How to Optimize Top Team Performance

Top teams require special analysis to perform at their best. Focus on root cause analysis and an integrated approach to leader development.

Organizations need great leaders who can identify emerging challenges, inspire their team and turn strategy into effective action. Those needs have been intensifying as business changes come at an exponential speed. According to some surveys, a fraction of CEOs believe their companies are building effective global leaders and 1 in 10 believe leadership development initiatives have a clear impact on business.

The major cause of poor corporate leadership development is its partial approach, an inability to get to the root cause due to a lack of knowledge of the whole human structure of psychometrics, behavior or technology.  Subsequently, many people try to solve health, business, law and other nontechnology and non-psychology related problems with technology and psychological behavior tools.

Leaders require different tools to meet challenges in various environments at different stages. Daily skills include how to communicate and take feedback. Others might need more specific learning or behavioral interventions. If they do not have the tools or potential to acquire the tools to finish one process, the whole leadership journey will be in jeopardy. Personality and their makeup as a leader are boundaries around their potential and motivation can only take them so far. Some behaviors only emerge after a person is put on the spot or undergoes a 360-degree observation.

The inability to identify the precise development needs of a leader also results in wasted time, money and opportunities. There are additional causes that can also cause delays or even failure of corporate leadership development such as questions about how to personalize learning, implement the missing tools and enhance learning practices.

In addition to those challenges, administrative and social factors play a role such as lack of support from CEOs and senior leaders and lack of buy in from individuals. Some leaders only want certain solutions while others only respond to a specific language and format. Without knowledge of the underlying structure and related rules, people analytics data is only an observation and cannot be actionable.

Thus, we need to get to the root causes and develop corporate leadership accordingly. To focus leadership development effectively on top team performance, consider implementing the following strategies:

Focus on the shifts that matter and the holes that can sink your boat.

Missing the big picture is a behavior that can have many underlying causes and can require different solutions based on the specific circumstances. For example, tunnel vision and a poor knowledge base can often be fixed through professional and psychological training.

If the root cause is poor energy, sending the leader to the top MBA program in the world will be a waste of precious time and resources. What’s more, focusing on the big picture alone cannot guarantee success in execution if it’s not met with the right leadership styles, conflict management and resilience.

To help a leader focus on the big picture, first identify what is holding the person back. Not every issue has a fast solution. The individual’s potential including an analysis of their motivation will determine the wise follow-up solution. Target the issue with the right tools and choose alternatives if there are no quick fixes. In addition, not all development needs are equally significant to every position. The right placement is the key.

While top teams can have different development needs depending on their daily roles, new business needs can emerge as the business environment changes. Failure to adjust to changing conditions can cause something insignificant to become significant.

For example, imagine an institution opened a new subsidiary and promoted a marketing executive to be CEO due to his years of global marketing experience and dedication to his past roles. However, this person has limited vision due to his knowledge base, lacks the ability to drive innovation and struggled with conflict management.

Those leadership development needs could have remained insignificant until he was promoted to CEO. Could self-awareness and a shift in learning mindset be enough to help him?  No.  First, he needs to have learning needs identified precisely so he can learn as easily and fast as possible. Second, he needs to be motivated to learn and adapt to his new role. That’s why it would be wise to know these new development needs ahead of time.

Catch development needs before a 360-degree assessment and deliver training to address root causes.

Each person has six quotients: intelligence, emotional, learning, adversity, public influence and health. Issues at the top level are often complex and involve all six. This complexity and related behaviors can make complex issues seem intractable and many learning officers are so used to slow or poor results that they stop searching for faster and better results. This explains why only 13 percent of companies believe they are building effective global leaders, according to a 2016 Deloitte survey.

In addition to daily business skills like how to communicate and take feedback, leaders also need to learn, relax, sleep and defuse political issues. If individuals cannot finish one of these significant processes, the whole project can be in jeopardy. Psychological and behavioral analysis are clever ways to analyze individuals without getting to the underlying root cause. But both can only see the new psychology and behavior after the person gets into a new position, which is also what a 360-degree assessment can show.

By knowing the whole six-quotient picture, CLOs can catch most development needs before the 360-degree assessment occurs and make wise investments to make learning easy and fast based on root causes. Can we anticipate every development need? No, but it is important to help leaders learn how to be highly effective before the storm hits. There is then no need to babysit a top team unless their challenges or environment changes.

Use the right formula in people analytics.

There is no doubt that people analytics enhance top team performance. However, because individuals can have different development needs it is important to recognize the right usage of them and target issues with the right tools. There is no one tool for all including motivation.

Many leaders from CEOs to CFOs and top senior executives try to motivate their teams when the teams are too tired which does not increase productivity but instead increases the chances of turnover and stress-related health issues. Instead, the leader should let the team take a break.

A lack of deep knowledge of talent affects how leaders direct talent, inspire others, manage conflicts and execute strategies. These areas are rooted in traditional training.

Integrate learning with practice and involve senior leaders.

Practice at work is valuable but unavailable to everyone and application can be inconsistent. Thus leadership development must integrate learning with practice to rapidly turn that learning into action. Usually, the less a person needs to learn the better the person learns. Therefore, it is important to identify needs precisely. Learning requires a whole-system approach where every element such as learning preference and personality type can impact the outcome.

Research from McKinsey & Co. found that successful leadership-development programs were five to six times more likely to involve senior leaders acting as project sponsors, mentors and coaches. Why? Because senior leaders know what matters to the company and can be good role models.

Top team performance is critical to business success. Corporate leadership development can have a fast and lasting impact through an approach based on a full integration of the six quotients. Start by identifying the development needs of a leader before the 360-degree assessment, make wise investments and deliver training that addresses root causes. Then make learning as easy and fast as possible and integrate it with business practice and involve senior leaders.

Taking those steps can often save 50 percent of the time and find efficient solutions to 30 to 40 percent of the intractable issues where traditional methods fall short. While change accelerates, so does the impact of poor top team performance.

Bin Yang is a leadership consultant, executive coach and managing director of The Prince Synergy, a consulting firm specializing in top team performance. She is author of “What Stops Leaders from Good to Great.” Comment below or email