How Effective Is Your Executive Leadership Team?
New Data Reveals Surprising Challenges For The Top Management Team
The executive team is a group of 3-10 senior executives in a company that help the Chief Executive Officer ideate and actualize important strategic decisions and implement the corporate strategy. These executives should collaborate to achieve strategic alignment, discuss important issues, resolve conflicts, and more.
But because the executive leadership team consists of normal human personalities, with all their flaws and biases, not every top management top operates at peak effectiveness. And that’s what this study reveals.
This study was developed using Leadership IQ’s EXECUTIVE TEAM HEALTH SURVEY, a tool for diagnosing and improving the functioning of top management teams. Among the key finding are the following:
- Only 17% of executives strongly agree that their executive team holds each other accountable.
- Only 30% of senior executives strongly agree that there are no hidden agendas on the executive team.
- Only 19% of top executives strongly agree that on their leadership team, when a decision is made, everyone is fully committed with no backstabbing or passive-aggressiveness.
- Only 18% of top executives strongly agree that their corporate executive team doesn't sugarcoat the truth (no matter how bad it is).
- Only 14% of senior managers strongly agree that member of their executive team are comfortable disagreeing with each other.
- Only 10% of executives strongly agree that every meeting ends with clear to-dos, deadlines, and accountabilities on their executive team.
1,089 respondents answered 27 questions, with both scaled and open-ended questions. Respondents represented the following demographics. GENDER: Female (42%), Male (58%) -- COMPANY SIZE [EMPLOYEES]: 1-100 (16%), 101-250 (17%), 251-500 (15%), 501-1,000 (21%), 1,001-5,000 (14%), 5,001-10,000 (10%), 10,000+ (7%). Top management team roles included in this report include company officers like the Chief Executive Officer, Chief Operating Officer, Chief Financial Officer, Chief Legal Counsel, Chief Human Resources Officer, Chief Marketing Officer, Chief Technology Officer, Chief Information Officer, Chief Strategy Officer, Chief Administrative Officer, Chief Communications Officer, Chief Compliance Officer, Chief Commercial Officer, Chief Product Officer, Chief Compliance Officer, Chief Innovation Officer, Chief Operations Officer, Chief People Officer, Chief Legal Officer, Chief Accounting Officer, and more.
VIDEO SYNOPSIS OF THE STUDY
What follows are the results for 15 key questions from Leadership IQ’s EXECUTIVE TEAM HEALTH SURVEY.
Question #1: On our Executive Team, we hold each other accountable.
On any corporate executive team, there needs to be accountability. The CEO needs to hold the COO accountable for their results, the CHRO needs to be able to hold the CFO accountable, and so on. But what’s clear from the data is that according to 43% of senior leaders, members of the executive leadership team are not doing a great job of holding each other accountable. And only 17% of executives strongly agree that their executive team holds each other accountable.
Whether this comes from artificial harmony or a fear of conflict or disengagement, the result is that in too many companies, executives are not maintaining a culture of accountability. And when accountability is lacking at the top, it’s virtually guaranteed that accountability will be lacking through the company.
Question #2: On our Executive Team, we truly listen to, and understand, one another.
Ironically, members of senior executive teams often struggle when it comes to listening and understanding others. While these are the most senior leaders in an organization, these are also leaders whose career success has told them that they have all the answers already, so listening to others is unnecessary. The problem is that no one executive can know everything happening in the company.
Listening to other executives is a critical part of a healthy executive team, and that’s why it’s so troubling that 34% of senior managers think that their corporate executive team struggles to listen to, and understand, one another. And why it’s a problem that only 19% of senior leaders strongly agree that their corporate executive team listens to, and understands, one another.
Question #3: On our Executive Team, there are no hidden agendas.
Can a leadership team truly hash-out and debate difficult issues if some of the members are worried about hidden agendas? It sounds unlikely, and yet, 33% of executives believe that, to some extent, there are hidden agendas on their leadership team, while only 30% of senior executives strongly agree that there are no hidden agendas on the executive team.
Question #4: On our Executive Team, when we've made a decision, everyone is fully committed with no backstabbing or passive-aggressiveness.
A key function of any management team is making decisions and, of course, there’s going to be disagreement while decisions are debated and made. Disagreement can be wonderfully productive as long as all senior managers are able to coalesce around and support the final decision. Otherwise lingering dissension turns into passive-aggressiveness, backstabbing and the eventual undermining of the decision.
