Elevating C-Suite excellence through team coaching

22nd August by Lee Robertson

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As a member of the C-suite team, what would you do if your mid-level managers, senior leaders and even CEO, revealed there was a collective belief that the executive team was ineffective?

That was a question I was left holding when I joined a webinar which shared the headline findings from DDI’s CEO Leadership Report 2023. For me, it very much opens up a debate around why some CEOs are paying a high price for board ineffectiveness. Surely, when feedback from across the business tells us that some boards are not up to scratch in driving strategy forward, should we not be having open and honest conversations at board level?

While many boards represent high-performing or effective teams, others will have become institutionalised in their behaviours, thinking and bad habits. Over time, ritualised patterns might have replaced agility and corporate politics give rise to inequalities of power. Individually your directors are excellent, but as a unit it might be dysfunctional with a negative affective tone, leaving it with much needed room for improvement.

The path to executive level can be long and challenging and is travelled with a huge amount of self-development. However, upon reaching the highest tier of leadership, the need for development often falls away under the leader’s belief that they have arrived and their development is a fait accompli.

When coupled with the reality that at C-suite level, it can often be hard for accomplished individuals to truly work together and difficult to share accountabilities it becomes problematic. It can turn out to be more challenging than imagined managing the senior leadership team and then confidence in the C-suite team begins to dwindle away over time. A fractured team can splinter further with egos inflating the sense of self and making it harder to admit to oneself or others that there may be development areas.

For organisations seeking to outperform the market over the long-term, this has to be treated as a red line. There is much at stake when an ineffective team is at the helm, particularly when you understand the downsides as outlined in DDI’s CEO Leadership report. Leaders at companies with ineffective teams are:

  • 6.5X less likely to say clear expectations have been set for them
  • 5X less likely to say that change is being handled well at their organisation
  • 2.3X less likely to feel they can succeed at operating their business through an ambiguous and uncertain environment, potentially their biggest risk to business success

On the flip side of the coin, DDI tells us that with an effective executive team in place, these organisations are 2.4X more likely to be able to engage and retain top talent and be 2.9X more likely to financially perform in the top 10% of their industry peers

In our experience of working with senior teams and also that of many of the team coaches who have trained with the AoEC on the Systemic Team Coaching® Diploma, team effectiveness and the achievement of results is the top outcome of a systemic team coaching engagement.

CEOs can bring in team coaching expertise to help them focus not only on the individual performance of their executives, but how the team operates as a single, cohesive entity. This helps stimulate learning rather than inhibiting it in what may have become a closed system. It helps leaders to rethink and operate within the context of emerging change so adaptability is maximised to lean into the unknown and work more effectively with complexity.

It is important to note that the lifespan of the modern organisation is falling. In a 2016 article on the IMD website by Stéphane Garelli he quotes ‘A recent study by McKinsey found that the average life-span of companies listed in Standard & Poor’s 500 was 61 years in 1958. Today, it is less than 18 years. McKinsey believes that, in 2027, 75% of the companies currently quoted on the S&P 500 will have disappeared.’

CEOS and their executive teams have a choice to make. If leaders want the organisations they lead to continue creating value and achieve longevity, then it is more vital than ever to ensure you have an effective executive team in place. If they don’t get ahead of what might be coming so they can anticipate change and make proactive, strategic choices that will allow their businesses to adapt, then organisational failure could be an outcome.

Executive teams must be at their peak so they can be agile and responsive. Team or systemic team coaching can help them get there via a route that allows them to better see and understand the issues and trends that might have a disruptive impact sooner rather than later.

Commercial viability is at stake, but with a genuine desire to make progress, executive teams can use coaching to turn their attention to what might be urgent, crucial and do-able if they are prepared to work together on a shared vision.