A Model for Transforming the Executive Leadership Team

The Executive Leadership Team (ELT), typically consisting of the CEO, CFO, COO, CPO, CMO, CRO, CTO, and other CXOs, should be the most important team in the company. Why is it then that the ELT is often:

"The worst performing team in the whole company!"

The answer is that most Executive Leadership Teams are not structured as a team but rather as a workgroup. A team's success is dependent on the collaboration of each member of the team towards a shared goal. In short,

"Nobody wins unless everybody wins!"

In a workgroup, each member focuses on their silo of responsibility and measures success in terms of their own KPIs or OKRs. In a workgroup, each member reports to the CEO but is competing for attention and resources. This structure results in little or no collaboration and can promote a culture of internal competition and distrust.

A High-Performing Executive Leadership Team

“I think I have a job for you", he said.
"I have taken on a new CEO role, and I need my disconnected ELT to present to the board with one voice and help turn this company around”.

This is not the first time I have received the call to transform a C-level workgroup into a high-performing Executive Leadership Team. In my experience, in a high-performing ELT, each team member practices self-leadership and executive presence. This results in psychological safety for each team member to input ideas and for the team to engage in critical thinking, robust decision-making, and effective execution.

The high-performing ELT demonstrates ownership and accountability and has a clear identity as the guardians of the company culture. Such an ELT will positively impact a company's financial, human, and social performance.

The challenge is to create this team, from senior leaders who may have been previously and unwittingly rewarded for their non-collaborative behavior.

The One Voice ELT Model

At the risk of sharing all of my insights from working with ELTs to be collaborative and high-performing, here is an overview of my One Voice ELT Model (TM).

The Code

When a team is first formed, there is a fair amount of storming, before the norms of behavior are established and members can begin to perform. In my 2012 book, Self Leadership: How to Become a More Successful, Efficient and Effective Leader from The Inside Out (McGraw Hill) I described a process of each member taking ownership of their behaviors and holding members accountable to agreed 'above the line' behaviors.

An effective high-performing team has a 'Code' of behavior and everyone knows to call out the 'below the line behaviors'. 

The successful All Blacks Rugby team capture the code with the mantra:

"Nobody is more important than the jersey."

The Arena

With the code in place, team members experience the psychological safety of being authentic and vulnerable. There is no place for masks and facades in a high-performing team. Paradoxically when team members can share their challenges and struggles, the team is stronger because each member can give and receive support from each other, without fear of embarrassment.

When the arena is established communication occurs at a higher level, misunderstandings are cleared up, and collaboration is the norm.

The Catalyst

 The psychologist, Carl Jung said,

"The meeting of two persons is like the meeting of two chemical substances; if there is any interaction both are transformed."

And the German word, Gestalt, which means the whole is greater than the sum of the individual parts, describes the power of a team coming together. You have probably experienced the catalyst when you have been in a meeting where ideas can be pitched, and each idea is considered and built upon and no ideas are rejected out of hand. 

Sometimes this catalyst environment happens organically, but when transforming a workgroup into a high-performing ELT, it must be demonstrated, facilitated, and reinforced.

As team members learn and appreciate their differences and strengths, their collective input is multiplied.

The Multiplier

"If I were to ask each member of the ELT, what is the company culture, they would struggle to answer,” said the Chief People Officer of one of my former clients. 

A fish rots from the head and divisions within the ELT will destroy any chance of an aligned and cohesive culture. The opposite is also true, as the ELT comes together as a team, their mission is to live and breathe the company culture, and the effect is to multiply these aligned behaviors throughout the company.

The System

Leadership is a process, and it is possible to analyze a process to improve efficiency and effectiveness.

  • When to meet, how to meet?
  • Who makes what decisions, and how will decisions be made?
  • What are we communicating and how are we communicating with our stakeholders?

These are just some of the questions that can lead to developing a Leadership Operating System (L.O.S.) for the ELT. A Leadership Operating System allows the ELT to scale by focusing on the things that matter and minimizing conflicts and miscommunication.

Investing the time to step back and objectively review how the ELT is operating produces results that could not be imagined by a dysfunctional team.

In Summary - One Voice

Transforming an ELT workgroup into a high-performing team requires an experienced leadership facilitator, coach, and mentor, who can co-create with the ELT to present with One Voice.

It has been my privilege and honor to work with some amazing leaders and companies over the years, and if you would like to discuss collaborating, please book a video call here.






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