Executive Strategies: Who Is Your Executive Team Loyal To?

by Chris Young

executive strategyExecutive teams are usually made up of managers who also lead particular department teams such as Customer Service, Human Resources, Accounting, Manufacturing, Sales, etc.  Each manager spends the majority their time with the team they lead.  Managers become so close to their team and the team's goals that they sometimes forget that they are part of another team - the executive team.  Patrick Lencioni, in his book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, describes the executive team as "first teams."  

Think of it like this . . . If you had siblings when you were younger, you can probably relate to this example.  You are playing hide-and-seek outside with your younger brother and sister when they accidently knock over mom's flower pot while wrestling around.  You feel bad for them because it was an accident and do not want to tattle because they are your best friends and fear them getting in trouble.  However, loyalty to your parents and their belongings is more important than the bond with your siblings.  Your parents are your "first team."

The "first team" is the team where the loyalty of each management team member is most focused towards.  Your managers must be focused on the team they report to - not the people they lead.

At the executive team level - there can be only one priority - the success of the executive team and how it propels the company forward.  There can be no competing priorities - no personal agendas - only one unified focus.

Signs the Executive Team Is Not Committed to the "first team"

  • Managers are overly-defensive of their own teams.  You will hear, "My team...  My people..." more frequently than you should.
  • The existence of silos.  For example, the sales manager only talks about sales during an executive meeting.
  • Collective decision-making is minimal.  Individual and departmental goals and objectives are a major road block to the collective good of the company when it comes to decision-making.  
  • The existence of animosity between seperate teams or departments.  

Making the "first team" Priority

  1. Ask the executive team who they think is their "First Team?" Most will probably point to those they are closest with - the team they lead.  This is a great way to open the discussion about who their first team should be.  This is when you move to step 2.
  2. Have the executive team read The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.  The importance of making the "First Team" priority is greatly outlined by a narrative example in Patrick Lencioni's book.  Your team will probably relate to the example in the book.  Their reactions when you introduce who their "first team" should be will be similar to those in the book.  Having them relate to those in the book will help them feel comfortable about this concept.  If you really want to utilize the power behind Patrick Lencioni's Five Dysfunctions model, have your team complete the Five Dysfunction's workshop.
  3. Set timelines and expect "turbulence" as management team members realign their priority to the "first team."  Let your executive or management team know that within 30 days, you expect the first team concept to be fully-adhered to.
  4. Expect complete adherence to the first team and encourage team members to call out one another after 30 days.
  5. Expect your "first team" to need your direction and encourage your "first team" to enforce the code. Once commitment to the "first team" concept is made by the executive team each manager who deviates from loyalty to this "first team" will be quickly identified and must be called out.

The "first team" concept can be a powerful call-to-action and a powerful point of clarity to your team by providing a "due north" in terms of loyalty expectations.  In companies that I have seen the first team concept implemented, the results have been immediate and the clarity provided to the balance of the company has been energizing.

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