Why is it difficult for senior executives to form teams?

Most people believe teams outperform individuals. However, this is not always the case, and certainly not when it comes to top teams.

I have met many CEOs who have told me about their frustration trying to get their top executives to act as a team.  They talk about silo thinking and lack of the four C’s; cooperation, collaboration, communication and compromise.  Listening to their stories, I understand why they want teamwork, but I am always struck by their misunderstanding of teams.  The fact that how they work together depends on the structure and purpose of their meetings and the choices they make implementing a work-group process or a team process.  I think the four C’s might make life more enjoyable, but I am not convinced that these behaviours alone can improve the performance of a team.


Solving your dilemma


Watch a few meetings, and note two things; the purpose, and the way members are asked to participate.  After a short period of observation you will notice a number of similarities. Notably, most executive meetings tend to fall into a one of a number of categories; readouts, where members give each other information; governance, where members discuss specific propriety issues; policy, where members decide on principle actions to be adopted by their organisation; and strategy reviews, which examine planned versus actual.  The nature of these meeting and how they are structured makes teamwork unnecessary to achieve the outputs required, therefore trying to force the participants of these meetings to be more of a team is counterproductive. 

These types of meeting are designed to use a Working-Group, not a TEAM.   They require a strong, focused leader to manage the agenda and work through each topic.  Individuals are accountable for their piece of the work, whether that’s a report, a policy update, or information regarding strategic decisions.  The group’s purpose is the same as the broader organisational mission and individuals produce separate work products that add value to the agenda.  These meetings need to run efficiently, and the measures of effectiveness indirectly influence others (such as the financial budgets, headcount, benefit schemes etc.).  Inside these kinds of meeting senior leaders use the 4Ds, they discuss, debate, decide, & delegate.

This working-group was defined in ’93 by Jon R. Katzenbach and Douglas K. Smith in the HBR article The Discipline of Teams.  A Working-Group is highly effective and appropriate for senior executive meetings.  Time is at a premium; everyone is a competent professional in charge of their piece of the pie, and required results are well understood.


Is it ever appropriate for senior executives to act as a team?


The answer is yes when the propose requires teamwork; this is when it is important for CEO’s and other senior leaders to be precise about their definition of a team and what they are trying to solve.   I always remind CEO’s that a team is only required when there is no obvious solution to a problem and no single person can solve it.

Let’s define a team.

A team is a small number of people with complementary skills and knowledge who are committed to a common purpose, performance goals, and an approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable.

The discipline required for effectively forming and operating as a team is very different to that needed to run a work-group.

Each element needs to be in place.

Small means between 2 and 7.

Complementary skills is a diversity of skills such as creative, process, people, task, financial acumen, visioning, sales and production.   A diverse and complementary skill-set aims to ensure that the team can see the problem from many perspectives, all with equal merit, and can find a solution that is a product of the team’s thinking, not one dominant player.

Being committed to a common purpose encompasses two elements, commitment to stay with the team and work through issues, and common purpose means a shared goal or objective.

Performance goals are agreed amongst the members and measure outputs as well as the quality of the team’s interactions.

Lastly, an approach for which they hold themselves accountable means that the team agree on the way they will work as a team.  This is a mixture of values, rules of engagement and the problem-solving models they plan to utilise.

Successful teams spend time considering how they work together and make adjustments to improve performance.  They review how each person is contributing; asking each other for suggestions to improve; talking openly about feelings and performance without blame, and they understand that are subjugated by their purpose, not my organisational hierarchy.     Each member knows that they win only when the team wins.

Where to begin?

Once everyone understands the definition of a team, the CEO, or Executive taking the lead, lays out the problem to be solved.

The next step is critical.  Who is needed to solve this problem?  Forming a team that can be successful, requires members with complementary skills and the capability to make decisions.

Once the problem has been defined, and the team has been selected, they will need a process for working together. Team meetings are very different from work-groups.  Firstly, the leadership is shared amongst the members.  Secondly the meetings are messy, the agenda is open; teams value conflict, and are comfortable letting topics lie unresolved over multiple sessions.  Not every meeting ends in resolution, and it may be necessary to start over several times to find the most valuable solution.

Once the team is formed allow them to progress without interference, offer coaching and mentoring but not drive the solution.  The solution must belong to the team so that ownership and accountability remain shared within the team.   While oversight is always important,  trust is more important; teams need to know that they are trusted to find the answers this is the only way to build the capability of teams.

Think before you choose


Many meetings are designed to use a workgroup because of the structure used the outputs required.  Choosing to work in this fashion is a perfectly acceptable approach to executive leadership.  Individual leader structures are fast and efficient and work well when one person really does understand what is needed.

