Executive “Team” or just a “Group”?

In my 20 plus years as a consultant, I have worked with dozens of executive teams. One interesting thing I discovered: many of those “teams” aren’t teams at all.

Most executive “teams” are a group of individual senior leaders who meet on a regular basis to battle each other for limited resources: funds, people, time, praise (that’s a topic for another blog), etc. They leave their meeting and evaluate how they did in the game: did I “win” today? Did I secure the resources I wanted and beat out my senior leader colleagues today? Each individual senior leader tracks his/her score and the game begins anew the next meeting (more accurately, the next day).

When companies using our proven culture change process are successful at creating their desired high performance, values-aligned organization, this single consistent best practice stands out: the executive team must be actively committed to the culture change and to each other. If the executive team does not act with “one voice, one heart, and one mind,” the culture effort is doomed from the start.

To unlock the potential of your organization’s executive team, consider these four best practices:

  1. Clear Purpose: The executive team must define it’s reason for being – beyond their relationship as direct reports of the president/CEO. The purpose statement clarifies why the team exists, who their primary customers are, and what they’re trying to accomplish as a team (provider of choice, employer of choice, etc.).
  2. Team Goals: What strategic goals is the executive team trying to accomplish? Clarifying executive team goals helps define what a good job looks like at the end of their fiscal year. Performance goals might include employee work passion targets, customer service excellence, financial success, etc.
  3. Values & Norms: Values defined in behavioral terms describe HOW team members should behave as they pursue their team goals. All effective teams create agreements around what a good citizen of the team looks/acts/sounds like. Values are typically too vague and lofty to guide day-to-day actions, so behavioral definitions solve that issue. Team norms emerge from the valued behaviors – norms are practical guidelines that ensure values are lived in team member interactions.
  4. Accountability: With the team’s purpose, goals, and values formalized, the most important practice comes into play: holding team members accountable for these agreements. Accountability is not the sole responsibility of the executive team’s leader (typically the president/CEO) – it is every team member’s responsibility. Accountability conversations are not drawn out conflicts – they are conversations that inquire about a valued behavior or norm, asking for insights about demonstrated behavior that seems to be outside those agreements. They are sincere efforts to understand behavior and guide members to embracing their agreements.

When these four agreements are in place, decision-making is easy. Executive team members easily understand their role in furthering the team’s purpose by cooperating, communicating, and focusing on the greater good.

Change your executive “group” to an aligned executive team and you’ll reap the benefits: less drama, less conflict, more aligned action, better productivity, and more fun!

Rank your executive group on it’s “degree of teaming” using a 1-5 scale. Share your experiences & scores in the comments section below.

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  • Thanks for the post Chris. In my experience, it’s o.k. if a leadership team decides it’s not a team but a working group. Changing the label eliminates undue pressure to be something they are not. However, if they are a team, but acting as a working group, there’s serious work to be done. I subscribe to Patrick Lencioni’s approach to building healthy leadership teams.

    • Thanks for your insights, Jeff!

      I work with leadership “teams” to help them change their organizational cultures. In that scenario, the group approach won’t get them the results they desire.

      They need to be a team with “one heart, one mind, one voice” – or culture traction won’t happen.



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