Building a Healthy and Aligned Executive Team in One Day
I recently did a full-day workshop with a tech company to help align their leadership team and thought I’d share the agenda and exercises with those of you who are looking to do the same.
It’s fairly common that C-suites don’t function too well as a team. As high-performing individual contributors and managers, executives tend to dedicate little effort to strengthening the relationship with their peers.
As founding team members and experts in their domain, they might have grown apart whilst getting the company off the ground. Or, a recently hired C-suite that hasn’t worked together before, their focus remains mostly on their own performance and that of their department(s).
When it comes to organizational health, building a cohesive leadership team is the first and most important thing to tackle. Without building this strong foundation, everything else will be an uphill battle. Patrick Lencioni, founder of The Table Group, is well known for his expertise on the topic. I’m a fan of the simplicity and effectiveness of his methodology and use them all the time with clients.
Below, you can find the agenda for a full-day workshop with your executive team. Many of the exercises are based on Patrick Lencioni’s book The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team.
Note: This agenda is full on. Make sure to move fairly quickly through each of the sections. Teams tend to get stuck or go off the rails. If there are multiple issues to resolve, you prefer to not feel rushed, or include more strategic exercises (Results section), I recommend planning two days for this. But, even if you don’t get to cover all of the exercises during the day — simply schedule one or two follow up sessions to finalize everything. There is no need to squeeze.
1–2 Day workshop agenda
Foundation (1 hour)
1. Personal and professional highlights
Before diving into the thick of it, start the day going around the table sharing a personal and professional highlight from the past quarter or month. I often do a quick centering exercise for everyone to arrive mentally in the room.
2. Intention and outcomes
Set your intention and desired outcome and share it with the other team members — you will see, most likely everyone is looking to resolve a similar situation and is eager to get alignment.
3. Ground rules
Establishing some basic rules for the day will help get people into the right mindset. Here, some things to remember:
- Prioritize the results of the team over your individual or departmental needs. Beware of distractions — ego, career, money, department needs.
- Team #1 — Take off your department hats and focus on the greater good of the organization. The idea of team #1 is that executives make the c-level team their top priority — instead of the team they manage.
- Embrace conflict and the opportunity this presents. Humble conflict is the pursuit of truth and the best possible solution available.
- The more honest and open you can be with each other, the more productive you will be.
- There is not one right way of how the day should go but you need commitment and engagement from everyone.
- Any decision that’s communicated to the rest of the company, has to be agreed on beforehand.
4. The 5 Dysfunctions of a team — model
If you are not familiar with Patrick Lencioni and his books The Advantage and The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team, I highly recommend having your team read them to get a common understanding of his methodology. Many issues can be avoided by using the principles he teaches. Take 15 minutes to go over the model below to gain a general overview of the 5 Dysfunctions and how they build on each other.
This means CEOs need to:
- Be vulnerable,
- Encourage debate and conflict
- Make responsibilities and deadlines clear
- Set the team’s standards
- Be clear on the team’s outcome.
#1 Trust(2 hours)
5. Trust exercise
Starting with the first and most important dysfunction — absence of trust — go around the table and let each person share their answers to the following questions:
- On a scale from 1–5, how would you rate the current level of trust in the team?
- Why — what gaps can you identify?
- What would need to happen to build or rebuild more trust?
- What would you need from the other team members to fully commit to team #1?
- How would you, the team members, and the company benefit from that?
6. Personal history
Working together unfortunately does not mean knowing each other on a deeper level. Building trust is a matter of being open and vulnerable with each other, understanding each other’s past both personally and professionally. Take 5 minutes to answer the following questions and let everyone share them with the team.
- What are the most important accomplishments of your career?
- What was the most embarrassing moment in your career? Or the biggest failure?
- What experiences most shaped who you are (personally / professionally)?
- What are the biggest obstacles you’ve overcome and how did you grow from them(personally / professionally)?
- Who is someone better than you in an area that really matters to you?
- What’s something you really value and appreciate about yourself?
7. Myers Briggs review
No matter if executives have worked together for a decade or only a few months — knowing each other’s differences, preferences, personality, and leadership styles is not a given. Before the full-day workshop, let your team take the Myers Briggs personality test. During the session, allow 10 minutes to summarize their results, and share their profile highlights in a nutshell.