The most important consideration is the time/value equation. Establishing a top team requires time to build high performance, so it’s always worth asking if the rewards merit the investment.  The next consideration is whether your top team is aware of the diversity of the members and is willing to value the mix of complementary skills and knowledge. Organisational status, as in job titles, are not part of team working. Next, consider if the mix is fit for purpose, i.e. can this group of individuals  deliver the goal?

Lastly, consider the long-term benefits.  Building the leadership bench strength in your organisation requires opportunity.  In teams, the leadership role shifts among the members giving opportunities for less experienced executives build up their knowledge of what works and what doesn’t when enabling a team to achieve its goals.  The collateral benefit is that executives who learn to use teams in this way are more likely to cascade the practice inside

their part of the of the organisation, thereby building the overall leadership capacity of the organisation.   They will also learn how to make the crucial choice between workgroups and teams and deploy the right organisational structure appropriately.


Where do executive teams find opportunities for teamwork?

Complex issues where the answer is not an extension of, business as usual, is a great place to mine for opportunities.  These include business turn-a-rounds, vision building, new business model creation, value proposition design, new product strategies, integrating acquisitions, market disruption, and innovation projects.

These types of challenges have common characteristics:

  • The solution is not obvious, and obvious solutions will not deliver the paradigm shift required.
  • The solution requires a complementary skills-set
  • There is an urgent need to find a solution
  • There is a clear advantage for using a team over a workgroup
  • The rewards are worth the risk of investing time and energy

The answer to why is it difficult for senior executives to form teams comes down to the choices they make about what model fits the purpose of their meetings.

There is no doubt that teams need time together, they need to work on real issues and learn how to be a successful team by following the deceptively simple rules of the discipline of teams.

A workgroup is fit for purpose.   A team acts differently from a workgroup, and that is good when that is the most appropriate choice.   Remember, the events in life and business will continue to challenge all of us, the response we chose creates the outcome we experience.


We are the masters of our destiny










How leaders stay focused

building reality is the joy of leadership

Photo by Eddie Kopp


There are lots of gadgets and apps that promise to keep you on target and focused.  I have looked at sleep monitors, clever watches and mobile apps and each one has a seductive story offering benefits from a rested mind to alerts to keep you alert.

We are becoming a race who want to outsource everything, even the most natural biological sequences in our lives, like sleep.  The one thing all of these tools have in common is structure.  They impose discipline and reward you with analysis.  We are all becoming data junkies, curious about the percentage changes in our behaviour, steps, weight, heart rate or sleep patterns.

Throw out the Gadgets – they are not the answer.  They are nice presents that provide us with an amusing distraction for a few hours.

Leaders stay focused by engaging in work that cannot be outsourced.


Firstly, every great leader who I have worked with, or studied, has had a mission to fulfil, a vision of what they planned to do to change the world around them.  They engage in purposeful dreaming and become obsessed with solving the problems presented by their dream.

Think of Elon Musk and his obsession with electric cars and his fight against the petrol-chemical-auto-industry, not to mention changing the minds of thousands of consumers.  Now, Mars seems possible.

Or the obsession Steve Jobs showed in his vision for Apple to simplify the user experience.


What turns dreaming into visioning?


Visioning is the result of examining the obstacles and problems that stand in your way and studying human nature and economics to see what it will take to turn your dream into a reality. Leaders don’t dwell on the joy of endless possibilities as dreamers do, leaders make bets and start the process of learning how to make their dream, their vision, a reality.

Secondly, they gather people around them who can share their vision and add to it by making it more believable and more granular.   Jonathan Ive is Apple’s Chief Design Officer; he helped Jobs turn ideas into some of the most coveted products of the last century.   Musk had Peter Carlsson by his side to build out a unique supply chain that had previously not existed.    Teams committed to the idea, and willing to bring their energies, time and imagination to bear on the problems that always proceed a dream’s transformation into reality, will prevail.

Thirdly, they structure their day loosely because they know that it is impossible to plan the transformation of a dream down to the last hour.  They set goals and divide their day into big chunks leaving time that will inevitably be filled with unforeseen problems and issues that need to be resolved.  They recognise they play the role of Chief Problem Solver; they have to be skilled at pulling the right people together, crystallising the problems and setting teams up to successful remove every roadblock they encounter.

In Summary, to stay focused, you must convert your dream into a vision. Then collect a team around you that can add more detail and intellect. Lastly, build a problem-solving machine that simply ploughs through each problem as it appears.



There is no better gadget than your mind; virtual reality is a joyful distraction;

……..building reality is the joy of leadership.

