The Ultimate Leadership Team Process:
How to Drive Your Strategy Forward

The Ultimate Leadership Team Process is used in the Designed to Scale Coaching Program. This is a multi-week training program that guides you and two in-house facilitators to energize the new structure and accelerate strategic execution.

The successful completion of the Level 1 Strategic Alignment Program and the Level 2 Structure Design Program is a prerequisite to using this tool.

It gives me great trepidation to explain the Ultimate Leadership Team Process to you before you experience it because chances are you’re going to brush it off and think, “Yeah, yeah, whatever.” We already have a leadership team and process. What’s the big deal?”

I get it. On the surface, it seems like I’m just describing another meeting. I’m actually describing the most important process in your entire organization. This process has been adopted by every successful Organizational Physics coaching client. In fact, this is true even for those who previously ran a formal process from another firm, such as EOS, Patrick Lencioni, or Traction.

The process works. It is essential to scaling up while pushing authority down. It is designed to serve a very particular purpose. I hope that I am able to convey that it warrants your attention and adoption. Here’s what you need to know.

The Purpose of the Leadership Team

The purpose of the Leadership Team is to drive strategic execution. Period. It is this team and its process that allow the CEO to delegate with visibility and control, to adapt the organization to changing conditions, to manage the conflicting polarities between short-range and long-range and efficiency and effectiveness, and to push autonomy as deeply as possible into the organization while still maintaining the right balance of centralized control.

It is through this same process that the team will improve cross-functional coordination, make data-driven decisions, and establish and reinforce the desired culture. It is for these reasons and more that getting this team and this process right—and optimizing it over time—is so mission-critical.

On the surface, it may look like I am describing just another meeting to add to your list of weekly engagements. But as you will see, this process is distinctly different. It is also a process that exists everywhere in nature. In fact, it is a process relied on by all successful complex adaptive systems and it has evolved over billions of years. This process can be described in a scientific analogy as fusion-fission.

Fusion-Fission

To understand the concept of fusion-fission and how it underpins an effective Leadership Team model, think of a beehive. A beehive is an amazingly productive system. It has been around for 30 million plus years. Each year a healthy hive produces about 5 times its weight in surplus honey, with life and death stakes. We all benefit too from their productivity because, as you know, without pollination humanity would lose an abundance of crops and billions would starve. We can all learn a lot about how to run a Leadership Team model by observing a hive in action.

As you imagine a hive in action, notice that every bee has a role to perform. Some gather water. Others gather pollen. There is even a percentage of “explorer” bees that roam around the environment seeking out novelty and new information. Then on a regular cadence, all the bees return to the hive and, once there, they exchange information. They are building shared consciousness across the hive about the threats and opportunities in the environment. Once enough data is collected, the hive engages in a vigorous decision-making process about what to do as a result of this new information. Once the debate reaches a tipping point, the decision-making process concludes and—bam!—each bee returns to its role in the hive or in the field. Then again, this repeats.

This is fusion-fission in action. Fusion is the process of joining together to form a single entity (the hive mind) and fission is the process of splitting apart to do individual roles (the bees). This fusion-fission pattern exists in all successful complex adaptive systems. Take the human body for example. It has senses that extend outwards and allow it to perceive stimuli in the environment (fission). But it must synthesize and process that data in the brain and gut (fusion) or it cannot take effective action and respond to change. The heart and lungs also work in a similar fashion, pumping oxygen throughout the body and pumping out carbon dioxide. Fusion, fission. Inhale, exhale. Come together, move apart. In, out.

Fundamentally, your business needs to run a process similar to the beehive, brain, or heart. Each week you gather a critical mass of functional heads (the Leadership Team) to engage in information exchange, including metrics, building shared-consciousness about internal and external threats and opportunities, assigning accountabilities, making key strategic decisions, and rallying to execute on the best course of action, and then—bam!—break from the hive and get after it with everyone playing an accountable role. In essence, the purpose of your Leadership Team meetings is to allow for that process to take place.

Who Should Be on the Leadership Team

The Leadership Team should consist of the minimum number of functional heads who are required to drive strategic execution, now and over time. I have found that about a dozen members is ideal. However, the process I am going to teach you can also handle a larger team—if the business model and lifecycle stage demands it.

Leadership Team members do not need to be direct reports of the CEO. Members may not all have the same level of title. This also means that a seat on the Leadership Team is not a permanent seat. Seats will change as the business needs evolve. What does not change is the fact that this team must consist of the minimum number of functions to provide a holistic view of the business and to drive strategic execution, now and over time.

A Good Leadership Team Model Requires a Facilitator

An optimal Leadership Team process is facilitated by someone other than the CEO—i.e., the head honcho does not run this meeting. This meeting is facilitated for the CEO so they can play the role of Strategic Execution and put pressure on the business to evolve.

The facilitator can be another member on the Leadership Team or a designated in-house facilitator. For this model to work, the facilitators must run and reinforce a well-designed process and the CEO must treat this as the most important meeting in their schedule each week. It is like a key client meeting but, in this case, the key client is the business itself.

Kill Duplicate Meetings

The Leadership Team meets weekly. The session lasts a morning or afternoon and consists of two distinct halves, with a purposeful 15 to 20-minute break in the middle of each half.

Are you thrilled at the thought of adding yet another half-day meeting into your weekly calendar? You should be, because in order for this process to be effective, the company must kill most of its other standing meetings that replicate aspects of the Leadership Team meeting format. Meaning, rather than having a bunch of sub-optimal meetings each week, I am encouraging you to drop most other meetings in favor of one primary, highly optimized one.

