Top Leadership Team Development: A Truly Dynamic Approach

We have a need for this bright, capable group of  17 experts to work together as a leadership team; so what approach would you advise?” a Director asked me a few weeks ago.

What resulted was a carefully bespoke approach to this Director’s needs; an assessment of where his team where; and what the necessary next steps would be. This is the approach and my initial reflections.

First, let us start with the key objective as when we ‘start with the end in mind’ we have a sense of purpose, as well as direction that can inform questions of OD design of the workshop content. It can also inform questions around structure, as well as the key points in terms of learning process.

This was the objective:

  1. To create a safe, encouraging, supportive team environment that, over time, would lend itself to higher team performance including the key elements such as openness, trust, rapport, dialogue and ease with candid feedback. 

Accordingly, we co-created the following design and approach:

  • Using the Gallup strengths-finder (c) we helped the individuals to identify their top 5 strengths. This would help create the ‘safe container’ or effective team meeting environment that would lend itself to an appreciation of each other ,and their contribution to the team.
  • We mapped the individual strengths across the team across the four broad domains. This was used to create a conversation around whether this was the right balance for the team’s key objectives, or not. It also created a genuine discussion and debate around what a Strengths approach offered; as well its limits and insights. For a strategic leadership team the strength distribution was a good fit.

Capture Leadership Team Mapped



  • Created four action-learning sets. Each set would meet monthly to enable individual and collective learning as each team explored questions of the type: ‘How can I improve what I am doing as a team member”?
  • Using the data from a recent 360-degree feedback as areas for learning, development and growth. Each individual offered 3 areas from their 360-degree feedback that they were willing to explore with the smaller action-learning sets. Their team members would in turn challenge them in terms of the relative rank ordering of the three areas.
    • NB: Given the previous work from the top 5 strengths, this meant that they were all aware of one another’s strengths and that, in turn, these could be seen as resources from which to support & encourage in the spirit of co-coaching or cooperative inquiry (see Prof. Peter Reason).

Lessons Learned?

These are my own reflections to date:

  1. We found the right ‘balance’ between the strengths and the candid feedback. After lunch I drew a dynamic on the flip chart as this image came to mind as I carefully listened to the emergent themes and ideas from the ‘check-in’ after lunch. I shared with them how I imagined that the ‘positive charge’ was the appreciative side from the top 5 strengths and the ‘negative charge’ was the 360 feedback. Both, I noted, are essential energies for the dynamic to be truly effective.
  2. Smaller action-learning sets are very helpful when you are looking to bring along more reserved, private and introverted experts. ‘Being open’ in a large team of 17 people is well beyond the comfort zone of some of the team’s more mature introverted experts.
  3. However, you can later ‘scale-up’ when the ‘time is right’ by bringing two of the action-learning sets together and even at some point the whole team! For me, this has a delightful ethical approach; that in my view fosters genuine and sustainable individual and collective growth/learning.
  4. The Gallup strengths-based approach is a fab contribution to the design of any safe container; and more especially for new teams, as well as teams in significant transition for example.
  5. Having had the previous work completed around the team’s purpose using a constellation was a significant help (see The Whole Partnership). In fact, this previous work was a solid foundation from which to build further team capability.

What would I do to improve?

  • Perhaps have a shared objective (as well as an individual learning area) for the smaller action-learning sets.
  • However, there is a trade-off here in terms of the time for each set.
  • NB: We might introduce this in 3-months time; when we bring all the team back together before the summer break for a retrospective.


Take care, Jason

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