- My personality in a nutshell
- My greatest strengths
- My weaknesses I’d like to address for the good of the team
8. Personal plan
The last exercise to build more trust between each other, is to get everyone to share their goals and future plans. Knowing what people are working towards, can be a great indicator for understanding their motivations and point of view in a conflicted situation. It develops empathy for each other. Go around the table and have everyone share their answers to the following questions. If you want to go deeper on this, do the Wheel of Life exercise.
- What in life is most important to you?
- What are you passionate about?
- What are you working towards?
- What’s your long-term vision both personally and professionally?
Lunch — 45 min
#2 Conflict (90 min)
9. Conflict profiling
- As a team, choose an issue the team has wrestled with recently — one that is particularly difficult to resolve (this is most likely the reason why you’re doing this workshop in the first place).
- Review prior discussions of the issue and analyze them according to the Issue Resolution Model, looking for as many as possible of the different obstacles that were present during those past discussions.
- Compare your answers and discuss the impact that various obstacles had on the decision making process. What do individuals need to pay attention to based on how this issue has been approached in the past?
10. Conflict discussion
Each team member gives their input, perspective AND suggested solution on the issue (which serves the greater good of the team and company). Take your time with this exercise and embrace conflict. Get it all out on the table — don’t hold back.
“Teams that lack trust often have destructive arguments because they are laced with politics, pride, and competition, rather than humble pursuit of truth. When people who don’t trust one another engage in passionate debate, they are trying to win the argument.” — Patrick Lencioni.
#3 Commitment (30 min)
11. Commitment clarity
After everyone shares their perspective, frustrations and wants, summarize the commitment you make as a team, even if not everyone agrees on the decision.
Note to the CEO: “Good leaders drive commitment among the team by first extracting every possible idea, opinion, and perspective from the team. Then, comfortable that nothing has been left off the table, they must have the courage and wisdom to step up and make a decision.”
Break (30 min)
#4 Accountability (2 hours)
“ Accountability is the willingness of team members to remind one another when they are not living up to the performance standards of the group.” — Patrick Lencioni. Hold each other to a higher standard — by first agreeing what exactly that standard looks like.
12. Feedback (behavior accountability)
Answer the following questions about each member of the team other than yourself. Starting with the team leader in the hot seat, let everyone share their answers (in two rounds).
Round 1: What is that person’s single most important behavioral quality or characteristic that contributes to the strength of the team? (Their strength)
Round 2: What is that person’s single most important behavioral quality or characteristic that detracts from the strength of the team? (Their weakness or problematic behavior)
While listening to everyone’s feedback, let people take notes on what they are surprised about and 1–3 behavioral changes they are willing to commit to. Make a list and review regularly during team meetings.
13. Responsibility Scorecards (performance accountability)
It’s surprising to see how many executives lack clarity on their responsibilities and how to measure their individual performance. This can be very dangerous since CEOs tend to appreciate the work of those who have a more tangible impact on company performance — leaving the others frustrated. Make sure each leader (and employees across the entire organization) has a one-page responsibility scorecard with the following components:
Note: Update Scorecards on a quarterly basis (or more frequently, depending on the growth rate of your company).
- Reporting line
- Mission (in one or two sentences, summarize why this role exists)
- Responsibilities (and accountability for results of their department(s))
- Outcomes (each responsibility has a measurable outcome attached to it)
- Competencies (and characteristics someone in this role must have to succeed — e.g. analytical, leadership ability, strategic, detail oriented, etc. If there are gaps between expectation and reality, use an executive coach for development)
- Decision-making authority (lifts responsibility off the CEO’s shoulders, creates clarity, and unblocks bottle necks.)
#5 Results — (1 hour)
14. Results section
The result section really depends on what issue you tackled earlier. In this specific case, the client wanted to get clarity and buy-in on their org chart. A team might want to focus on achieving strategic clarity and alignment, people or culture issues, non-executive board efficacy, internal communication, processes, leadership development… anything important, really.
Summary (30 min)
15. Who, What, When summary
Who will do what until when? What are your action steps from all the exercises? I recommend a recurring meeting to follow up and stay on track. Finding 2h monthly / bi-weekly to stay aligned, resolve important issues and strengthen team #1 can be an absolute game changer for many companies — especially as you scale.
16. Cascading communication
What will you tell your team about outcomes, changes, and action steps before the end of the week?
As I mentioned in the beginning, there is not one right way of facilitating this workshop. Depending on your needs, spend as much time as you see fit on each of the 5 Dysfunctions, expand on certain topics or skip some of the exercises — even though you might be surprised how impactful they are. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.