To be clear, there are some additional strategic execution meetings that cannot be killed or replaced including strategic planning and alignment, product roadmap prioritizations, workforce planning, budget setting, etc. However, you can replace one weekly Leadership Team meeting per month to accomplish these other objectives.

Time is our most precious commodity. Do not allow for a culture of death by suboptimal meetings. Funnel things into a few highly optimized meetings that fulfill their intended purpose.

The Leadership Team Process

Does it seem a bit nuts to you that I am putting so much emphasis on a weekly meeting? And especially a larger meeting with a dozen or so people? If so, I get it. But again, look underneath the surface. Some form of a fusion-fission process must exist in your organization. The better you can run it, the faster you can execute and adjust to changing conditions.

If you attempt to skip the Leadership Team process, or to just run it with a handful of senior leaders rather than a larger team of functional heads, you are going to steer the business into trouble. Why? Because you will lose visibility of key indicators, you will not have gathered a critical mass to maintain a unified direction and cadence, and you will have centralized control where you actually need autonomy, or vice versa.

The process for running this meeting is almost as critical as the talent you have on the team. If the CEO and the facilitators do not enforce a good process, this meeting is going to be highly ineffective and inefficient and it will bog down under its sheer size. The process that I have found most effective to achieve these aims comes right out of the agenda of an Agile Retrospective.

In case you are not familiar with it, Agile is a software development methodology and an Agile Retrospective is a formal project review and re-alignment process. I have found that a modified 6-step outline of an Agile Retrospective is an effective and efficient way to guide the process and cadence of Leadership Team meetings. The agenda looks like this:

Step 1: Set the Stage
Step 2: Gather Data
Step 3: Generate Insights
Step 4: Decide What to Do
Step 5: Create Action Plan
Step 6: Reinforce

If the process is done well and guided by a strong facilitator, the Leadership Team will quickly un-learn any bad meeting habits and the organization will quickly put an effective and efficient meeting cadence in place that it can cascade to the rest of the organization.

In a picture from my book Designed to Scale, an optimal Leadership Team meeting looks like this:

The intent is to gather a critical mass of functional heads to understand the data (quantitative and qualitative) and build shared consciousness about where the signals are pointing the group to focus. That information needs to be synthesized into appropriate buckets, which is the job of the CEO with the support of his or her facilitators, while the rest of the team goes on a short break. Then the full team comes back together to align on the right focus areas, make key strategic decisions, and get after it.

If a poorly run meeting has negative characteristics like unclear accountabilities, more talking heads than real substance and feedback, insufficient or unclear data, going down a rabbit hole to solve a situation out of sequence, and/or a bias for groupthink, then the Leadership Team process enforces just the opposite set of characteristics.

The Leadership Team process helps to enforce unarguable accountabilities. It gets the real issues on the table. It relies mostly on questions and feedback vs. talking heads. It develops world-class data and metrics for improved decision-making. And the team follows the right sequence so that it does not go down a rabbit hole or fall prey to groupthink. It is the most important process in your business and getting it right pays huge dividends.

Summary of the Leadership Team Process

The purpose of the Leadership Team meetings is to oversee short-range tactical decision-making and implementation of the strategy. The goal is to follow a sound process that leads to good team-based decisions that get implemented fast. However, this does not mean decision-making by consensus. It is participative decision-making with authority vested in the person in charge of the implementation. This distinction is important and it will get clearer as you participate in a few Leadership Team sessions and see how the process actually works. The ultimate goal is to build a thriving company that adapts quickly to changing conditions and drives sustainable results, now and over time.

How this Program Works

Using the Evolving Structure, together we will identify the initial leadership team members based on their roles in the new structure rather than their titles or reporting lines. I will train one to two in-house facilitators who can be other leadership team members themselves or others you identify. Your coach will train you and the facilitators on how to run the process and use the included Leadership Team management software. The meetings will be recorded over several weeks, and we’ll provide analysis and coaching to you and the facilitators so that the meeting format comes alive quickly and powerfully. The team’s clarity, teamwork, and momentum toward the strategy will improve in three to six weeks, and it should grow even stronger over the coming quarters.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Who is a good choice for facilitator?
Choose facilitators who are skilled at running a process and who have a natural ability to earn and maintain trust from the group. Leadership team members or non-members can serve as facilitators. As an initial step, we will train in two facilitators who will be able to help each other and train other employees in your company in those skills.

2. We’re already running a formal leadership team process. How is this different?
There are some similarities among all effective meeting processes. We are always optimizing this process. The only reason it exists is to make it easier to energize the new structure and see results; to drive strategic execution at scale; to enable the CEO to assess for role fit; to improve cross-functional coordination and execution speed; and to push autonomy and authority deep into the organization while simultaneously balancing for visibility and control. If your existing process does this as well or better, then you should keep using it and we’d love to learn it.

3. What software do you use?
We created a custom Coda doc for our Leadership Team Process software. Coda integrates with most existing workflow environments (Microsoft, Google, Slack, Asana, etc.). It’s powerful and flexible. We also teach you how to use the Coda software when we train you in this program.

4. How are Leadership Team members chosen?
In the previous level, we created the Evolving Structure, which indicates who should be on the new leadership team. For the CEO, who is the main client of this meeting, to have a holistic view of the entire business, a critical number of functional heads is needed on this team. The Leadership Team does not need to be all directly reporting to the CEO or have similar titles. They are on the team, temporarily, for the roles they play in the structure. That’s it.

How to Apply

If you like this way of thinking and want to engage in a similar process for your company, schedule a consult or learn how this module relates to the next.


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