We learn most from those we work with. They make us the leaders we are. But what makes an effective team? Here is a list inspired by Peter Drucker’s eight practices for executives.
What makes an effective executive team
Great executive teams may be aggressive or conservative, intuitive or calculating, conflicted or harmonious. But every effective executive team follows eight practices:
- The team members ask each other “How can I support you?”
- The team members hold each other accountable, while also allowing each one to show vulnerability.
- The team practices open and authentic communication.
- The team arrives at key decisions together through discussion, debate, and synthesis.
- The team has fun.
- The team members see success of the whole team as the best form of success.
- The team operates at a strategic level and empowers the organization around them to make and execute operational decisions.
- Each team member builds their own teams following these principles.
There is an implicit characteristic number zero (which should be self-evident): 0. Each team member individually follows Drucker’s eight practices for effective executives.
Observations and explanations
Item 1: The team members ask each other “How can I support you?”
In a great executive team, all executives help each other, and they engage in the broad management of the business. Not just in their own area of responsibility. This cannot happen if there is a team member with a supersized ego. So by defining this practice, we are also saying no thanks to people with egos too big to fit inside an effective team.
Item 2: The team members hold each other accountable, while also allowing each one to show vulnerability.
There is a virtuous circle of good and vicious circle in the opposite scenario. When each team member does their job, trust emerges between team members. When there is trust, you can admit and show your vulnerabilities and weaknesses. When you can admit your weaknesses, you are also bound to improve. When this happens, you do your job better and more trust ensues.
Item 3: The team practices open and authentic communication
Practicing open and authentic communication should happen both inside the team and outside it.
Item 4: The team arrives at key decisions together through discussion, debate, and synthesis.
How a team arrives at key decisions is a very important issue. As for non-key decisions, they can be made individually or at a lower level in the organization.
Arriving at a decision “together” means that everyone will be heard, dissent will be encouraged and pros will be weighed against cons. But it does not mean that it is a democratic decision or a decision by consensus. At the end of any decision-making process in a corporation, there will be a single responsible decision-maker. Many times, but not always, it is the CEO, who will have to make the final call. During the process, they will engage the whole team and build up better insights, common understanding, and broad commitment, no matter what the ultimate decision will be. Many times in such an open decision-making process, new ideas emerge that shape the ultimate decision.
Item 5: The team has fun
Fun means genuine fun, not superficial fun. Fun doesn’t require expense, great surroundings, food, or wine. At the end of the day they are not vital for having fun. They only add luster to something that it is fun by itself. Fun happens when human beings interact on a plane deeper than what they are used to or what they expected.
Item 6: The team members see success of the whole team as the best form of success
It takes a lot to get a team in a condition where overall success is more rewarding than success of any given individual. But when it happens, it is an amazing feeling for all involved and for all who are observing the work. The team can now excel and produce amazing results.
Item 7: The team operates at a strategic level and empowers the organization around them to make and execute operational decisions.
Teams need to not micromanage the world around them, but to build layers of managers and teams that can run the show.
Item 8: Each team member builds their own teams following these principles
When the same principles are held to in the whole organization, it becomes a culture and way of working.
Rewards are high
Building a team is challenging, but also incredibly rewarding.
My hope is that these practices can be useful to those who build executive teams. I have seen, participated in and built a number of executive teams in my career and know firsthand the boost a company gets from having an effective executive team. I am very eager to hear comments and suggestions for improvements on this model. Please post them as responses below, or send them to email@example.com.