CEOs Need Strong Executive Teams

For all the responsibilities CEOs carry, their most important asset is the team they put around them, and you shouldn’t underestimate the importance of the executive team. With the level of change today from constant technology advancements to changing workplace expectations, no single person, no matter how talented you may be, can handle business transformation on their own, CEOs need strong executive teams.

In a recent Korn Ferry study, just 24% of leadership teams they reviewed were termed “outstanding.” Putting together a high performing team is required, “to resolve complex dilemmas, manage paradox, and explore multiple alternatives, ultimately building a commitment to new strategic initiatives across the organization and increasing its adaptability to the constantly changing business environment.”

Fortunately, this challenge has had more focus paid to it recently, uncovering insights into what makes top teams click. Based on their research, Korn Ferry put together their Top Team Performance Model that brings to light six elements that can improve your executive team.  

The model looks first at your business strategy to help with team formation, management, and evolution. By understanding the business challenges, you can better define the type of skills, both soft and hard, that the team needs. It also helps as you create a purpose and outline accountabilities. One of the most important parts of the model is the need for process and norms to guide interactions and facilitate a collaborative environment of openness, empathy, and trust. 

1. A clear compelling purpose for the executive team

While CEOs often consider the purpose and mission of the company, they don’t always consider the purpose and mission of the executive team. By creating and defining a compelling purpose for the team, they can help prevent people getting caught up in the executional aspects of initiatives. By ensuring the team is focused on the future and responsible for how to get there, they can’t over invest their time in current tactics, thereby becoming highly paid, operationally focused managers.

2. The right people

When constructing the executive team, the CEO must be aggressively efficient. Creating a big team for the sake of having a big team can backfire when trying to make the best decisions for the company. It can be hard to put some people on the team and keep others off, but it is about purposeful fit for the business. Additionally, the team must be able to debate ideas without feeling attacked. Expecting everything to be smooth all the time is naive. Healthy exchanges should be expected and encouraged.

According to the report, “CEOs need to ensure they get the right people on their team and leave the wrong ones off of it. This means choosing people who can take an enterprise perspective and who are willing and able to put things on the table that impact the entire business—people who can hear others’ concerns and have the integrity to stand by decisions that the team makes.”

3. A disciplined process

Process, even in the C-suite is a critical element of success. In fact, a proven set of tools and frameworks are even more valuable. With these defined, there is more clarity around the ‘how’ so executives can focus on the ‘why’, allowing them to spend more time on strategy. From meeting etiquette, including setting a purpose, creating the agenda, and providing materials in advance so people can come prepared, to bonus compensation plans that are fair and balanced, the CEO must be thoughtful in creating a disciplined process.

4. Norms for productive relationships

One area that CEOs can do a better job on is outlining to the executive team the expected norms for productive relationships. Much like company culture, norms form regardless of any intention. And most likely, if you’re not setting the intention, the norms that develop are not going to mirror the behaviors you’d like to see from your executives. In fact, Korn Ferry found that norms are the second largest differentiator for top team performance.

Per the report, “Outstanding teams have clear rules of engagement for how the members deal with each other inside and outside of meetings…(yet) CEOs often do not realize the full impact that norms can have. This is the case when they don’t take the time to describe what it means to be a senior executive at the highest level of the company and the behavior expected from those in that role, regardless of with whom they are interacting, both within and outside the company.”

5. Continuous development

As with any endeavor, success will not happen overnight, nor is it a one-time event. Teams are comprised of people, which means they are constantly evolving and maturing. A team that has been working together for years is going to operate differently than teams that are newly formed. It also means that there will be peaks and valleys. Knowing how to get back on track after a setback (which is going to happen) is important. A recommended tactic to solve for this is to consider coaching for the entire team, not just at the individual level.

6. Team leadership

The buck starts and stops with the CEO. Whether you realize it or not, your team, and the company as a whole, is a reflection of you. If you are providing high quality leadership, you are setting an example for others to follow. The more you invest in improving yourself, by default, the more you’re investing in the company.

If you have any questions on how you can improve your leadership team, send us a note. Our executive recruiters work with boards, CEOs, and CHROs across industries and company sizes and can support your hiring and training needs.