Building Your Cross-Functional Leadership “Advisory Team”

Behind even the most experienced leaders is a combination of formal and informal advisors. Here’s how to build your leadership advisory team.
June 30, 2022
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Despite the fictional tales of solitary individuals skillfully leading an organization through difficult times, most leaders have a team of advisors in real life. When built thoughtfully, this advisory team might do everything from help the leader in areas where they’re weak to providing a sounding board to test ideas and approaches before they are widely disseminated.

Most of us are like unfinished jigsaw puzzles with various missing pieces. A robust set of advisors not only fills in the missing pieces but helps interpret the puzzle and provide perspective. As you advance in your career, you should constantly be on the lookout for formal and informal relationships that form the core of your advisory team. Career growth and changes may also necessitate updating your advisors, adding or replacing those you’ve outgrown or no longer provide the right background.

Here are some key considerations as you build your leadership advisory team:

Get Your House in Order First

One of the most essential skills to develop as a leader is realizing and acknowledging that most leaders can’t be effective without help. This may seem like an obvious statement, but in many organizations and cultures, individual achievement is celebrated to the point that seeking help is viewed as a sign of weakness.

This is misguided thinking. Just as you strive to assemble complementary and multidisciplinary skill sets in endeavors from building a tech team to constructing a house, so too should you realize the benefits of having strong advisors to support your leadership.

Similarly, an ineffective or troubled individual won’t be successful without addressing their struggles, usually through external intervention. If you find yourself overwhelmed with challenges in your personal or working life (or both), focus on improving your condition as the first step in improving your leadership.

External advisors that range from coaches to mental health and wellness professionals should be part of your advisory team. You’d likely be surprised to discover that most leaders regularly employ these resources and, rather than a sign of weakness, use them as a tool to build strength. Oddly, no one would think poorly of a professional athlete who uses coaches to improve their game. Yet, there’s still an unfortunate taboo in the business landscape around using coaches, psychologists, or spiritual advisors to improve your “game,” which happens to be high-performance leadership.

Don’t be Afraid to go External

Technical advice is a crucial element of an effective advisory team, which may seem contradictory for individuals who are supposed to be leading technology teams and presumably already “experts” in that field. However, technical advice includes both technology and other domains where specific experience is often required.

Your advisory team might include a colleague in marketing that’s an expert in consumer trends and helps you understand which technologies can help accommodate those trends. You might also have an advisor from your finance team that can help you build compelling business cases and understand the various sources of financing for technology projects.

However, it’s unlikely that you’ll find all the technical expertise you need to be effective within the walls of your organization. You’d likely be surprised how much external technical expertise is available. For example, BairesDev’s engineering teams are highly skilled in their respective disciplines. They can’t only help with implementation but guide your technology strategy both informally and through a formalized engagement.

External experts are usually more aware of industry and technology trends and how other industries are applying them. Companies like BairesDev and others are happy to share this expertise since it’s mutually beneficial. When done well, earning a spot on your advisory team is a special relationship that benefits both parties.

Avoid “Yes Men”

There are few risks to developing an advisory team, but the most fraught is creating a team of “yes men” that validates your every thought and decision and never offers a challenge or competing idea. Your advisory team should be a place where you can safely “test” new strategies or initiatives and identify areas of pushback or confusion early.

This requires a leader willing to thoughtfully accept negative feedback and use the opportunity to create an even better version of the concept. If you find that your advisory team always agrees and rarely pushes back, first check your interactions with your advisors. If there’s a lack of trust or concern that pushback will be met with resistance or even punitive action, you’re likely the cause of creating a team of “yes men.”

This can also occur if you’re not challenging your advisory team by bringing them your most difficult challenges, particularly those most likely to benefit from various viewpoints and backgrounds.

Install Updates when Appropriate

Just as your devices and applications require routine updates, so too does your advisory team. Your leadership challenges may evolve, necessitating modifications to the team. For example, an organizational focus on mitigating supply chain challenges might require the engagement of external supply chain experts.

Your evolution as a leader should also trigger occasional updates to your advisory team. Perhaps you’ve been focusing on time management and honed several practices into an art form, and it’s time to transition to global leadership. These changes can be complicated since they may involve de-emphasizing a trusted advisor and moving on from a hard-won skillset. 

However, if you want to continue to grow, it will likely require replacing great advisors with other great advisors with different backgrounds or competencies. While easier said than done, don’t allow personal relationships or familiarity to let your advisory team grow stale.

Building an advisory team probably isn’t part of your job description or activity that you focus on every day. However, taking the time to carefully assemble and regularly engage a set of trusted advisors will pay immediate and long-term dividends. Engaging diverse expertise, backgrounds, and capabilities will make you a much stronger leader and lift your game by associating with such a capable group.

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