An exceptional leadership team
A few weeks ago, after downloading the results of a survey that measured the productivity of the leadership team of the marketing department at Max Burgers, I nearly fell off my chair.
Since 2021 we have annually compared this team with a representative sample consisting of 857 other teams. In the first year our measurements showed that the team was among the top 170. In statistical terms this put the team in the 80th percentile. The following year our measurements revealed that the team belonged among the nine best teams (100th percentile).
Now, let me ask you to dust off your knowledge of statistics and estimate whether it would be more likely the team remain at the very top in the third year, or more likely that it would slide down the rankings? Given the way I started this post, you can probably guess where I'm going with this. Against all the odds, the team headed by Chief Marketing Officer Maria Ziv, remained in the 100th percentile.
The icing on the cake is that the survey measures additional qualities of the team that all returned exceptional results, and you will be presented with some examples of these as you keep reading. But before moving on, let me put this in context: The survey is a data source for management team development in which I am the external consultant.
Now that we have some background, let’s ask ourselves what lies behind this phenomenal outcome – which is so outstanding it even prompted a new team member to voice the very reasonable doubt whether the team could really be so productive. This led to an exciting discussion within the team, in which Maria explained that her challenge is not to get people to perform at their peak (the reason why will be explained when you get to the paragraph below). Her challenge is rather to ensure that these high achievers also take care of themselves and find their work/life-balance. This attitude is manifested in the team's norms, or code of conduct if you will. The team members have jointly produced them and some of Maria’s contributions are "we must make sure we recover after intense periods of work" and "we prioritise mental and physical fitness." Maria's attitude reflects a powerful commitment to sustainable productivity.
So what more can we learn? One thing that Maria attaches great importance to is building her team. Apart from bringing in very competent people, she has also nailed another important aspect of building a team. In this article we can read about the correlation between, on the one hand, the personality traits of agreeableness and conscientiousness, and on the other hand how well a team performs. I have not conducted personality assessments of individual members, but in my interactions with the team it has become apparent that it is made up of agreeable people. This, incidentally, is not just a pleasant bonus. Research shows that if there were to be a single person in the team who would score low on agreeableness in a personality questionnaire, there is a tangible risk the entire team's performance would suffer.
Furthermore, other data in the survey confirms that the team members are high-performing. The level of conscientiousness is, in other words, high. A subset of this quality is that people deliver on what they promise. I believe this combination of agreeableness and conscientiousness to a large extent explains why the survey shows that the team's psychological safety reaches the 90th percentile. Who wouldn't thrive in a team full of competent, pleasant and reliable people?
Finally, I would like to discuss the conditions within the marketing department and the leadership team. My reflections are rooted in a statement I read in the 1980s in a book about leadership published by the Swedish Armed Forces: ‘Motivation does not need to be promoted. Everything depends on it not being inhibited'. This statement aligns perfectly with Maria's attitude of encouraging complete transparency in order to create the best possible conditions at both the team and departmental levels.
In the annual survey, team members are asked to describe any weaknesses they have identified, and to come up with suggestions for improvement. In every workshop we have spent generous amounts of time ensuring consensus regarding the survey results. And equally, when it comes to solutions, we have spent time to ensure that all the knowledge and competence of the team members are brought to the surface. Just as important has been to make sure the solutions are truly accepted by the team members.
In summary, we have a leadership team filled with competent, agreeable and reliable members, led by a Chief Marketing Officer with a combination of surefire strategic acumen and a compelling personal leadership style. Because of this I wouldn’t be at all surprised if next year’s survey shows that the team, including the newest member, has once again achieved a productivity rating in the 100th percentile. Game on!
If you are curious about how Maria views our collaboration, click here.
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