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OK, So Your Team Is Aligned

Now make sure it’s working on the things that really matter.
Executive team priorities
illustration by Todd Detwiler

Even the best senior management teams struggle to allocate their time wisely: A 2011 McKinsey & Company survey found that only 35 percent of executives think their top team’s time is properly allocated to core C-suite functions, and just 38 percent thought their executive teams focus on work that merits their perspective.

We asked executive-team expert Ron Ashkenas of Schaffer Consulting how executives can improve on those figures. He tells Build that a top team’s focus should be narrow: long-term strategy, resource allocation, hiring and development processes, and corporate governance. Some executives, such as the CFO and COO, have plenty of operational nitty-gritty to deal with, but they should do so on their own time, so to speak, versus in the context of their roles as top team members.

Ashkenas and leadership consultant Michael O’Brien of the O’Brien Group offer these strategies for keeping executive meetings focused.

1. Drop old habits.
Ashkenas (@rashkenas) challenges his executive clients to imagine completely losing one workday a week. Which duties would they drop or delegate? This exercise forces each executive to reprioritize his or her daily duties and helps ensure that C-level meetings focus on critical work only.

2. Set boundaries.
Every C-level meeting should have a clear agenda and goals, O’Brien says. Even time for debate should be scheduled, with minutes allotted to each exec. To rein in blabbermouths, appoint a facilitator to shut down chatter, or give every team member conversational veto power.

3. Give information a purpose.
Every agenda item should result in one of two outcomes, O’Brien says: a decision made or a problem solved. If a team member brings a report to the meeting, it must play into achieving one of those two goals. That means no more pro forma updates.

#topteam

THE PLUS

Of course, determining which issues merit the collective brainpower of the C-suite versus being solely in the domain of an individual exec is not easy. For a useful counterpoint, consider Booz & Company senior partner Jon R. Katzenbach’s classic Harvard Business Review article, “The Myth of the Top Management Team.” In it, he provides three litmus tests to help you decide whether any given task should fall under the C-suite’s collective purview. One example: Will the situation at hand require different leaders and different expertise at different points of the process? If so, Katzenbach says, it’s probably a job meant for the top team.

Comments

  1. From my experience in working with leaders, there are a number of reasons why they remain entrenched in operational details, instead of strategic, big picture items to pull company forward.

    One, they don’t have a compelling, specific vision that they are 100% committed to. Visions have to have “feet” to make them real and realized. Most company visions are weak and generic at best and therefore serve no purpose for organizing one’s daily activities.

    Second, leadership mindset is everything as it drives behavior and focus. If someone is “wired inside” with a dominant thinking style on present time and weak on future time (e.g..), they will stay in reactive mode to present time circumstances, not on the future priorities.

    Finally, in my work, when I find a leader still in the operational details, either they have not become a master delegator, lack trust in their next level of leaders to take care of details OR the C-level leader gets something out of it to stay in old behaviors and habits. We call it “secondary gains” which are below the radar screen of their conscious awareness. Eg., it gives them a sense of control or certainty that they may not experience with the big picture items.

    Trying to boil it down to a few new habits rarely works long term. Most people know what they need and want to do and, so often, fail in making it reality.

    Denise Corcoran
    http://www.empoweredbusiness.com

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OK, So Your Team Is Aligned

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