If you’re looking for investment, planning an exit, or looking to step up into a more strategic role, you need a strong leadership team you can trust to take your business to the next level. It often starts with how you build it in the first place.
The instinctive first choice for many members of The Supper Club has been to promote from within, because their current team will already understand the business, the culture and the vision; but they must be empowered to lead.
Nick Thistleton, Founder & Chairman of Lucky Voice, found that he needed a different leadership mindset. “I can’t pretend that there was a long-term plan to promote internally; and like a lot of founders, I had my fair share of unsuccessful experiences of bringing senior people in from the outside. But when I changed my management style the results that I started to get from my people made it very clear that developing a senior team internally was the way to go.”
“The turning point was adopting a more coaching style of management, where I focused on asking questions and leaving space for people to answer them rather than always filling the space with my opinions.”
Members of The Supper Club recommend that you go into the process of building a senior team assuming that anyone in your business could have the passion and ability to step up – and it might not be the obvious choice based on hierarchy. Try to identify potential as well as gaps in skills and experience that can be coached or recruited.
Jamie Matthews, Founder of Initials Marketing, found help through the Club to build a senior team to scale.
We worked with a coach to identify the gaps in the leadership team and we used an exercise to write roles for each other based on our strengths. Once this was defined we looked at what the business needed in terms of roles - not people, roles. Then we overlaid the people we had and decided if they had the skillset to fill those roles.
Those with gaps that need to be filled with outside talent need to be clear on what and who they need. Members recommend defining the role around the skills and behaviour you want to see, not just tasks and competences – look beyond job title to what your business needs and the type of person who can deliver.
“It’s really important that new members of the team come into a clearly delineated management structure,” says Nicholas Gill, CEO of David Phillips. “Senior people coming on board look for clarity and to understand their position within the organisation – particularly in growing companies where dynamics change quite regularly.”
Fellow member Celia Francis, CEO of Rated People, believes a clear plan is vital for high performing leadership teams. “Once that team is in place you want to create a shared vision, mission, strategy and tactics so the whole team buys into the plan, and not just the founder or CEO. As you execute there’s a feeling of common leadership and vision.”
Celia also advocates shared vulnerability - and getting to know each on a personal level - to address what Patrick Lencioni called The five dysfunctions of a team in his best-selling book. These dysfunctions include: absence of trust, fear of conflict, lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability, and inattention to results.
Ally Maughan, founder of People Puzzles, recently co-hosted a roundtable with The Supper Club to share her insights and tactics for managing these dysfunctions.
“If people don’t trust each other they become more defensive, approach meetings with dread, and create artificial harmony,” she said. “If people fear conflict they are less likely to challenge ideas or plans they don’t agree with. Build trust through vulnerability and understanding motivation so people are more inclined to take risks and challenge in meetings.”
If managers and senior leaders are fearful of challenging the founder or CEO, or each other, they may only pay lip service to agreed actions.
If you don’t hold people to account for agreed decisions and targets you create a culture of avoidance by tolerating it – which breeds resentment in high performers and allows poor performers to hide.
An empowered, autonomous team is more likely to grow the business. Potential buyers and investors also want to see that the business isn’t reliant on the founder.
“The management team is really important to the private equity investor as that’s who we’re backing,” says Richard Chapman, Head of Business Services at ECI partners. “We look for a team with energy and pace that are able to execute well, but fundamentally they need to be a team and work together well; with the right balance of optimism, pessimism, and skill set. They must all have a desire to drive the business forward.”
Ultimately, whatever your end objective, by enabling your senior team to step up, you will be able to step away and work on the business, not in it.