5 Steps You Can Use To Build a “First Team” Mindset

Credit to:

Patrick Lencioni & The Table Group for the “First Team” concept,

Jason Wong of https://www.attack-gecko.net/

and  Dalmau Consulting for the image

I loved my job.

I was part of a powerful and effective executive team to whom I was loyal. I had no problem identifying that they were the team I was personally responsible for and accountable for.

They were my ‘First Team.’

I had built my team into a great team. People took on some of the most complex projects you could imagine and not just succeeded but excelled. I felt great loyalty to everyone who directly and indirectly reported to me.

But there is no doubt that my division was my ‘Second Team.’

Read about what Punk taught me about this situation.

First Team?”

A First Team – best articulated by Patrick Lencioni – is the idea that true leaders prioritize supporting their fellow leaders over their direct reports—that they are responsible to their peers more than they are to their individual or “Second” teams.

If you’re not entirely on board with that concept, I get it.

In my experience, a “First Team” mindset has been transformational in creating a high performing organization by improving the quality of leadership and management practiced.  

When leaders have built trust with each other, it becomes significantly easier to manage change, exhibit vulnerability, and solve problems together.

I was part of a team who looked and functioned as like example A in the drawing:

When I fell out of my “First Team.”

Things changed when I got a new boss close to me and considered myself a trusted confidant. Over time she went quiet, stopped sharing reasons for decisions and stopped responding. People were hired onto the leadership team I belonged to, whom I believed did not demonstrate the standards I expected of them. My performance began to slip, and my reactions to events were not always as professional as I either hoped or was expected of me.

In retrospect, all the signs pointed to the simple fact that I was nearing or had gone past my best before date as far as she was concerned. To be clear, I have never purported myself to be perfect in any regard. Still, in this case, I was dealing with a boss who was not providing me precise and proper performance management nor effective leadership.

As pictured in example B, I lost faith in my boss and much of the leadership team.

So much so that I focused on my team, and slowly but surely, I became more and more isolated from the organization’s objectives.

 Other Examples of a Broken “First Team”

Imagine a world where the top leaders in your organization are gathered to solve the company’s most pressing challenges. Instead of coming together as a team focused on solving that problem, they approach the exercise more concerned about their self-interest than solving the company’s needs, as pictured in example D above.

Or are you part of a leadership team so disconnected from the rest of the company that they have

no idea what is happening on the shop floor? Picture example C above as the worst of ‘Undercover Boss.’ Where leadership has no idea.

But probably just another day at work for many people, and it’s why I spend a lot of time building a First Team mindset with my clients.

Read more about unaligned leadership teams.


Here are some of the ways I’ve had success in creating a First Team mindset:

Be Explicit

Be explicit about the behaviours you expect from your leaders. Be clear with my managers about their responsibility to one another, including detail of the First Team expectation in the job description and interview for how they’ve practiced it.

Treat Them Like a Cohort

If you don’t treat your leadership team like a cohort, they won’t become one. Ensure you regularly bring together your leadership team, including everything from mailing lists and slack channels to team-building exercises and social events.

Information and trust are the currencies of leadership, and demonstrating an equal distribution through shared experiences is a powerful tool.

Help Them Help Each Other

Encourage interdependence and normalization of help-seeking amongst team members.

Please encourage them to talk to one another about their problems and refer them for help.

Role-play difficult conversations with a fellow manager role play it.

Help Them Help You

Invite your First Team to help you solve your problems.

This vulnerability may feel scary, but it has proven beneficial to leverage your leaders’ capabilities to lead to better outcomes for your organization. And it is a great development opportunity because it exposes them to the types of problems they will face at the next level of their career.                   

Make it Stick

To ensure that you and your leadership team is adhering to the First Team concept, I recommend reviewing the following with your team:

    • At every opportunity, point out the priority of Team #1 before making any critical decisions.

This will put leaders in the correct frame of mind.

    • 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 complex challenges with further confidence bonds the team and models unity to the organization, this requires an absolute, unwavering commitment to the First Team.

    • Explain how the team’s direct reports will be impacted.

We all know that if there is any daylight between executive team members, it ultimately results in unwinnable battles that those lower in the organization are left to fight.

Like many of the concepts I consult on, First Team is as powerful as it is simple.

Learn more about how I work with executive teams

I have seen highly educated leaders with vast experience have an “aha” moment about the First Team concept resulting in an immediate impact on their team’s cohesion and ability to succeed.