Most business leaders are on two teams, the team they’re on and the team they lead for the team they’re on. For example, many top-level business leaders are members of their company’s senior leadership team and lead one of their company’s key business functions (e.g., Sales, Marketing, Manufacturing, Finance, etc). This very common structure can cause split loyalties and confusion if the members of the senior leadership team are not clear about which team is their team one which, in this case, is the senior leadership team. Recognizing this important reality helps build the cohesiveness and alignment that teams need to achieve their goals and objectives.

Another way to look at the team one concept is to understand that the senior leaders of every company have two jobs at the macro level. One job is to lead the company with the other members of the leadership team. Their other job is to lead a specific team. Both jobs are important, but leading the overall company is their most important responsibility because it takes more knowledge, skills and experience.

As business leaders gain experience and take on more responsibility, they need to become well rounded general managers who can do the narrow and deep critical thinking that is needed to help their company achieve sustainable and profitable growth. When working with your team one, your objective is to leverage the collective experience, insights and intelligence of the team. To accomplish this, there must be a high level of trust that no member is putting the success of the team they lead in front the success of their team one. If this trust breaks down, confusion and friction will occur and the company’s pace of growth will slow down. The only way to reverse this problem is to reaffirm that the company – team one – is everyone’s first priority.

Team #1

This phenomenon is surprisingly natural and something we often see in our consulting work. To explore this idea, I always pose this question to executive team members, “Which team is your first priority, your Team #1?” Unfortunately, the answer is not always easy to admit. But, if you really want to ensure your leadership team is working as cohesively and effectively as possible, the question can’t be ignored or glossed over. Because most members serve on two teams that are both important (the team they lead and the team they are a member of), they need to prioritize their leadership team (Team #1) first, for the good of the organization.

Consider the Five Dysfunctions of a Team model for a moment: Absence of Trust, Fear of Conflict, Lack of Commitment, Avoidance of Accountability, and Inattention to Results. To truly be a cohesive team, members must pay attention to the collective results of the team over anything else, including the results of the groups that they may manage personally. This is often a difficult proposition for many leaders because they see it as being disloyal to their direct reports. Remember, a leader’s direct reports are the people they hired, the people with whom they spend most of their time, and the people they enjoy leading. However, if every member of an executive team is more concerned about how decisions will impact their own group rather than the overall organization, it is inevitable that collective decision–making will suffer.

Collective Versus Siloed Decision–Making

For example, if a leadership team is debating how to best allocate a budget surplus, the perspective of each team member will affect their suggestions and ultimately decision–making. A group who believes the team they lead is their Team #1 will usually engage in debate with a strong departmental focus: engineering needs more developers, marketing needs more advertising budgets, etc. At the end of the day, this jockeying for position and resources can cause frustration and peer resentment.

When a team approaches the same budget question with the leadership team as their first team, the debate completely changes. Instead, the team is evaluating each of the potential investments in light of what would be best for the overall organization, and not just their own group. As obvious as this sounds, clarifying the distinction about Team #1 can make all the difference.

In Pat Lencioni’s forthcoming book, The Advantage, one of our consulting clients points out the power of Team #1 by saying, “The concept of Team #1 has created a common language and sense of identity for our team. It provides the mindset that individual goals, issues and interests are set aside to focus on what’s best for the organization. I truly believe it is the one thing that keeps us from busting apart at the seams as we deal with the challenging issues of managing in a complex business environment.”

Make it Stick

To ensure that your leadership is adhering to the Team # 1 concept, I recommend reviewing the following with your team:

  • Point out the priority of Team #1 prior to making any key decisions. This will put leaders in the correct frame of mind. When entering an executive meeting, team members need to remove their functional hats, and focus on their executive team leadership role.
  • Demand that members prioritize the executive team over all others. When the executive team is truly cohesive and prioritized appropriately, its ability to face difficult challenges with confidence further bonds the team and models unity to the organization. This requires an absolute, unwavering commitment to Team #1.
  • Explain how the team’s direct reports will be impacted. We all know that if there is any daylight between executive team members, it ultimately results in unwinnable battles that those lower in the organization are left to fight.

Like many of the concepts we consult on, Team #1 is as powerful as it is simple. We have seen highly–educated leaders with vast experience have an “aha” moment about this concept resulting in immediate impact on their team’s cohesion and their organization’s ability to succeed.

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Chris Edwards

Chris Edwards

Partner & Advisor

Chris Edwards is a partner with Trinitas Advisors, an executive coaching firm that helps business leaders build the leadership alignment they need to win more, grow faster and succeed longer. Chris can be reached at chris@trinitasadvisors.com.

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