It is not controversial to say that executive teams have a disproportionate influence on the health and performance of an organisation.

But who ensures their health and performance as a team is at its most effective?

Generally speaking, responsibility for the wellbeing and effectiveness of an executive team will lie with the CEO and the CHRO, however it can be challenging for CHROs to raise concerns in a team of their peers and CEOs often have plenty of other things to think about than how their exec team is feeling or behaving. 

To add to the challenge for the CHRO, it may also be that the CEO is part of the problem.

Consider the executive team is performing perfectly well but in a world that is fast disappearing. As well being highly capable custodians who deliver reliability, the extent of external disruption means they also need to be transformational change leaders.

Again, the challenge remains – how does the CHRO, or the CEO for that matter, engage their top team with the idea that, even though they have been successful enough to get to the top of the organisation, they now need to invest time and vulnerability in transforming themselves, both individually and as a team because as well as reliable custodians, in this new world a culture of positive disruption and fast adaption is also necessary.

If an organisation wants an even higher performing executive team capable of leading the business more effectively and / or leading transformational change, there are a number of common attributes regardless of the vision, values or culture of the organisation:


How well do the team trust each other? The dynamics of an exec team are challenging. Often team members are working with people they have not chosen and in challenging circumstances. The need for trust is high but the situation can make it tempting to be cautious rather than open. Also, it is not unusual for exec team members to calibrate trust differently to each other, so while they individually feel that they are being very trusting, the actual behaviours are quite different. 

Psychological Safety

Closely related to trust, a perceived lack of psychological safety will severely limit our willingness to make ourselves vulnerable, which in turn limits our capacity to challenge each other, collaborate, be creative and lead. When the team has an understanding of how safe the team feels and the extent to which the team encourages or discourages psychological risk taking, they can clearly see what needs to change.


Even with high levels of psychological safety, leadership still requires us to make ourselves vulnerable. Leadership is fundamentally the skill of creating change. Change requires us to do something we have never done before, we don’t know what the outcome will be and we have to take others on the journey with us. If we are not prepared to make ourselves vulnerable, this cannot happen and understanding each individual’s limits to vulnerability is essential.


Silos are formed at the exec team level and the level below, given the inherent challenge in establishing cross-functional or horizontal loyalty and collaboration compared with the relative ease of functional or vertical loyalty and collaboration. The gravitational pull is nearly always vertical. 


Exec teams need to be the best version of themselves as much of the time as possible and to create an environment where others can be too. If they don’t, who else will? However, the pressure of responsibility and delivery can lead to exec team members spending much or even most of their time triggered to a lesser state. Rather than being interdependent, collaborative and trusting, without intentional awareness, they can be independent, competitive and cautious. We are all vulnerable to triggering, the skill we need to learn is to be able to de-escalate ourselves and others rapidly and effectively. 


Leadership requires sufficient bandwidth to detach from day-to-day pressure and be strategic. One of the key skills for all senior executives, and especially exec team members, is the ability to take ownership for creating bandwidth and prioritising and delegating effectively. In most organisations we promote people into leadership roles because they are good at doing something, rather than because they are good at leadership. We all get a sense of self worth from doing what we are good at, however, very often this results in people continuing to do what they are good at and doing the more challenging leadership stuff (that makes them feel vulnerable) off the side of their desks. This happens even at the exec team level. To compound matters, in many organisations busyness is equated with status. 

Influencing, Decision Making and Delegation

The skill and confidence with which exec team members can influence, decide and delegate between each other and their direct reports is critical to the ability to lead. A lack of confidence in these skills can easily lead to people accepting sub-optimal solutions, overloading or waiting for instructions rather than taking the initiative. 

Whilst Holos has a particular expertise in Executive Team Alignment, where we work with an executive team to articulate the vision for where they want to get to, define the kind of organisational culture that will be required to get there and then help the exec team to reliably role model that culture before working with them to enrol the next tier of the organisation, the starting point is always a process of Exec Team Due Diligence to calibrate the attributes above.

Exec Team Due Diligence takes the form of one to one interviews with all of the members of the executive team where we ask specific questions combined with particular expertise that enable us to calibrate for the attributes of a high performing exec team. However, we have to establish a high level of trust with each of the team members as part of the process to ensure that they feel safe to say what is on their minds. This is done through absolute confidentiality and the certainty that the conversation is not, in any way, an individual assessment and also through demonstrating the experience of the Holos team and clarity about the purpose of the interviews and the value of the next steps.

To ensure any organisation is on top form, we’d recommend Exec Team Due Diligence is a process that organisations do annually. Not only does it give the CEO and the CHRO invaluable data about one of the most crucial influences on organisational health and performance, Holos is highly collaborative in supporting necessary conversations that follow which ultimately benefit the health and performance of every individual, team and the whole organisation.

For a free Exec Team Evaluation, try our beta Exec Team Due Diligence Survey to get a snapshot of where your team is at!

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