The CEO Imperative: Building a Cohesive Senior Team

Building a Senior Management Team

When building a senior management team, CEOs oftentimes discover that the primary impediment to the growth of their companies during the expansion stage isn’t an external factor, but rather the company’s founders themselves.

At the startup stage, it’s much easier to manage growth. CEOs don’t have to worry about managing massive teams, aggressive recruiting campaigns, or the building of processes and systems around the temperaments and skills of a thronging workforce.  But once these companies hit the expansion stage and the doors of possibility bust open, all hell breaks loose.

In a memorable conversation with one of our CEOs, I used the analogy of King Arthur’s Round Table. “Imagine that you’re King Arthur,” I said. “You have a bunch of chairs around the table, and only four are occupied.  One of your current knights isn’t really qualified to be at the table.  You and your two other qualified knights are in effect carrying the weight of 4 or 5 other senior managers that need to be there.  So let’s focus your efforts over the next 12 months on filling the right seats with the right knights.”

Twelve months later, he filled six seats with highly qualified and committed senior managers.

His next challenge was building team cohesion. The team is there, seated around the table — now they require the guidance only a CEO can give.

One of the best resources you can use to solve this quandary is Patrick Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.  In his book, Lencioni leads you through the five dysfunctions that, contrary to conventional belief, can be identified and amended in order to create an outstanding senior management team unhindered by the pitfalls that affect so many other, less capable organizations.

The five dysfunctions are as follows:

1. Absence of Trust

Without a certain level of comfort among team members, a foundation of trust is impossible to build.  In order for team members to feel secure in their insecurities enough to share with others, they have to trust one another.  Subtracting trust from the equation leaves you with a cluster of closed mouths, all with something to hide.

2. Fear of Conflict

Without trust, dissenting voices are squelched, opinions are held back, and healthy debate—necessary to the decision-making process—is tabled.  Unaddressed team conflict then poisons the water, leading to whispered conversations and quiet judgments.

3. Lack of Commitment

When a team is discomfited enough not to air grievances and valid opinions, direction and commitment are then lost.  Decisions become ambiguous, and the ambiguity—paired with inaction—can make for disgruntled employees.  Expect the highest performers to feel the brunt of this dysfunction, for all their hard work and skill has sifted through careless fingers like sand.

4. Avoidance of Accountability

Now that direction and commitment have been flushed, there’s no roadmap.  Even the most driven and hardworking employee, feeling as though a team member has engaged in counterproductive measures, hesitates to call them out on their actions.  What’s the point?  Nobody knows where they’re going anyway.

5. Inattention to Results

Selfish needs—such as ego, career development, and personal recognition—replace the collective goals of a team in the absence of accountability.  When every man is thinking only of themselves, no one considers the business, and the business ultimately fails.

Acknowledging the flaws inherent to many teams is the first step towards fixing them.

It’s also recommended that CEOs undergo the Winning Mind training to build team cohesion. Winning Mind is an organization that has crafted a stellar performance enhancement system composed of six steps:

  • mental strength assessment
  • feedback and validation
  • performance under pressure primer
  • performance improvement identification
  • strategy program development
  • and act, react, and revise.

OpenView engaged with the Winning Mind training and found it enormously helpful to our team cohesion and execution.

Team cohesion requires a fundamental and shared goal—the centerpiece of King Arthur’s table, if you will.  This goal is the company’s collective aspirations, which are composed of the company’s mission, values and priorities.  Lencioni reenters the picture with another piece of required reading: The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive.

Here are the four obsessions of an extraordinary executive:

1. Build and Maintain a Cohesive Leadership Team

Lencioni asks you to take the five dysfunctions listed above and flip them around.  Cohesive leadership teams trust one another, engage in constructive conflict, are committal to group decisions, and hold one another accountable for individual actions and thought processes.

2. Create Organizational Clarity

A transparent organization allows its workers to clearly delineate its goals and structure.  Once you’ve established your values, goals, strategies and roles and responsibilities, make them well known and readily available.

3. Over-Communicate Organizational Clarity

Rinse, wash, repeat.  Healthy organizations reemphasize and comprehensively communicate the group’s shared passions on a regular basis—there’s always room for improvement; always an aspect that could use elaboration.

4. Reinforce Organizational Clarity through Human Systems

It’s one thing to nail down an organization’s cohesiveness—it’s another to see it in action.  Structure decision-making, evaluate job candidates, manage performance and, most of all, reward employees for their dedication to the common cause.  Physical examples of a concept are simultaneously the most obvious and subtle of motivational forces.

Once OpenView underwent these vital steps towards building a cohesive senior team, we personified our efforts with a forum entitled the Extraordinary Execution Forum.  The goal of the forum was to facilitate a process for senior teams to engage in a thoughtful debate about their company aspirations and to translate them into clear strategies and executable goals.

By transforming our newfound understanding of team cohesiveness into a public embodiment, I believe we really drove the point home: we all have a seat at King Arthur’s table, and none are more important than the others.

The Chief Executive Officer

Firas was previously a venture capitalist at Openview. He has returned to his operational roots and now works as The Chief Executive Officer of Everteam and is also the Founder of nsquared advisory. Previously, he helped launch a VC fund, start and grow a successful software company and also served time as an obscenely expensive consultant, where he helped multi-billion-dollar companies get their operations back on track.
You might also like ...
Finance & Operations
Everything You Should Know About Bootstrapping vs. Raising Money

It’s not an easy decision, but most important ones in life aren’t.

by Ariel Winton
Product
The Recession Planning Framework for SaaS Startups

We hope this framework makes planning during this uncertain time feel less like summoning a crystal ball and more like navigating with a map.

by Blake Bartlett
Finance & Operations
These Cost-Reduction Strategies Aren't Easy, But They Could Save Your Business

In this environment, it doesn’t matter if you’re the CEO of a startup or a well-established company—you’re going to have to make some difficult choices that will probably keep you up at night.

by George Roberts