Executive team is healthy and aligned as a First Team

Mastering the 'First Team' Principle: An Essential Guide for Leaders Serious About Scaling Their Business

by Chris Young - The Rainmaker

Scaling is not negotiable. Your business is scaling or it is not.

Business leaders, entrepreneurs, and those in the C-suite must pay attention. The 'First Team' concept from Patrick Lencioni's seminal work "The Five Dysfunctions of a Team" is revolutionary - it is a principle that works and MUST become habit if you and your team are serious about success.

Why is the First Team Concept so important? Because the quality of your executive team and the ALIGNMENT of their decisions does not merely influence results; it determines them.

Strict adherence to the 'First Team' concept alters trajectories for the company as well as the trajectory of every single team member that hard-codes adoption of this essential principle into their DNA. 

The Nuance of the 'First Team': A Profound Shift in Loyalty

Discard antiquated allegiances. Contrary to what may seem appropriate, your 'First Team' is NOT the team that reports to you nor your department; it is your executive nucleus. Lencioni proposes a radical mindset shift that quite frankly few are able to fathom. Your primary commitment shifts from functional roles to the executive assembly. According to Accenture, 68% of C-suite leaders frequently collaborate across functions, yet only 21% feel that their organization is "completely committed" to such cross-functional collaboration. This is a glaring misalignment that requires immediate correction in organizations large and small.

Dissecting the "First Team" Principle

At its core, Lencioni's "First Team" concept commands that leaders should extend their primary allegiance to the executive team rather than to the subdivisions they supervise. This perspective obliges one to regard the group of C-suite colleagues as a singular, united team that shoulders the responsibility for the company's overall well-being.

The Genesis of the "First Team"

Patrick Lencioni brought this notion into focus through his extensive work on team dynamics and organizational health. By insisting that executives view their principal duty as being to their peers on the leadership team, Lencioni postulates a revolutionary shift from traditional leadership norms. The implication here is unequivocal: Without a cohesive 'First Team,' any scaling aspirations you harbor are likely doomed to flounder.

A Calculated Sense of Urgency: The Window of Opportunity is Narrowing

The market does not wait for anyone. A study by McKinsey shows that organizations emphasizing the health of their leadership teams surpass their peers by 25% in profitability. Any delay is a loss, both financially and strategically. To hesitate is to lose opportunities that are essential for growth.

Fractal Complexity: A Revolutionary Model for Execution

Scaling a business is not a linear progression but a fractal. Treat your organization as a complex adaptive system. The 'First Team' concept thus becomes your operational fractal set. Every decision and strategy originates from this core team, influencing all aspects of the enterprise in a fractal pattern. Research from PWC indicates that 55% of executives identify a lack of internal alignment among top management as the main obstacle to achieving digital effectiveness. Align or risk stagnation. The choice is simple.

A First Team aligned to scale the business

Field-Tested Strategies

  1. Executive Offsites: Harvard Business Review advocates for quarterly strategic sessions among leadership teams. Move beyond mere operational reviews; these gatherings should function as think tanks. Intellectual collisions result in alignment. 

  2. Key Performance Indicators: Realign your key performance indicators to cascade from overarching organizational goals down to specific functional objectives. Gartner’s research states that 87% of corporate strategies fail due to poor execution, which is often linked to misaligned metrics. Address this issue urgently AND often.

  3. Accountability Mechanisms: Research from Accenture suggests that a lack of accountability at the leadership level costs companies an average of 5% of their total annual revenue. Dual evaluation systems are therefore a necessity. Measure performance based on function as well as impact on broader corporate milestones.

Iterative Agility: The Business Environment is in Constant Flux

Resting on your laurels is not an option. Commitment to the 'First Team' is not a one-time intervention; it is continuous and adaptive. The moment you believe you have "arrived," you have already lost your competitive edge. A survey by Deloitte indicates that nearly 90% of executives view organizational agility as crucial for business success. Agility is the offspring of alignment.

Adoption of the First Team Concept Can Be Challenging

It is completely normal to feel that transferring primary loyalty from the people we hired, fought through and won challenges with is tantamount to stabbing people we care about in the back. But it Is not. In fact, the 'First Team' concept is the ultimate act of loyalty and it must become the norm throughout your organization and viewed as professionally and ethically expected.

If you and / or your colleagues are finding it difficult to adopt the First Team Principle, it means you have work to do. I strongly recommend you and your team read The Five Dysfunctions of a Team as well as The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni soonest. I also strongly recommend a facilitated two-day retreat for your executive team to level-jump how they work together as a team (Five Dysfunctions of a Team Workshop). 

Conclusion: An Existential Imperative, Not a Mere Option

This is not a matter of choice; it is existential. Hope is not a strategy. If you expect to scale while minimizing drama, the alignment of your 'First Team' must be your cornerstone. Elevating the 'First Team' Principle is the next step. The clock is ticking, and the cost of inertia is a descent into obsolescence.

The 'First Team' concept from Patrick Lencioni himself...

Need more clarity regarding the 'First Team' concept? Check out this three minute video.