What role do leaders play in accelerating team performance?


ECC’s 2017 Global Leadership Exchange featured senior leaders, industry experts, and practitioners providing different perspectives on this key question. According to Kathy Green, ECC’s Managing Partner, “Leaders Matter. The best leaders drive the organization’s mission and purpose, engage and inspire, and deliver results. They know how to accelerate performance and are the critical difference between a good team and a great one.” Green shared ECC’s approach to team development, which replaces the more sequential process to a rapid concurrent one to allow teams to accelerate performance in accordance with today’s pace of change.


One of the ways leaders make a critical difference is through engagement.

During her remarks entitled, “Want Outstanding Teams? Start with the Leaders!” Rebecca L. Ray, Ph.D., Executive Vice President with The Conference Board, discussed one of The Conference Board’s multi-year research projects on employee engagement called “DNA of Engagement: How Organizations Build and Sustain Highly Engaging Leaders”. The report profiled 15 organizations across multiple industries and found that the most engaging leaders master 12 behaviors across four key areas:

  1. Purpose: Provides a strong sense of meaning and direction.
  2. Pride: Builds a high-performance environment.
  3. Passion: Brings out collective brilliance in the team.
  4. Personal Fit: Unlocks employees’ full potential. 

According to Ray, the research also shows that highly engaging leaders are committed to removing barriers and securing resources for their teams. They honestly respect the wisdom of teams, and they tend to promote greater idea sharing. They seek feedback…and they listen.


A second way that leaders make a critical difference is through fostering a successful team culture. 

Ray and others cited Google’s “Project Aristotle”, a 2-year study of 180+ teams to determine the traits shared by Google’s most successful teams. Similar to The Conference Board’s findings related to highly engaging leaders, Google found that successful teams demonstrate traits such as Meaning of Work, Impact of Work, Structure and Clarity, and Dependability. The most important trait by far, however, was Psychological Safety – the ability of team members to take risks and be vulnerable with one another. Consider the most successful teams of which you’ve been a part. What role did the leader play in fostering psychological safety?

If you want to make a critical difference, here are three actions you can take to accelerate your team’s performance:

 1.     Understand your job as a leader.

Jean Spence, President, JES Consulting and former EVP, Research, Development & Quality at Mondelez International Inc. shared her experiences with leading senior teams and accelerating team performance. Spence highlighted the challenges and lessons learned from bringing together a team of 22 separate R&D business unit and functional leaders across the globe into one team at Kraft Foods. Spence described the important starting point of determining with the leaders if they were a group or a team. According to Spence, when the group was first forming, they had to ask themselves, “What can we uniquely do that no other group can do? If we’re a team, then how are we going to come together as a team?” In terms of advice for other leaders, Spence reflected, “Leading the team and getting the best out of people is your job.”

 2.     Take time to coach.

In his remarks entitled, “Coaching Senior Teams: Lessons from Experience”, Professor Fred Harburg, M.B.A., Professor at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management reflected that, “Coaching is, and has been for many years, how people learn to lead.” As a leader, when you help someone reflect and learn from their experiences, you play a critical role in their development. Addressing a common challenge regarding the time it takes to coach, Harburg said that as a leader, “You don’t have time not to coach. And, by the way, you already are, consciously or unconsciously, coaching.”

 3.     Align your head and heart.

Andrew Herr went from leading a start-up team of five in 2007, to leading a Joint Venture team of 125 in 2009, to today leading a portfolio of four companies and a team of 550 as CEO of International Dehydrated Foods. As the first non-family member CEO to assume the helm for the family-owned company, Herr has learned the importance of fostering a culture that promotes psychological safety. According to Herr, “It really starts with me.” One step that Herr took was to post his personality profile for staff to see and then encouraged questions and dialogue. Reflecting on his experiences, Herr said, “I had to learn [to] align my head and my heart. Moving slower to go faster is something [else] I really learned. Psychological safety is key.”


We know that great teams don’t happen by accident – leaders make the critical difference. 

Leaders matter.


If you or your team could use some help accelerating team performance, we’d welcome the opportunity to partner with you. Give us a call at +1.847.920.0190.

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