Having held officer level positions in a few industries: airline, leisure travel, internet, convention, and defense oriented industries, I have participated in and hired consultants to help conduct “team building” exercises; the operative word is-exercises. There are a lot of moving parts to any successful team building exercise.
Let’s take a look at Executive Team Building as a subset of the generic team building exercise. Officer level managers require a whole different approach to Executive Team Building. Here are some thoughts on why senior manager team building is difficult. I have found officer level managers arrive at their positions for three reasons: they are part of a family business; their persona and experiences match a corporate leadership culture (often characterized also as-who you know); and/or, they have skills (achieved through education or former positions) that are needed to fix a problem such as a manufacturing problem. Point being, everyone arrives at the officer level by different and sometimes circuitous methods. By this point-in-time, people’s management styles and personality traits are developed and tested: what you see is what you get. Even this perspective is sliced a little thinner by the way we are wired. For example, engineers approach management from a different perspective than a marketing person. Junior members of a company are much more malleable in shaping their views and are motivated to demonstrate that they are team players.
The title structure of a company may be Senior VP, Executive VP, President, etc., depending on the size of the company. Whatever the hierarchy, the pointy end of the pyramid is very competitive and therefore has far reaching effects on shaping each manager’s attitudes toward their peers. Additionally, senior managers develop a persona within their respective industries that can last a career lifetime. The projection of an industry persona becomes important should a manager feel their career is becoming stagnant and they want to explore career changes.
The point here is that Executive Team Building is really Executive Team Meeting. At senior levels in an executive’s career, he/she has traits that a CEO must recognize and manage through “performance evaluation” tools and not Executive Team Building/Meetings. Team Building is not about shaping relationships between peers. When there is a small cadre of senior manager’s, personality types are evident to all. The politics in these environments can be exacerbated to a level that makes “passive aggression” becomes an art form and Team Meetings are not a cure.
Here is a short case study to illustrate my point of reference.
A few years ago I was part of a growing company in a very dynamic industry. All the officers were A-type personalities and very ambitious to achieve recognition within the industry and by the corporate owner. All were hard driving, creative, highly educated. The senior management ran the age gambit from very young to more experienced and were both male and female. Because this was a very young company, the “charter members” of the senior management team resented new senior manager’s coming into their ranks having not “paid their dues” and fitting into the culture. Most of these managers would minimize a peer on the team rather than let them excel in their respective position (if that someone were competing for the next CEO position).
To solve the problem an organizational psychologist was brought in to get the team working together. The team took a battery of tests and did personal interviews with the psychologist. The results of the tests were reviewed individually with the participants and a team meeting was held to discuss the dynamics at play within the team. Bottom line, it was not a success; probably for the same reasons General’s Patton, Bradley and Montgomery were always at odds-a group of over-achievers with juxtaposed ego’s and the next promotion.
But not all is for naught. Even personal animus within a team may be addressed as long as it is not addressed in a manner that is in the category of “manipulation”. Executive Team Building is not training; rather it is communicating.
Not all meeting or team building programs are for large companies. Most companies in the US fall into the category of family owned or small businesses and they have team building requirements. Further, Team Building is part of a total event. The dynamics of a small group of senior managers is different in purpose and form versus larger groups.
So I can make a point, let’s assume some or all of the above comments are correct.
Every leader knows, events must be well defined and that also applies Executive Team Building exercise as part of the overall meeting objectives. Simply said, lay out the objectives of a Team Building exercise in succinct language. Not in an esoteric manner.
Executive Team Building meetings fill a threefold purpose: 1. communicate high level corporate issues to the executive team, 2. address relationship issues within the team, and 3. work on leadership messaging at target the rank and file employee. Executive Team Building should also be customer focused. Customers and vendors always have input in management speaking with a team voice. A positive corporate culture will always impress the customer.
Executive Team Building should not be looked upon as a mind game or an effort by the CEO/President to create a “can’t we all just get along” executive camp out. At the least it should provide clear goals, agreement of effectively communicating to the company and impart confidence to the organization.
In a small organization with a dynamic senior management cadre, it is the CEO who must keep check on executives who could bring more liabilities than credits to the desired performance of the company. As a company changes due to: the economy, competition, maturity of the market, changes in management, or simply because of new corporate structure, the CEO who must look at his charges and make sure they are all pulling in the right direction.
Uncertain times seems to dictate that very small companies should pay attention to the workings of the executive team and use the Executive Team Building exercise as a “sanity check”. I prefer to use the term-Executive Team Meet: A time to sync-up, renew the relationships, discuss and re-enforce. Remember, Tem Building for executives should not be over used…so make each one special.
Here is where a meeting manager/consultant comes to the forefront-amplifying the experience from the head to the heart. What kinds of activities are available in any venue to support the objectives of the Executive Team Meeting? Recognize that Wine Country is the focus? Think beyond the traditional golf events, or dinners. You can take advantage of hot air ballooning, wine blending for a corporate holiday customer gift, cave dinners, a painting experience, culinary exercises, high profile guest speakers, etc.
Executive Team Building/Meeting is about communication, formatting the message to the employees, unifying the strengths of the team and most importantly, presenting a vital company persona to vendors and customers.