Success With the Team: The CEO’s Role

In my role as a CEO coach, I frequently engage with the CEO’s direct reports and guide them toward developing a highly functioning executive team. We meet numerous times, discuss important issues and practice the right behavior. However, the real work happens outside of our meetings. Here’s a closing memo I give to the CEOs of those teams. (If you want a great resource to build a highly functioning executive team, pick up Patrick Lencioni’s book “The Advantage.”)

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We worked on creating vulnerability-based trust. We talked about the need for healthy conflict (and had some). We talked about the need for participation and clarity to foster commitment. You and the rest of “team one” have given one another unvarnished feedback to develop accountability. We identified objectives for you to focus your team on results. 

But this is just the beginning.

An effective team isn’t developed in the initial work we did in the team effectiveness meetings I facilitated. It’s developed in the day-to-day work and interaction you have with your team. And the absolutely critical, most important factor in continued improvement is you. And you still have much work to do. 

Highly functioning leaderless teams are like sasquatch. Lots of people would like to see one, but they won’t. 

So what do you do in the coming months and years to achieve this? Here’s your punch list:

1. Hire right. Technical expertise is important, but emotional intelligence and alignment with your vision and purpose are more important.

2. Have effective meetings; they’re the cardiovascular system of your organization. We may have worked on “rules of engagement” together, but as a fallback, ensure that you use the following guidelines:

a. Have a stated purpose for all meetings.

b. Ensure that meetings have an identified leader or facilitator.

c. Mine for conflict. Encourage, hear and consider all facts and opinions. See silence as opposition.

d. End meetings with accountabilities identified (i.e., who does what by when).

e. Respect decisions after they’re made.

3. Continue the team accountability feedback sessions we had together, in which you and your teammates gave one another positive and constructive feedback and identified a follow-up process. If you don’t continue this, you’ll slide back to mediocrity. 

4. Answer the below seven questions clearly and compellingly and push them relentlessly in the organization.

a. What’s our purpose? You don’t create a purpose as much as you uncover it. Why was your company created? There was an underlying need that had to be addressed, and it’s a big deal. It entails making peoples’ lives better. It’s OK if your purpose is similar to other organizations’. My neighborhood church and hospital don’t offer the same services, but they may have the same purpose — saving lives. Do you think this is mushy bullshit? You’re dead wrong. By the way, your purpose isn’t an advertising campaign — it’s why you exist, and it’s why people want to work with you (or maybe they don’t …).

b. What are our values? The real ones. The two or three things that are visible in the behaviors of your best people.

c. Where are we going? This is your vision, and it’s the starting line for developing a sound strategy. It provides a compelling picture of the future for the troops.

d. What customers do we serve? Strategy question No. 1. You cannot be all things to all people, so which defined customer group or groups will you serve? What are their characteristics? Why are they different from other customers? Whom will you not focus on?

e. How will we win? Strategy question No. 2. There must be a reason people will buy your product or service over the competitions’. What is it? If you can’t answer this, you don’t really have a clear strategy. You’re also in danger!

f. What are our current priorities? There can only be a few, and they should be based on your answers to the three previous questions.

g. What’s our plan? Given your priorities, who does what by when? It must be documented, tracked and adjusted.

5. Your plan, well executed, must lead you to success. That means that you must have a scoreboard to monitor progress, make corrections and revise your plan as necessary.  You must ensure that there is a process in place to do this.

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