Due to the nature of this issue, it’s incredibly difficult for a CEO to simply ask members of the senior leadership team whether they think there’s passive-aggressiveness on the team. But when top managers have the opportunity to answer anonymously, you get results like these where only 19% think that there there’s no backstabbing or passive-aggressiveness. And where 32% believe to varying degrees that passive-aggressiveness does exist.
Question #5: On our Executive Team, we don't sugarcoat the truth (no matter how bad it is).
Every company will have unpleasant news to confront at some point; the only question is whether the senior leadership team will accept, deny or ignore that news. As we know from previous research (e.g., the study Why CEOs Get Fired) candidly discussing the truth is the most effective strategy. But this study discovered that only 18% of senior leadership team members strongly agree that their team doesn’t sugarcoat the truth, while 31% say that their team does to some extent sugarcoat the truth.
Question #6: On our Executive Team, we're comfortable disagreeing with each other.
Disagreement is not inherently bad; in fact, it generally indicates a diversity of thinking. But when a senior management team is incapable of disagreeing, groupthink and toxic positivity can run rampant. That’s why it’s so problematic that only 14% of executives on the senior management team strongly agrees that they’re comfortable disagreeing with one another.
Question #7: On our Executive Team, words can be counted on to become reality (i.e., we do what we say).
In most corporate cultures, frontline employees will take their cues from the top management team. That’s great as long as corporate executives act with trust, candor, empathy, and more. What we learned from this question, however, is that only 14% of the top management team believes that their words can be counted on to become action. When 30% of senior managers don’t think the top management team is modelling trustworthiness, that becomes a problem throughout the organizational culture.
Question #8: On our Executive Team, everyone is fully aligned on the organization's goals.
A core function of any upper management team is ensuring that everyone is aligned on the corporate strategy. But achieving that alignment will be incredibly hard when the corporate executive team is not itself aligned. Even a small divergence in alignment on the organization’s strategy can present problems as those misalignments cascade through the company. That’s why it’s so troubling that only 24% of senior managers strongly agree that everyone on the corporate executive team is fully aligned on the organization’s goals.
Question #9: On our Executive Team, we discuss ways to prevent mistakes from happening again.
Mistakes will happen in every organization and even on the executive leadership team. That’s not always calamitous as long as top level management is willing to understand and prevent future mistakes. It can be a painful process, but it is necessary. And thus it’s a big area for improvement as only 34% of executive leadership team members believe that their team discusses ways to prevent mistakes from happening again.
Question #10: On our Executive Team, everyone participates and contributes willingly.
A challenge for any team is that there will always be team members who participate more than others. When there are those who dominate discussions and others who disengage, the effectiveness of any team will be significantly undermined. And this is equally true on the executive team. So it’s a looking problem that only 28% of executive team members think that everyone participates and contributes willingly.
Question #11: On our Executive Team, good suggestions or valid complaints lead to important changes.
If executives aren’t open to changing based on good suggestions, will anyone else in the company be open to change? Far too few executives strongly agree that on their executive team, good suggestions or valid complaints lead to important changes.
Question #12: On our Executive Team, we recognize each other's accomplishments.
Positive reinforcement is a powerful motivational tool regardless of a person’s place in the organizational hierarchy. Given how easy it is to perform, it’s an issue to which senior management teams should focus more attention, especially when only 23% of executives strongly agree that their colleagues recognize each other's accomplishments.
Question #13: On our Executive Team, everyone makes sacrifices (e.g., budget, time, power, etc.) for the good of the group and the organization.
Territorialism is a concern for any company, and that’s even more acuate on the senior management team. If top executives don’t squash political infighting and territorialism, those battles will cascade through the enterprise. So it’s concerning that only 27% of executives say that, on their executive team, everyone makes sacrifices (e.g., budget, time, power, etc.) for the good of the group and the organization.
Question #14: On our Executive Team, every meeting ends with clear to-dos, deadlines, and accountabilities.
A lack of accountability can plague any team, even the executive leadership team. And while it seems simple and even pedestrian, every executive leadership team needs to ensure that every meeting ends with clear to-dos, deadlines, and accountabilities. Currently, only 10% of senior executives strongly agree that’s the case.
Question #15: On our Executive Team, meetings are an effective and efficient use of everyone's time.
Inefficient meetings plague every level of the organization and the management team is no exception. Only 13% of executive management believes that executive team meetings are an effective and efficient use of everyone's time.
While some executive management teams are strategically aligned, collaborative, and candidly transparent, nearly as many top management teams suffer from suboptimal team dynamics (and sometimes even significant dysfunction).
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