Keith R Szewczyk

Executive Team Building…Not So Easy

In General Topics on February 5, 2011 at 7:13 pm

by: Keith R. Szewczyk

We all know the basis of team building as documented by Bruce Tuckman’s 4 stages to team building Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing. Executive team building follows this same format, however with a lot more variables that are intensified. Executive teams are continuously scrutinized for their decisions by some and praised for the same decisions by others. They are required to lead an organization and deliver profitability by the shareholders. They are given the responsibility to provide to the most critical asset of the organization (the people) a strategic direction, a vision, a healthy environment of growth, a culture and community of trust, and most importantly lead by example. To say the least an executive team at any organization has a lot of pressure and a lot of challenges, where their behaviors and actions are watched by everyone daily.

Executives are highly motivated, type-A personalities, who have in general had success in their career that created a lot of value for their past organizations (or maybe even, as odd as it is today, the same organization). An executive team is very diversified, if by any other means by areas of functional expertise, but in most cases by personality traits. Add another complication in today’s environment, the mix of Baby Boomer executives and the Generation X executives collaborating together on these teams. We can derive quickly that executive team building is a very complex system problem that has to be balanced.

At the beginning of the formation of the team (Stage 1 Forming) the executive team leader has a lot of successful characteristics that play in their favor. For example, once the team has been selected and the leader’s “what” strategy has been provided, the team has a natural commitment to the overall plan as they define the “how” of the mission.

The next stage (Stage 2 Storming) is where all the intensified variables (some stated above) start to play a factor to the success of the team. The major issues that need to be addressed by this team begin to arise and the priorities must be addressed. Conflict is critical to challenging the correct decisions, but adds strain in the team building at this stage.

Executive teams tend to come to agreement on committed objectives that address the issues as the team has defined to be critical for the success of the mission (Stage 3 Norming). From this point forward the team will be challenged as some member’s inputs, though may be valid, will not drive the overall team’s agenda. How the team moves forward from this stage plays a big part in the team’s success or failure.

High performing executive teams (Stage 4 Performing) only succeed if the team members develop relationships that are common with everyone. The key success factor in any executive team is trust. Trust is not something that one is given from day 1, but has to be developed over time through experiences that prove out the trust. At the beginning of any relationship the functional expertise or core competency trust is given a higher level based on the team’s acceptance of this member to lead that functional area, but will be challenged to prove it along the journey.  The individual trust is given a neutral or zero point to the team member by everyone. You either gain it or lose it.

Building your individual trust within the executive team or your direct leadership team should not be underestimated. The following are key approaches to individual trust building that I believe in and practice on a daily basis:

  • Prove your commitment – Hold yourself accountable “walk the talk” and deliver what you commit to.
  • Build open relationships – Be approachable, communicate openly, and most important listen, listen, listen.
  • Be humble – Conflict is healthy and is a must to iron out real issues, but be humble when you are wrong or the team decides to take a different approach. Have a short-term memory and move on to support the effort.
  • Provide feedback – Positive and negative feedback allows data points to the success or failures of any activity. Feedback shows openness to building a deep relationship.

Please share your experiences and beliefs to building individual trust and successful executive teams.


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