Abolish the myth of THEM

The tip for success in 2018.  

The myth of THEM leaves you believing you are separate from the problems you see in others. For 20 years, I have been a witness to, and party in, this delusional story that always begins with this sentiment, “When these people show better leadership we will be able to……….” this is what I call the myth of THEM.

Back in 1950 Albert Einstein had noticed the same behaviour and wrote these words in a letter to Robert S. Marcus. “A human being is part of the whole, called by us “universe,” limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest – a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness”.

Because we experience looking out upon the problem, we see it separated from us. I have noticed that the observers are often delighted with themselves for noticing the issues, which in turn reinforces the most seductive part of the delusion, It’s not me!

The question to ask after hearing the myth of THEM begin is;
What part do I play in all of this?

As Einstein posits, we are all connected in what we call the “universe”; therefore, we are all connected to the company where we have observed the challenges.

This leads to the irrefutable truth; there is no THEM there is just US.

Einstein goes on to warn that the delusion of separation is a prison that restricts our personal desires and limits us.

As a leader, you must free yourself from this prison by widening your circle of compassion to embrace all the people connected in your company and beyond. You must learn through personal awareness that the whole has more value and that the behaviours you see are, in part, created by you.

Your power to create change and build a better company begins when you tear down the delusion of THEM and take your place in US.

good luck in 2018


“The universe is not outside of you. Look inside yourself; everything that you want, you already are.”

― Jalaluddin Mevlana Rumi 13th century

Advanced Management Program

give your managers the tools they need to align their talent

Photo by Andreas Klassen on Unsplash


You have taken the first step towards joining a powerful global community of leaders who are committed to defining the future.  Leaders who know their imagination and dedication can shape the future

MGL’s Advanced Management Progam is a 3-day Masterclass with a Six-month follow-through process that will culminate with you implementing leadership tools and techniques that will measurably change your life.

When you complete the Masterclass, you will recognise what makes you exceptional. You will understand how to leverage your strengths and harness your emotions to maintain a laser focus on your goals.

You will be on your way to developing the kind of clarity of purpose that has been the foundation of all great leaders.  You will have the tools to create a shared vision with your team and understand how to maintain your confidence and a leadership mindset.

Ask a Question Make an Enquiry

What participants say….

“MGL inspires managers to embrace leadership and implement change.”

– SVP Abu Dhabi



“The challenging ideas enabled me to grow my teams and deliver greater results.”

– IT Executive based in NYC




“ The MGL team demonstrate visionary leadership.  They connect effectively with each individual and make relevant actionable proposals for leadership improvement.”

– CEO Hong Kong

Blaming Kills……

productivity, innovation and competitive advantage.....

Some years back we built a tool to help managers understand Mindsets and how to maintain, what we termed, a leadership mindset – i.e. focused on vision, values and goals.

 The premise being, everyone’s mindset shifts because of emotional triggers. Great leaders counter this natural phenomenon by creating a vision they are committed to, by defining values to hold themselves accountable and setting goals to maintain momentum.  Without defining these elements, leaders are just as prone to following their emotions as anyone else.  In effect, triggers cause a shift in mindset, moving us from a flexible, open mindset to a fixed, closed mindset.  A tell-tale sign that this mindset shift has happened is an outbreak of blaming.

 When leaders blame or allow others to blame productivity takes a hit, as does morale and culture.

 Blaming kills productivity because it diverts energy away from the important work of delivering the vision to unproductive work, such as defending yourself, playing politics, inventing proof, worrying, stress, distracted thought patterns, gossip and extra-long breaks to ruminate on the problem of being blamed.


Why do people choose to blame others?

 The first reason is blaming is an excellent way to defend yourself. Blame helps you deflect attention to someone else or something else, which in turn allows you to deny the reality of the situation and displace the accountability. By doing this, you can avoid examining your flaws and maintain your self-esteem even though you are probably damaging someone else.

 Secondly, blame is an attack tool. It is often used to hurt colleagues and partners, by calling their competence or motivates into question.

 Thirdly, it is much easier to blame others than it is to assess the situation objectively, to develop an informed picture of what is happening, and assign accountability and responsibility to all the parties involved.

 Blaming requires less effort and gives you an emotional win – like a jolt of cocaine, you feel good fast but only for a short time. The real problem lives on after the blaming stops.

 Everyone lies! Read Feldman’s “The Liar in Your Life”, and you’ll be both surprised and sobered by the reality of lying in everyday life.

Feldman’s work shows how easy it is to lie and blame someone else even when you know you are at fault. He also notes that the more you play the blame game, the more you lose.

