5 ways to spot when your executive team is in trouble

A former executive MBA student of mine sends me an email asking for help. As the CEO and president of his booming company, he struggles to rally all of his troops in the same direction and get them out of their comfort zone to boost innovation. He would like his founding partners and associates to stop working in silos and expand their impact, transversally. Trust is low; those experts in their field need to become leaders in the company. Product launches are uncoordinated and he sees a major risk in delivering his vision within the coming years. Does this seem familiar?

Here are 5 indications that serious disappointment lies ahead, and what to do about it.

1. Results remain good but problems exist on the horizon

This CEO is alarmed by the number of failed product launches last year. "This has cost us serious money, some key customers were upset, we cannot continue screwing things up like that, and we are losing credibility." He was forced to spend a significant amount of time reassuring investors, key customers, partners and suppliers. Although the team is engaged and motivated, the pace has drastically increased to a level of unease.

2. Trust is now low

Most executive teams are staffed by high performers who have earned their places by delivering in the past. They are good; however, why is there so little coordination and collective work? Even though the team has a common objective, you may notice that trust is low, and getting lower. The key directors, or founders, are now mainly or even solely concerned with their silo, and a sense of frustration permeates all discussions. This is not fun anymore. Unspoken expectations and concerns are dominant. Sound familiar to you?

3. The CEO is a mile in front

This CEO/GM leader claims that his partners and his team need their role to be clearer. He points out that they also complain about him making all the decisions and stealing the spotlight. This CEO realizes that he risks finding himself a mile ahead of his team and increasingly distanced from ground-floor reality. He is making promises that the organization cannot deliver and is asking for better trainings.

4. The team is struggling on unaligned priorities

I recently coached a senior team that kept complaining about the high number of conflicting priorities, their role being unclear, and the classic lack of resources. They had too many projects in parallel. I asked them: "Are your priorities strategic or do they comprise just a long list of to-do efforts/tasks that you are trying to prioritize? How do you define what is a priority?" Not knowing the difference between a task and a priority leads to being overwhelmed and unable to see through the clouds – very bad news. Can your team discuss the strategic importance of projects? Can your team cancel projects? Can it even consider the idea of ranking projects and canceling, de facto, only 5% of them? Also, what is your overall ability to manage organizational time and your own time?

5. The team is mostly doing, and not diagnosing

Change is easier to define than to put in place. As projects approach full deployment, the blind spots in the early stages of the project team evolution begin to create havoc. Internal customers complain, project launches fail, delays are far worse than anticipated, legacy systems fail earlier than anticipated, etc. Worse, little time is spent diagnosing or troubleshooting and looking for deeper root causes to problems. The top team is busy trying to deliver and not focusing collectively on why something will not work. Welcome to planned failure.

What can be done about it?

The senior team needs to shift from being a group of talented champions to becoming a leadership team. The great opportunity is to tap into the senior team's potential for collective intelligence and strategic action. The identity of boss-in-charge needs to shift to situational manager/facilitator/coach/Sherlock Holmes. When you have such a team in place, the CEO has "cloned” herself, and now all you need is only one of the members of the team, any one of them, to tackle any company major issue. You have shared leadership, mutual responsibility and accountability. Welcome to League 1!

Ask yourself:

  • Can you afford to continue to operate the way you do now?

  • What are the risks of not changing?

  • Can you fix things on your own? How soon? How?

Are you facing serious transformational challenges in your company? If you are, why not take a look at this case study, or contact me to arrange a quick, no-cost, no-obligation chat about how we can team up. Simply drop me a line at [email protected].