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Operating modes of the executive team: a subtle balance to be found... and an eternal restart!

In search for a style of its own which sets the bar for the whole organisation, the executive team must find a subtle balance between three very distinct operating modes. If their respective weights are bound to vary over time, the too marked predominance of one over the other two or the total absence of one of the three can lead the team down a dangerous path.

In the beginning was the “clan” or the “family”...

The clan: led by a charismatic, well-identified and often divisive leader - admired or hated - the executive team functions in a way that puts action and efficiency first. All initiatives are focused in the direction indicated by the leader and in accordance with the decisions he or she has taken. Vertical communication, with little cross-communication, ensures remarkable speed and consistency in execution. "Go"... and, like pilots in an air squadron, all team members comply and manoeuvre!

The family: based on fluidity and solidarity, the executive team operates in an agile mode supported by the quality of relationships between individuals. The co-tenants get to know each other well in order to ensure versatility and speed in the execution of tasks. Communication is transversal and varied, moments of exchange and conviviality are encouraged, and offers of help are spontaneous. "Always ready"... to support the group or to help a teammate at the first opportunity, just like a scout patrol!

As the organisation grows to a critical size, the "clan" and "family" modes soon show their limits.

The single vision of the 'clan' leader inhibits other perspectives of development, direct communication is no longer sufficient, interpersonal tensions simmer and some people even tear each other apart in the absence of the leader.

In the 'family', inbreeding sets in, making it difficult to integrate newcomers who do not have the experience of the beginning of the adventure, sub-groups are created, affinities take precedence over requirements and efficiency, nepotism prevails over judgement and the full use of competencies.

In both cases, the need to put in place more rules, methods and processes is felt.

Then comes the club:

Piloting a larger and more complex organisation, the executive team clarifies its roles & responsibilities, sets up its operating rules. Using the same codes, the same tools, speaking the same language becomes essential to maintain a declining efficiency within an enlarged team. Emails replace oral communication, monthly meetings prevail over 1:1 exchanges or informal discussions in the cafeteria. "Follow the rules”... as members of a tennis or golf club would do!

A way of working that gradually reveals its limits: meetings and written documents replace improvised exchanges, the rule becomes dogma, individualism and even some mercenary behaviours lead to a loss of meaning and a real sense of belonging to the company.

The question then arises: how can we regain the 'clan' momentum and the 'family' agility that drove the executive team in its early days? A subtle balance to be found... and an eternal restart!

Philippe Baumgarten (Keiros Conseil) & Thierry Stéphan (five up)


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