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  • Writer's pictureMichael Soderling

Your management team – make it operative

Updated: Jul 13, 2021

Do you know who is a member of your management team? Are you sure?

Let’s continue digging out the gold nuggets from the article ‘What every CEO wants to know: Six conditions to create an effective top team’ that I reviewed here. The article reasons that an effective management team is interdependent, stable and bounded.

The first two suggestions probably come as little surprise to anyone who has ever looked into what constitutes a successful team. When it comes, however, to being bounded, the article produces a particularly interesting finding that in only eleven per cent of management teams, members shared the same opinion about who was actually part of the team. The article contains one revealing example that describes a CEO who stated that his management team was made up of eleven members. But when the other ten members were asked the same question, their answers ranged from 7 to 84. I see the same phenomenon myself from time to time. In my experience this uncertainty surrounding membership mostly concerns support functions such as HR and controlling. If this example feels a little too academic we can use the analogy of a football team. How would the team's ability to perform be affected if the team members didn’t even know who belonged to the team?

Speaking of those 84 members, I have sometimes encountered the phenomenon of extended management teams, in which all the managers in an organisation are included. This might be an excellent arrangement, as long as purpose and mandate are clear to all.

With regards to staffing, the article states that highly effective management teams are made up of individuals who can contribute to the team's purpose. In other words, there is nothing that dictates that the management team ought to consist of the CEO’s direct reports. In the article a CEO put one success factor of his company down to him making tough decisions about who should be part of his management team. The article goes on to say that the top performing management teams include people with the ability to see their part in the whole, who also are naturally collaborative and who can appreciate other people's perspectives. These findings may border on the obvious and be things that everyone would agree on. But if we want an idea of ​​how a team really works we shouldn’t just listen to what individual philosophies members have about the team. We should look instead at what team members actually do. What do you really do in your management team? There have been many times I’ve had to bite my lip as I listened to a team describing themselves as having “an allowing and exploring climate ", when the only thing they produced was a lot of yes, but-communication.

My point (just to avoid any misunderstandings) is not that members should always agree with everything that is being said. As the article points out, healthy debate is equally needed. If members of your management team are good at advocating their cases but could possibly be better at listening to one another, here are four tips you might find useful.

Another factor linked to communication that the study suggests sets top performing teams apart is the existence of norms. Only the top performing management teams had established clear norms and adhered to them. I can add to that by suggesting that if you also regularly evaluate your meetings it becomes much easier to practice what you preach.

One of the experts who conducted the study highlights the fact that the person developing the management team shouldn’t be a member of it. This is because it is difficult to both participate from within and lead the development process from the outside. Given the mysterious forces that can exist in any team this seems to be a reasonable conclusion, particularly if you really want to make your management team operative.


Reference: Palifka, S. (2007). What every CEO wants to know: Six conditions to create an effective top team. HCI white paper: Hay and Human Capital Institute.


If you want to read more, check out my free guide on building a successful management team.


The clients who reach out to me are managing directors, management teams, and executives who want to realise the potential in their organisations and accomplish extraordinary results. They reach out to me because of my ability to transform individuals, teams, and organisations.

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