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Does a Seat at the Top Table Have Your Name on it?

It is customary for Senior Leadership Teams to consist of all the most senior managers in the organisation (hence, often mostly men). But is that the best way to do things?

When the price of entry to a seat at the top table is a simply based on being the most senior functional head, problems can arise. One purely logistical problem is that the team can end up being ginormous and completely incapable of making any coherent decision. The British Cabinet is an example that comes to mind. But whatever you call this top team, the membership of it should be determined by its collective purpose, and it is astonishing how often this ‘purpose’ remains foggy and undefined.

Irrespective of the sector, most leadership teams exist in essence to carry out the following functions (whether they know it or not).

  • Formulate and execute a coherent strategy

  • Define the areas of business focus

  • Prioritise Projects and 0bjectives

  • Respond to business challenges collectively, decisively, and swiftly

  • Clear roadblocks

  • Protect the business from external pressure

  • Ensure resources are available where they are needed

  • Set and coordinate budgets across the entire operation

  • Protect the organisation’s reputation

And depending on how enlightened the organisation is, good leadership teams look after the culture and ensure that their people are able to thrive.

The difficulty with appointing functional heads to this team, each with their own set of objectives (and incentives), is that it can be hard for them to separate their personal (or functional) needs from the wider needs of the organisation. That is why teams like this get into bun fights about who gets what, and who has to give up what. Being in meetings of this sort can resemble a balloon debate when what is called for is an enterprise-wide mindset.

Assessing a manager’s capacity to take the global view should be an important activity before appointing them to the top team. Even if they are the most senior representative of a function, a permanent seat at the table should not be a given. I imagine if this criterion were to be applied, we seen many Senior Leadership Teams shrink overnight. Some would be completely decimated.

A small Senior Leadership team complemented by a wider team of internal advisors drawn from the functions is probably a better way to go.

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