A few weeks ago I described some of the dysfunction that exists among Executive Leadership Teams (ELTs) as identified by CHROs in my latest survey. However, it would be unfair to leave it at that and simply complain about the problems without offering solutions. In fact, in the same survey CHROs reported a number of activities in which they engage to help the team become more effective.
First, there are a number of one-on-one discussions that CHROs have with ELT members outside of the ELT meetings. CHROs frequently have to give feedback to ELT members regarding the appropriateness of their conduct (e.g., the passive/aggressive or immaturity expressed as a team weakness). They also engage in much coaching of the ELT members, helping them to explore how to raise certain issues with the CEO, or in the ELT meetings, or how to approach a peer. Finally, they step in to act as a mediator among two or more ELT members in conflict. In essence, the CHRO often serves as the lubricant to smooth communications among ELT members.
Second, there are things that CHROs do in the team meetings to ensure that the meetings are more productive. Given that CHROs noted a lack of candor/dialogue/discussion as the most frequent area of weakness for the ELT, CHROs step into this void to try to ensure that the proper dialogue and discussion takes place. This requires asking the questions that others might be afraid to ask, voicing unpopular opinions, or otherwise forcing a dialogue that did not naturally appear.
Finally, some CHROs reported proactively and strategically working on building team capability as a more ongoing process. First, they work with the CEO and other ELT members to come to consensus on the organization's purpose, strategic priorities, and strategic alignment. Second, they also seek to gain consensus among the ELT regarding the operating expectations for the team in terms of communication, conflict resolution, etc. Third, they institute specific team building interventions aimed at helping the ELT members to learn how to work together more effectively. These interventions may be focused specifically on work (e.g., defining areas of responsibility/accountability, how to raise thorny issues, etc.) or they may be focused on simply building social relationships among the team members outside of their work relationships. Finally, CHROs play a key role in defining and building the talent on the team. They identify individuals who lack the necessary skills and work with the CEO to exit them while upgrading talent through their replacements.
In summary, getting highly ambitious people to work as a team is not a natural process, but it is a necessary one. CHROs seem to play a significant role in making this happen.