What is Your ‘First Team’?
Imagine a group of people who meet every day to resolve the most significant problems our society faces. Now, imagine those same people being more concerned about the people they represent and their own self–interest than society’s most pressing concerns.
When this happens, and people advocate for their political interests first and foremost, the greater good takes a backseat.
Imagine when politics focuses only on personal issues and not on the greater good.
This same phenomenon occurs in companies and organizations.
Executive teams are comprised of leaders from various functions – e.g. operations, sales, marketing, technology, human resources, finance – who are often more concerned about what’s going on in their own area than how the executive team as a whole is performing.
This is a very natural phenonium and something I often see in my consulting work.
To explore this idea, I always ask executive team members, “Which team is your first priority, your ‘First Team’?” Unfortunately, the answer is not easy to admit. If you want to ensure your leadership team is working as cohesively and effectively as possible, the question can’t be ignored or glossed over.
Most executive team members serve on two teams, the team they lead and the team they are a member. To be truly effective and for the good of the organization, they need to prioritize the leadership team first. This team must become their ‘First Team.’
To truly be a cohesive leadership team, members must pay attention to the team’s collective results over anything else, including the results of the groups that they may manage personally.
This is difficult for many leaders because they see it as being disloyal to their direct reports. Remember, a leader’s direct reports are the people they hired, the people they spend most of their time, and the people they enjoy leading.
However, if every member of an executive team is more concerned about how decisions will impact their group rather than the overall organization, collective decision–making will inevitably suffer.
Collective Versus Siloed Decision–Making
If a leadership team is debating how to allocate a budget surplus best, each team member’s perspective will affect their suggestions and, ultimately, decision–making. A group that believes the team they lead is their ‘First Team’ will usually engage in debate with a departmental focus: engineering needs more developers, marketing needs more advertising budgets, etc. This jockeying for position and resources often causes frustration and resentment.
When a team approaches the same budget question with the leadership team as their ‘First Team,’ the debate completely changes. The team evaluates each of the potential investments in light of what would be best for the organization and not just their group. As obvious as this sounds, clarifying the distinction about ‘First Team’ can make all the difference.
Make it Stick
To ensure that your leadership is adhering to the ‘First Team’ concept, I recommend reviewing the following with your team:
1. Point out the priority of ‘First Team’ before making any critical decisions. This will put leaders in the correct frame of mind. When entering an executive meeting, team members need to remove their functional hats and put on their executive team one.
2. Demand that team members prioritize the executive team over all others. When the executive team is truly cohesive and prioritized appropriately, their ability to face difficult challenges with confidence bonds, the team and models unity to the organization, this requires an absolute, unwavering commitment to the ‘First Team.’
3. Explain how the team’s direct reports will be impacted. Because if there is any daylight between executive team members, those lower in the organization are left to figure and fight it out.
4. Finally, change the agenda of the Executive team meetings from reporting on a functional or departmental basis to a goal or objective-based agenda. The organization’s goals and objectives should be the most critical work you do. The work that moves your organization forward and by each executive member reporting on how they are contributing to or have problems achieving the goal will completely change your ‘First Team’ meetings from silos to collective thinking.
Like many of the concepts I consult on, ‘First Team’ is as powerful as it is simple.
I have seen leaders with vast experience have an “aha” moment about this concept resulting in immediate impact on their team’s cohesion and their organization’s ability to succeed.
Credit to: Patrick Lencioni & The Table Group for the “#1 Team” concept