Heads Together and Row - Secrets of top team success

22 October 2018

Heads Together and Row - Secrets of top team success

Building collective resilience

In the latest blog post from our Heads Together and Row research team, Nikolaj Juul Jakobsen considers the importance of strong relationships in top management teams.

Resilience may be one of the most influential qualities of successful top management teams. The ability to bounce back from challenges and setbacks can provide a firm foundation for a well-functioning team. Resilient teams are competitive and primed for growth. This is especially important in times of unrest, where they need to act quickly and effectively in response to change. However, despite its known value among the top companies, what makes and breaks collective resilience in a top management team is still an under-studied area.

How Emotions Affect Strategic Capability

The blame game never brings out the best in anyone. This is especially true when top management members point fingers towards each other in times of crisis. Not only is it counterproductive but it also diminishes team members’ emotional energy, so much so that there’s often an accompanying decline in good strategic decision-making.

Negative emotional dynamics can get in the way of productive discussion among top management team members. When urgent issues and problems arise, it’s critical that teams are able to overcome those dynamics. It’s safe to say that most decisions of an urgent nature are made under less-than-ideal conditions, where negative emotions are more likely to be exhibited. In these situations, negative emotions may contribute to fractured and stunted strategising. So how do top management teams foster energetic and positive displays of emotion among team members, even in bad times?

The 3 Secret Weapons of Successful Top Management Teams

The most important resources a successful organisation has, often go beyond financial and material. It’s the human resources that matter. And teams, where healthy micro-relational mechanisms are firmly in place, may fare better than most. These interpersonal relationships encourage effective communication and problem-solving through generativity, caring, and connectivity.

1. Generativity: The art of adaptability

One of the most essential qualities in top management teams today is generativity, or the ability to adapt and rebound. However, while the strength of a team to get back on their feet together whenever life knocks them over is important, it doesn’t build positive interpersonal connections directly. Instead, generativity makes it possible for teams to have a safe psychological space in which to collaborate.

Top management teams with a high level of generativity have the freedom to explore new ideas without judgement beyond the merits of the concept itself. In these scenarios, managers also have the freedom to draw from their own experiences, knowledge, and values in decision-making. These insights may help them drive their team’s responses to market changes and other challenges.

2. Caring: The role of empathy

At the other end of the spectrum is caring, a concept that most people are familiar with. Caring is the micro-relational process that actively promotes effective work relationships among team members through positive behaviours and actions. When team members elevate their values, perceptions, and experience to the detriment of recognising others’ point of view - even if it’s more rational and objective - it could be an obstacle to strong teamwork.

Strong relationships among team members are based on morality, respect, and genuine interest in each other’s expectations and needs. This kind of positive interaction generally adds to the effectiveness and productivity of the team. These positive work relationships foster mutual help and encourage team members to provide constructive feedback in critical situations.

3. Connectivity: The glue that holds it all together

Connectivity allows for the creation of open and generative relationships. It’s a moderating force between strategic decision comprehensiveness and the innovative behaviour of the top management team. Studies have shown that openness, an essential facet of connectivity, helps top management team members be more receptive towards new influences and ideas, even if they are outside of their own experience.

Top managers may have a limited field of vision based on their own experience, knowledge, and values. From this, they select factors that affect their strategic decisions.

On the one hand, this generativity makes them resilient; they’re effectively adapting their decision-making based on past results. On the other hand, when they listen to their colleagues (with whom they already have good working relationships because of caring), top managers are capable of assessing a situation from an alternative vantage point. They are then able to make more innovative decisions. In this way, connectivity is crucial for the success of the top management team and its contribution to organisational performance.

The takeaway: Collective resilience and strategic capability in top management teams depends on strong relationships

The micro-relational processes of caring, generativity, and connectivity significantly add to a team member’s ability to make comprehensive and rational strategic decisions. Caring among the members of a top management team nurtures generativity or adaptability. This enhances a group’s strategic adaptability as a whole. When team members feel like their work relationships are positive, they are better able to respond proactively to external pressures and challenges. Good relationships foster good decision-making, which in turn improves an organisation’s strategic ability and the team’s overall level of collective resilience.