What has this to do with leadership?

One of the cornerstones of great leadership is awareness. If you accept that everyone lies at some point and everyone blames to attack or avoid responsibility, you must develop tactics to counter the effects of this behaviour in both yourself and others close to you.

The Performance-Life-Cycle is a tool that helps you notice your behaviour and recognize the emotional triggers cause you to lose focus on vision, values and goals. This tool also provides a safe way for those close to you to talk about their triggers and behaviour.

Unlimitedly, the cure for blaming is open dialogue in a safe environment that allows people to explore what is happening for them and to build trust in resolving problems openly

Companies that are led by passion are remarkable places

Companies that are led by passion are remarkable places to work because they hold the potential for greatness.

When most of us think about start-ups, we build pictures of smart, young, vibrant entrepreneurs with technology to sell.

When I think about start-ups, I am excited by experiencing passion that is so palpable it infects me too.

Start-ups and early stage growth companies are places fuelled by possibilities and unlimited opportunities.  They face many interesting challenges, from building systems just ahead of the business need, to working with fewer people than needed to get the job done comfortably, or satisfying customers who are only just discovering they have a need.

There is also an important, and often hidden, challenge how to hold on to the ethos of the business as it grows.

It doesn’t matter if the pathway to growth is organic and through acquisitions, scaling-up creates new problems that won’t we solved with technology.    These new opportunities are largely organisational and interpersonal which is why founders who have been successful understand that the most critical capability they needed to successfully scale-up was leadership.

Good advice

When starting to lead the change program that will see your company transform, take a little advice from Meg Whitman “… figure out what that company’s doing right, and do more of it.”  The real challenge when growth happens is holding on to the essential ethos of the business.  The first step I ask founders to take, is to protect the culture their passion has created, because this is their secret weapon.   I tell them take time-out to understand what you have created; why it works? And why it is important to the people that have made a choice to join you?

Looking at what is great, and understanding what makes people happy, will tell you what to focus on as a starting point.

Shifting attention

Most founders fall in love with the technology or the idea that they saw as the opportunity for their business.  Once teams are in place, and the products are being delivered to customers, it’s time to shift attention.  This move can be tough, but it is essential to the successful transition into sustainable growth.

Skyscanner, a company that has enjoyed fast growth and success understands this shift and has managed to create awareness throughout its management layers.  Filip Filipov, Director of Product in 2015, blogged a quote from Peter Drucker, ‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast’ highlighting the philosophical shift from logic to the importance of the emotional element of leadership. He then went on to write “…. the watershed that splits good companies from great ones will be the culture and the leadership behaviours that shape it.”  Filip humbly signed off with an apology for not exhibiting the right leadership behaviours as often as he would like to have.

The Skyscanner leadership team understands the value of this shift as the source of its success.

It’s not beanbags and pinball machines

Culture is the feelings you share working in a place; it’s the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular group of people working for a common purpose.  It’s unique. It can’t be faked into being by buying pinball machines, or painting art on walls, or having beanbags and cool furniture. The authentic nature of any group’s culture is observable. How they treat each other, what they share, how they look, the documents they create, the meetings they have, the things they talk about and what they produce are clues to the culture at work.

Cultural artefacts also include myths and stories that tell how the company became a success. These stories have heroes and heroines who have been key to the business; they (the stories) become a system of metaphors that tell people what is expected of them. The same too can be said of physical attributes, such as, how the office or factory looks, the interior and exterior design, the equipment used.  Fuzzball tables, beanbags, coloured walls, and slogans, are valuable artefacts or rituals that work for a business when they are genuine expressions of a core culture that is aligned with the future ambitions of the business.

Words and actions count

When Meg Whitman tore down the wood panelling of the old executive offices at HP, it sent a clear message of a change in culture. She commented “… we never actually had to publicise this; 330,000 HP people knew [it] within about 32.5 seconds.”

Gandhi wrote.

“Your beliefs become your thoughts, Your thoughts become your words, Your words become your actions, Your actions become your habits, Your habits become your values, Your values become your destiny.”

His words are remarkably relevant to today’s leaders and founders creating new value for a future world. Beliefs and values shape how things get done, announce what is important and dictate how people are treated.   Keeping the culture, relevant, aligned, vibrant and enabling takes care and attention.

Howard Schultz, the man who founded the most successful coffee company in the world, Starbucks, has lived through start-up to a high-growth company and offers this lesson “Success is not sustainable if it is defined by how big you become or by growth for growth’s sake.  Success is very shallow if it doesn’t have emotional meaning.”

