What Makes an Effective Leadership Team in a Charity?

What are the characteristics of an outstanding leadership team? Charities are complex organisations that often work in challenging situations and rely heavily on their leadership teams to fulfil their mandates and missions. However, there isn’t a lot of documented research on senior leadership teams in charities.

What are the characteristics of an outstanding leadership team? Charities are complex organisations that often work in challenging situations and rely heavily on their leadership teams to fulfil their mandates and missions. However, there isn’t a lot of documented research on senior leadership teams in charities.

The publication Building outstanding leadership teams – insights from charity chief executives, sheds light on the issue and key findings from it were shared by Compass Partnerships Director Mike Hudson at Agenda Consulting’s Third Sector Strategic People Conference in London last week.

“The senior leadership team is arguably the most important in a charity because it has the ability to make the highest impact on the organisation,” said Mike.

The study sought to understand what it is that makes senior leadership teams effective by looking at the prevalence of 75 characteristics in the leadership teams of 100 large UK charities. These findings led Compass Partnerships to identify a number of key drivers of effective leadership teams.

Drivers of outstanding senior leadership teams

  1. Effective leadership of behaviour – this was defined as the leadership team modeling desired behaviour, acting as a team outside meetings, communicating well with managers, and managing stakeholder relations.
  2. Great team working by valuing style and personality differences, maintaining a cohesive team, being open about mistakes and weaknesses, and good at compromising.
  3. Effective team meetings characterised by listening to each other, using each other’s talent during meetings, following through agreed actions, taking good decisions.
  4. Clear leadership of strategy and impact by tracking achievement of strategic objectives, focusing on strategic issues, focusing on achievement of impact, and bringing innovative and new ideas.
  5. Investment in team development such as by days spent on working together better as a team, reviewing team performance, external support, and planning to improve team effectiveness. This was found to be the area that charities are currently not performing well in and need to improve.

Factors that related to putting together the team itself were essential building blocks but not the most important in driving effectiveness. Reward and performance-related pay also didn’t correlate that closely with the highest performing teams. Teams with highest turnover are also not the most effective. This is because there’s a minimum time a group needs to spend together before it gels and works well together.

The study found that the strongest performing leadership teams have a deputy CEO or COO, more than 2/3 are post-graduates, at least are half externally appointed, the CEO has long tenure and breathe of experience, are ethically diverse, and at organisations with higher income and more staff.

Mike concluded by saying: “The mission of your charity can be more effectively achieved if you’ve got a team at the top that’s firing on all cylinders.”

Do you agree with the study’s findings? We encourage you to share your thoughts and tips on effective leadership in the charity sector by emailing info@chsalliance.org.