How can the team at the top better support a team-based organization?

Exploring the C-suite’s role in creating a more agile organization

Posted by Stacey Philpot and Joan Goodwin on September 12, 2019.

The shift toward team-based work is well underway, with nearly one-third (31 percent) of respondents to our 2019 Global Human Capital Trends survey saying that “most” or “almost all” work is done in teams. Given the rapid pace of the external environment and the complexity of organizational work, it isn’t surprising that solutions require multiple people working in various teams across the organization. In fact, when most employees are asked how many teams they are on, you’ll often hear 5, 10, even 20 distinct teams that are active in their day-to-day lives. The C-suite hasn’t been immune to this need. From working as a team themselves to enabling teaming in the rest of the organization, the C-suite has a big role to play in enabling a more agile and collaborative organization.

In the past, executive teams often operated in a “hub-and-spoke” model, with the CEO at the center connected to different functional leaders with clearly defined functionally driven responsibilities. This made it easier to hold people (and functions) accountable. But with the pace of change, this type of leadership for today’s executive teams is largely too slow or simplistic. Today we tend to see much larger executive teams with a proliferation of interconnected roles, so, for example, not only a CHRO, but a chief talent officer and a chief diversity officer on the executive committee. This reflects the growing complexity of the executive team’s work as they strive to address strategic and operational issues while continually evolving the organization. The challenges at the executive level now require much more integration, and as such we’ve seen executive teams shift to operating as a highly effective decision-making unit—modeling agility, quick decision-making, and collaboration.

This need to work together consistently is a pattern we see across the organization. The whole face of teaming has changed. It used to be mostly discrete project teams focused on a goal; now it’s common to see people on multiple teams simultaneously as the way all work gets done, not only special projects. At the same time, leadership practices and important levers like performance management and rewards haven’t caught up with the team-oriented nature of work, reducing productivity, engagement, and, at times, innovation.

In our 2019 Trends research, only 17 percent of C-suite executives said they “regularly collaborate on long-term interdependent work.” Outdated compensation structures aren’t helping—13 percent of the C-suite executives surveyed identified “CxOs’ compensation incentives do not reward collaboration” as the most significant barrier to their teaming with peers. More than half (55 percent) of all respondents said “individual performance review” was the basis for performance-based rewards—almost double the rate (28 percent) that said rewards were based on “achievement of measurable team metrics.”

To get the most out of teaming and collaboration, organizations must reevaluate how they manage performance. High-performing organizations are more than twice as likely as other organizations to include team performance (not just individual performance) in their evaluations.1

What the C-suite can do
To better enable and incent teaming, the C-suite can focus on changing behaviors by identifying areas of the business to experiment and pilot with, taking lessons from industries already seeing success with teaming. Technology startups are typically agile and team-based, some biopharmaceutical and life sciences companies are using product teams combining R&D and marketing, and professional services firms routinely work in teams to serve clients and internal needs. In these organizations, leaders examine how resources are allocated, how goals are set, and how performance is measured all with an eye toward teaming.

When standing up a pilot project such as an acquisition, new market, or other strategic initiative, the leaders of that team could look to address the following:

  1. How goals and priorities are set: What will be the goal(s)/priorities for the team, and importantly, how will those goals tie into broad organizational goals?
  2. How performance is managed, measured, and rewarded: How will the individuals on the team be measured against team performance? What metrics will be used? How will performance be tied to rewards?
  3. How resources are allocated: Rather than allocating resources (budget, people, time, training) functionally, how can resources be allocated to teams holistically? What are the implications for team leaders and members?
  4. How the effort is communicated and achievements celebrated: How will the whats and whys of teaming be communicated across the organization as an imperative? What mechanisms are there for sharing and celebrating success stories?

If this sounds complicated, it’s not surprising. Changing organizational behaviors and practices that have been in place for decades will not happen overnight, and will likely be an incremental journey—one that the C-suite must lead. By committing to the transformation, operating collaboratively itself, addressing major organizational behavioral levers such as resource allocation and performance management, and identifying areas in the organization to serve as pilots, the journey to team-driven agility can begin.

Stacey Philpot is a principal in the Human Capital practice of Deloitte Consulting LLP, with more than 20 years of experience consulting to companies on leadership development, succession planning, and talent strategy implementation.

Joan Goodwin is a specialist leader and the performance management practice leader in the Human Capital practice of Deloitte Consulting LLP, focused on talent management, performance and development, culture change, leadership development, and change management.

1Kathi Enderes and Matthew Deruntz, “Seven top findings for enabling performance in the flow of work,” Bersin™, Deloitte Consulting LLP, 2018.

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