Belief is an emotion that expresses who we are in the world. If you are the leader what you believe matters because it can shape the way your managers handle your business.  When Schultz left Starbucks, managers lost their way over time and nearly destroyed the business he had started. When he returned his first order of business was to re-establish the values to get back to the core ethos that shaped the company in the first place. He then took the bold, and expensive, step of closing every outlet worldwide to train each member of the Starbucks team how to make a great cup of coffee.

He wanted Starbucks to be known, once again, for the quality of its coffee and not for the size of the company.

Understand – Shift – Symbols – Breed

Growth is a good thing that can make your company great if you understand what you are doing right and do more of it.

Shift your attention to building your leadership team and take care to tell the stories that matter.

Create positively authentic symbols of your culture and care about your beliefs enough to breed a great leadership culture that will take your company into the future.

Why change needs leadership

Create the path

Organisations need people who challenge the status quo and look for new sources of value because business-as-usual leads to decline. Disruptors are everywhere and are very much part of the 21st-century competitive landscape.

Step 1. Generate Urgency

There are plenty of examples of companies that have been left behind because they didn’t have leadership looking into the future. Kodak missed the digital revolution, Nokia missed the smartphone shift, Amstrad was once the UK’s largest computer supplier that lost its foothold because it failed to understand the concept of networking, and DEC (The Digital Equipment Corp) in the 80’s was second only to IBM. However, its president proclaimed that there would never be a market for a computer in the home. Oops!

It takes leadership to step outside of the b-a-u model and start to generate a real sense of urgency amongst key stakeholders. The pushback comes in waves of logic insisting that the business needs to focus on the here-and-now. This kind of logic is hard to defeat because it has certainty on its side and it can be backed up with accurate projections.

Following the same path is seductive because to looks safe, but it’s only a matter time before a new business model shatters this illusion.

Step 2. Get the right people onboard

Effecting change requires a team of influential stakeholders that are interested in exploring the future.  Finding the next disruptive innovation is a challenging exercise. Turning it into a commercial success requires more than the willpower of one individual, it requires complementary knowledge and skills that only a team can bring.

To address the logical arguments for the existing business model, you must develop more compelling and robust arguments for the new prototype. Tools such as the business canvas and design thinking are essential and require a team to test assumptions, build hypothesis and research changes. Pulling this team together and engaging them in search the future is the output of great leadership.

Step 3. Developing a Vivid Vision of the Future

As most successful athletes will tell you, seeing the win before it happens is a critical component of their preparation for success.

Setting out to build a vivid vision opens up the list of topics to be discussed by the team. It shifts the focus from big generic ideas to specific details that make the vision more tangible. Conversations about what the offices will look like are not trivial because they open up discussions about culture, people and the kinds of aspirations that the team has about where and how they want to work. Storytelling, in this way, improves how the teammates understand each other’s values and motivators. Sharing builds the team’s common ground and develops a sense of belonging which creates the bond necessary to enable them to meet tough challenges together.

Step 4. Communicating the vision clearly and often

When you develop the vision, follow Elon Musk’s example, check out his plan to colonise Mars, rich visualisations are within everyone’s grasp; use pictures, videos, animations, and of course PowerPoint to share and more importantly allow audiences to interact with the vision. The questions people ask are sources of enrichment, especially questions you or your team have not yet asked.

The more you share, the more you can learn, providing you remain open to questions and are curious about the views of others. Seeing your vision from multiple perspectives adds ideas that can be used to make your vision better and more vivid.

Step 5. Removing obstacles

If you are going to disrupt your own company’s business model, there will be obstacles that will need attention.

Map out the plan to get from where you are to where your future lies. Plot major obstacles and begin by asking who do you need to put in a room to remove each obstacle. For inspiration, think about the challenge that faced Steve Jobs when he wanted to launch iTunes. Jobs and his team had to convince the record label bosses to put their collections in their store online. This intervention created the digital music market.

Step 6. Celebrate Short term wins and avoid premature declarations of victory

Disrupting an industry can bring quick wins. Celebrating these is an important strategy to maintain the high levels of engagement needed to turn quick wins into a sustainable business model. At this point, the leader must become a chess player.

Planning to celebrate small wins is an exercise in maintaining morale as well as building culture. Every successful leader knows that culture is the key to sustaining a successful business. As plans are executed, what gets celebrated, and what is rewarded, tell the story of what is being built, these are the cultural artefacts that people share, and they will become the mythology of the business.

This is why change needs leaders. It takes leadership to guide people through all of these steps and engage the many stakeholders needed to make change a reality.

learn more

Kotter’s Model

Tim Brown Design Thinking

Circular Economy