How To Tell If Your Executive Team Is Dysfunctional

Based on the themes that emerged from our 2014 research, review this list of executive team dysfunctional behaviours.  How many do you feel your executive team exhibits?

  • Silo thinking - the bane of many a chief executive.  This can be exhibited by a lack of sharing of information or little interest on company-wide activities that don’t impact the ‘silo thinker’.
  • Failing to act unless there’s a crisis - it can be easier for some to keep their head-in-the-sand, to delude themselves that if they ignore a problem it might magically disappear, but the reality is these problems can come-back to bite.
  • Uneven contribution - all team members have a tendency to ‘loaf’ in a group.  Meaning they don’t fully contribute on a topic that doesn’t engage them, if they feel their ‘loafing; won’t be observed.  Click here to read an article on this topic.
  • Lack of alignment to strategy - there can be many reasons why this occurs from it being perceived that a ‘fair process’ wasn’t followed when the strategy was designed (click here to read more about ‘fair process’) or dysfunctional behaviours triggered by personal fears (see our HBR article to read further, click this link).
  • Executives not speaking-up - and as a result of them not sharing their views the quality of decisions made by the executive team is likely to diminish.
  • Decisions that should be made in an executive team meeting being made 'outside the room'.
  • Focus on personal financial reward - otherwise know as greed.  D’Sousa argues that “Ambition civilises greed, just as marriage civilises lust.” 
  • Passive resistance - normally observed when team members make comments such as “tried that before” or “we don’t have time” or “isn’t XYZ a higher priority?”.  Nip this behaviour in the bud or the effectiveness of your top team will soon wane.
  • Poor behaviours - bad behaviours in the executive team are copied by others in the organisation.  They literally becomes contagious.
  • Finally, and I believe most importantly, a lack of open and honest conversations.  If you think about it without openness and honesty you will never have a high-performing top team.

Although you don't want an executive team that is totally harmonious, you do need to minimise such behaviours. Some chief executive let them continue until they hit the headlines:

“The report by former City minister Lord Myners says the group's (Co-Op’s) current board is ‘manifestly dysfunctional’.”
(BBC, 7th May 2014)

"Retailer Target lost its way under ousted CEO Gregg Steinhafel."
(Wall Street Journal, 23 June 2014 - apparently things got so bad for the chief executive that his key lieutenants stopped talking to him entirely!)

"New G4S boss blames former management for failures."
(The Telegraph (UK), 5 November 2013)

“Sanofi’s directors have ousted chief executive Chris Viehbacher in a dramatic denouncement to simmering tensions on the board of the Paris-based pharmaceuticals group.”
(Financial Times, 29 October 2014)

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