By | Hema Ravichandar | Strategic HR Advisory, former CHRO Infosys Ltd
A team with diverse talents can always find common ground and ensure their skills complement one another and win, no matter how tough the situation is April, May and June are all about individual performance reviews, but no one really considers the assessment of teams. Leadership, whether of a company, an institution, a sports team or a political party, is ultimately dependent not on the individual at the top but the leadership qualities the top team, or Executive Committee (ExComm), possesses and demonstrates. Simply put, companies and leaders succeed if they have strong ExComms.
What are the attributes of a strong ExComm? How do we gauge the inherent synergistic strength of such teams? What makes some teams excel, even if the individual members would not find a place in the top quartile of talent? Equally, why do others packed with talent, of IQ 130 and more, not meet the potential they are capable of?
Successful ExComms bring different skills to the table—strategic insight, execution excellence, selling and financial prowess or, simply, a key understanding of human behaviour. Individually, they are competent in their respective areas, together they complement each other, and jointly they take the world by storm.
Think of Marvel’s Avengers—Iron Man and Captain America, with their charisma, though differing in philosophies, are great defacto leaders. Captain Marvel, powerful and righteous, would make a great board chair. Hulk, known for his brain and brawn, is smart enough to forecast and strong enough to enforce resulting actions. A CFO maybe? Doctor Strange with his ability to see into the future, fits straight into the role of the chief strategy officer and the young Spiderman, full of potential and mentored by Iron Man, is well set to fill the succession pipeline.
This complementarity not only comes through knowledge and skill but also when there is inherent diversity in gender, age, ethnicity and thought. Diversity obviates “group think”, the anathema to innovation and adaptability. But complementarity and diversity are ultimately just demographics. To leverage the power of complementarity, the team needs to be truly inclusive and collaborate, listen objectively to dissenting views, encourage creative tensions on substantive issues and respond without personalization or rancour. The catch is, such collaboration doesn’t come easily. Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends 2019 report states 83% of C-suite executives rarely collaborate even though their roles today are more complex and integrated.
Complementarity needs to be consciously cultivated. The leader has a great role to play in this, but it goes beyond that. A key takeaway from a 2019 MIT Sloan research paper is that leaders of the future will need to trust one another to cultivate purpose, generate energy and boost collaboration. Collaboration requires trust, trust requires respect, and respect comes when one appreciates a colleague’s insights and knowledge. So, you need to have team members who not only have domain depth, but also have knowledge breadth, specifically of other domains at the table.
This is the foundational requirement for mutual respect and trust and the team’s ability to work together, creating collaborative organizations. In practice, this translates to a CHRO with a business orientation or experience, or the CFO’s understanding of people dynamics, a sales hunter’s ability to visualize ground realities of delivery, while the supply chain head appreciates and understands the inherent loneliness and intensity of battle for customer acquisition.
Appreciation, respect and trust are key ingredients of that elusive chemistry that successful leadership teams possess. The film Miracle, based on the 1980 Winter Olympics, captures this beautifully. As the US ice hockey team prepares for the grand finale, the film evokes the power of teamwork in a diverse group that is nursing old rivalries. Under the coach’s stewardship, they play to each other’s strengths and stand as one team. It sends the powerful message of chemistry before talent, a prerequisite for successful teams. This chemistry shows in many ways. Friendship and socialization outside the professional realm are a bonus in team chemistry and becomes a vital element in the “feel good” factor of a company. It is no surprise that in Gallup’s Q12 Index of Employee Engagement Research, the question “Do you have a best friend at work?” is widely acknowledged to be a key factor of retention and outcomes. It can never be forced and yet friendship is great in promoting authenticity. It allows people to show their vulnerabilities and encourages disagreement without being perceived as disagreeable. This rings truer for the C-suite, where aspirations are big and egos even bigger.
Nobody could have put it better than Charles Darwin when he said, “In the long history of humankind… those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed”. So it is with great ExComms—complementarity and collaboration with mutual respect and trust. Such teams demonstrate strong affiliation, sharing concerns and aspirations, and empower members with the courage to be vulnerable with each other. They demonstrate the power of the ensemble, where each may not be a star but together, they rock the charts.