Executive Team Dysfunction – Clashing Personalities or What?


Communication – or lack of – within a team can drive Executive Team Dysfunction

Hewsons’ Consultant
: ‘How’s the executive team performing?”,
HR Manager: “There’s real issues between some members that everyone is aware of, but no- one is talking about or dealing with. The individuals talk to me and I’ve tried to support them getting resolution but I’m struggling”.

What scenario does the HR manager’s response to the question paint and what is wrong with it?

  1. The HR person is feeling like they are somehow responsible for sorting out people’s ‘personality’ issues. That is not their job.
  2. The level of trust within the team is low, and people are pretending it isn’t.
  3. There is no ‘team’ because there is lack of effective collaboration amongst some of the members of the team. At best there’s a group of individuals with their own accountabilities ‘getting on with it’.
  4. Avoiding poking into awkward issues and operating at a low level of trust is impacting people’s experience of safety which will greatly inhibit the team being able to jointly take on the challenging strategic matters required to grow the business and/or secure its future.
  5. There’s likely to be little ‘straight talk’, accountability will be missing.
  6. There will be silos and executive team members focused on operational only matters, down into detail their people should be on top of, and little or no attention on strategic matters.
  7. Members of this team will be experiencing stress. What stresses all of us is our inner emotional turmoil – not the work itself, that just makes you tired.
  8. This team has low communication skills.
  9. Where’s the leader – or is he/she part of the problem?
  10. This is not a high performing executive team.

Executive and leadership teams can be anywhere along the team performance spectrum from ‘Detrimental’ (they’re driving a negative culture and slipping financial performance) to ‘High Performing’. Unfortunately, a large percentage of them sit somewhere in the middle and towards the left of that spectrum.

There are many ways to measure a team’s performance, but our clients normally decide on a combination of these which, interestingly, align very well with Google’s well researched five characteristics of enhanced teams.

  • The number of commitments made to all of their stakeholders that are delivered.
  • The percentage of the agreements they make to one another that are kept.
  • Connecting with one another, sharing challenges and asking for support.
  • Decreasing the number of times they back away from tough or difficult conversations.
  • Organisational culture including supporting and developing their people, being accountable for role modelling the company’s values and behaviours, and inspiring others to do the same.

One thing is for certain, the performance of a team is directly related to what is going on in communication amongst its’ members – and crucially what is not being said openly and clearly but in ‘private’.

Many people have experienced being part of a high performing team but unfortunately it’s not the norm and is often a product of the right people being in the right place at the right time. Most teams experience some degree of dysfunction – from Boards to Management teams and beyond. Rather than trying desperately to find the right people whose personalities are going to fit together wouldn’t it be better to learn how to get any group of people to work together successfully?

As a CEO you might be wondering why it can’t be simpler with highly paid professionals; why can’t they just get on with it? Why don’t they just speak up? etc.. But that would be being blind to one crucial thing – executive leadership teams are made up of human beings!

In our work with executive teams we help them to move from distrust to trust, train them in how to communicate effectively and, most of all,  relate to one another as flawed human beings that are capable of greatness.