability is one of the boldest things a leader and team can do to grow.
  11. For every initiative or priority we add, we need to take one away. It’s vital that the senior team is constantly prioritizing, integrating, and simplifying for the organization, or the entire organization will be overwhelmed and forced to play whack-a-mole as they try to keep up.
  12. Declare the purpose of a meeting as a meeting to update, explore, or decide, and when deciding be clear what we are solving for, and be prepared to make the decision. Many teams are unclear on the purpose of their meetings. Update should account for the smallest amount of meeting time, explore the largest time commitment, and decide should have the appropriate preparation to make a fact-based decision.
  13. If it is not clear, don’t stop until it is. It is every leader’s responsibility to pursue clarity and the absence of clarity is not an excuse to not perform as an individual leader or as a team.

When a senior team makes behavioral ground rules or behavioral expectations like this for the team as a whole and for each member individually, they’ll be well on their way to high performance. The best teams measure their performance against these mutual expectations monthly with as much emphasis as any other KPI.

March 13, 2023

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