Reimagining Your Leadership Team

An executive team or leadership team (I'm going to use the phrases interchangeably) makes perfect sense. Each of the members represents a key leader of an important segment of the firm. Often that looks like this:

  • All the Partners
  • Finance/Operations
  • Client Relationships
  • Marketing
  • Sales
  • Research/Strategy/UX
  • Creative Direction or Technical Lead or Media...

Besides gathering all these people together for an update, you are trying to make decisions that have the appropriate input from the various segments of the firm. Another added benefit is that these are usually the same people who answer to you, and so it simplifies your management responsibilities.

In spite of those obvious benefits, they are dysfunctional in maybe one-half of the firms I see:

  • It's where decisions can go to die. Someone throws a suggestion over that wall and everyone "decides it to death" until the crisis has passed or the actual decision is so tortured that those who are most affected just shake their heads.
  • It turns into more of a social club where it's easy to be left out. It's fun but inefficient. You don't want to miss it, but it also interrupts your productivity.
  • Someone is a member of the team because you don't want the tension that would come from excluding them, even though they seldom contribute much.

So, what might you do to reimagine your team? Here are a few suggestions to try:

  • Big decisions come with a FAQ. Remember the psychological component to communication. After you've hashed things to death behind closed doors, you are pretty much done with the topic and you just drop the announcement on the plebes, expecting them to accept it. But a whole lot of nuance surfaced in your discussion, and they don't have the benefit of hearing how you thought through the various impacts.
  • Membership is ruthless. Minority partners should not necessarily be included. Nobody attends regularly unless they also contribute meaningfully. There are no honorary members.
  • Membership expires. Well, maybe the key principal or principals aren't in that category, but everyone else is on the team for one year or less, subject to renewal. To keep the overall size manageable, have rotating seats where certain departments move in and out of the group.
  • Decisions are provisional. Every decision is a test, meaning that you "try it on" and are open to how it works, with the option to then make it permanent. You can look pretty stupid by not understanding the unintended consequences of a closed door decision. We want to all work from home? We want to drop timekeeping? Everything goes through a trial period so that we can learn more before it becomes permanent.
  • Use small working groups. Don't make everyone on the entire team show up to discuss and move every decision forward. Use small, nimble sub-teams wherever you can, and they don't need to be made up of the larger executive team.
  • Train leadership by including guest members. If someone is being groomed for a leadership position, bring them into the group for a three- or six-month period. Help them find their voice, develop a presence, and absorb the individual strengths and weaknesses of each team member.
  • Be agenda-led. Meetings are automatically canceled if an agenda is not distributed 24 hours in advance. Regular meetings also start on time, regardless of whether everyone is there, and they never last for more than one hour.
  • Seek unadulterated inputs. Big decisions require that each member bring a written paragraph of their perspective on the matter to the meeting and put it in a basket, ensuring two things: that folks who don't think on their feet like the others are afforded the time to craft their perspective, and that there's no undue influence by the more persuasive members of the team who sway the group. Any member can change their perspective after they hear better arguments, but that shouldn't happen until they've formed their own perspective, first.

One last thing. If you're running this place, don't seek consensus because consensus isn't how brave organizations are run. Instead, seek all the relevant information...before you make a decision...that is provisionally applied.

  • Secret Tradecraft of Elite Advisors

    Secret Tradecraft of Elite Advisors

    Covert Techniques For A Remarkable Practice

    Buy Now