Your management team – back to the drawing board
Updated: Jul 13, 2021
Imagine a study that examined critical success factors in management teams.
Then imagine that the study looked at 120 top-level management teams from eleven different countries, where every team and individual member were exhaustively measured with quantitative and qualitative methods. For example using interviews, surveys and observations of the dynamics in every team.
If you are intrigued about what such a study would reveal I’m pleased to report it has, in fact, been carried out. In this and a future blog post I’m going to reflect on the study’s findings. The article that describes the study is headlined ‘What every CEO wants to know: Six conditions to create an effective top team’. You might be led to believe by the title that the article is only really interesting for CEOs, but it is not. It is relevant to anyone who is part of a management team in the private and public sector, as well as to civil society actors.
The first question you really need to ask yourself at the drawing board is: do you want a management team? If the answer is yes, then do you need one or more teams and what purpose should each one fulfil? If you arrive at the conclusion that you need more than one team you need to consider how they ought to interact with one another – an issue I will return to after we have examined the question of purpose.
My experience of management teams that engage consulting support is that they have almost never discussed the team's fundamental purpose properly. Instead members have more or less intuitive (and often different) views on why the team exists. At meetings they do the best they can. As a consequence of the unclear purpose of the team, however, a mixed bag of items is being discussed in the meetings. They range from strategic ones to nitty-gritties as well as some concerning everyone in the room, others only one or a handful of members.
The issue of purpose is addressed in several places throughout the article. One research finding is that in some management teams no distinction had been made between the team’s purpose and the organisation's purpose. This is very much in line with my own experience. One participant in the article is quoted as saying: “So what we do as a team is really, really important. It's going to be enormously difficult to accomplish it. If only we knew what it was!"
Why not conduct the following experiment with your management team. Give all members a Post-it note and ask them to describe in one sentence what they think the management team's purpose is. Then put all the notes on a whiteboard and discuss to what degree there is alignment. You’ll need to give yourself plenty of time for this exercise – in my experience it can take up to 90 minutes to reach a consensus.
Let’s now get back to the question of how teams ought to relate to each other. When you begin to explore the issue of purpose there might emerge a need for additional meetings. Questions to ask in such a discussion concern the extent to which the meeting structure is relevant in relation to the needs of the organisation and its operations. What roles need to be represented in which meetings? In which teams do what responsibilities and mandates lie? What processes are needed in the interfaces between teams?
I’m rounding off this reflection by saying that each individual issue is, in isolation, not particularly remarkable. What can be challenging, however, is the complexity that arises when connecting the questions together. On top of that, as I mentioned above, my experience is that answers to the question of purpose are usually more intuitive than based on any predetermined reasoning. People tend to try out their ideas and test their own way forward. It is important to nurture conversation, avoid point-scoring and keep any frustrations in check. If you succeed in doing this, you can walk away from the drawing board with something exciting to apply in your management team.
Reference: Palifka, S. (2007). What every CEO wants to know: Six conditions to create an effective top team. HCI white paper: Hay Group and Human Capital Institute.
If you want to read more, check out my free guide on building a successful management team.
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