Jump start – how to become a successful leadership team

A booming industry provides an encouraging ground for new entrepreneurs - be it through start-ups, spin-offs or management buy-outs. So does the real estate industry. However, not all of these start-up’s and spin-offs become equally successful - despite the fertile environment they incubate in. This is rarely a result of overconfidence of the new leaders, lack of market access or bad deals, but rather a lack of investment in the partnering on the top of the company - the newly found leadership team.

Rules of cooperation, that have been left in vagueness, unspoken moral and ethical boundaries, different but never expressed differences in leadership style, single handed-decision making - things that become explosive material. Too important seem the building of a new brand, market presence and a well-filled deal pipeline. The leadership team fills its time by looking for representative office spaces, ergonomic chairs and impressive conference room lamps - rather than out for itself.

The initial euphoria which Harvard professor Tuckman describes in his famous model of team development as the “forming” phase is like a flirting phase at the beginning of a love story. It’s the time when critical questions are displaced. You don't talk about whether the partner closes the toothpaste tube in the right way or has an equal understanding of waste disposal. You dance around anything explosive that could cast a shadow over the promising relationship – often unconsciously.

In similar manner this applies to newly formed management teams. You could argue now that most of these leadership teams form out of decade-long networking or working relations. But once you then sit alone, partnered up or three of you in the same boat, this relationship is put to a completely different test. What definitely doesn't suffice here is to copy and reformulate the old employers' catalog of values. Because such a copycat-procedure neglects the essential discourse on what really should serve as a unique guideline for this particular management team and, if applicable, future employees.

There is a strong tendency to dive straight into the operational topics. Overwhelming the temptation to neglect forming the rules of cooperation, a common understanding of leadership, and the delimitations of individual and collective decision-making competencies. Too many concerns to touch imponderable dangerous material that - once brought up to the surface - shows its explosive effect.

Our coaching work with newly formed management teams shows that investing time and resources in a fruitful “forming” phase can be an incredibly enriching and consolidating process that immensely strengthens the young management teams in their establishment of a discussion culture, their problem-solving skills and in their organizational and personal resilience. Provided the team starts early enough, wants to work together and ensures that the process is well-managed and moderated. This process includes also that the diversity of perspectives is deliberately promoted, everyone receives an equal voice. It also ensures that concerns, questions and new ideas are not immediately evaluated or dismissed but can be freely expressed so that the management team learns to deal constructively with contradicting viewpoints.

Within this framework, the constructive development of rules for cooperation and joint decision-making can take place, as can the establishment of a common set of values and a uniform understanding of leadership. Successful leadership teams do not remain in the abstract but work out the strategic cornerstones manifesting themselves in visible actions and occasions in everyday life.

Once the management team is well-grounded, it can take off for its long-lasting and sustainable leadership journey. Tuckman would speak in his model about the “norming” phase to get the grounding which precedes and preconditions the “performing” once the team takes off.[nbsp] Nonetheless, it remains essential that the leadership team takes time for itself and “grooming” in regular intervals. This enables the team to regularly recharge its batteries and improve proficiencies for the operational, daily dynamics. Finally, this creates a leadership team who stands shoulder to shoulder and appears as the sustainable and performant unit as it wants to be perceived - inside and outside of their promising new business. 

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