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Is Your C-suite an Orchestra or a Pit team?

c-suite performance

Time is running-out for those organizations with the top down hierarchical structure of yesteryear. Greater agility and innovation is required to compete in an increasingly complex and fast-changing business-world.  That requires replacing hierarchies with networks and silos with cross-functional collaboration.

Like so many other things, cross-functional collaboration must begin at the top of the organization.  But what does this more collaborative C-suite look like?  For some it resembles an orchestra, for others it is more like a pit team.

The Symphonic C-Suite

Deloitte's annual Human Capital Report for 2018 report uses the metaphor of a management team working as an orchestra with the leader as the conductor and function heads playing their different instruments in harmony.  The message is that organizations need what it calls ‘a Symphonic C-suite'(1).

An orchestra is  good metaphor, although some do prefer jazz given the requirements of improvisation in a less certain age(2).

The C-Suite Pit team

‘We are a long way from being able to perform Beethoven's 5th symphony' joked the new CEO of a traditional company.  He continued: ‘It's not always beautiful music when we're together', adding that ‘the strong-willed personalities and egos of individual department heads means they can be slow to follow the conductor's batton!'

To describe the rough and tumble of teams and teamwork in his organisation, the CEO preferred another metaphor – one that replaces the symphony with the pitstop and the orchestra with a pit team.  For him, this recognized the tension and cohesion, as well as excitement and adrenaline that often characterized c-suite collaboration.   It also conveyed the pressure that people were under, the risks involved and, of course, the need for speed.  The CEO was a Growth Pitstop™ client and the pitstop meta-model hung in his corner office.  He had also read our books ‘Pitstop to Perform™‘(3) and ‘Growth Pitstop‘(4).

During a pitstop a team of 22 people will change all 4 tires in under 2 seconds, returning the driver and car to the track with a greater chance of winning.  But in a race where milliseconds separate the cars, it takes just one team member to make a mistake and the race is lost. The pit lane can be a noisy and even dangerous environment and the pit team is the very definition of working under-pressure.

Much has been written about the challenges of collaboration within senior leadership teams.  Getting any ‘group of experts' or high performers to collaborate isn't easy.  The higher the rank, the bigger the ego or the busier the person, the more difficult collaboration becomes.  Some of the common challenges include sharing information, group think and openness to outside ideas.

Why a pitstop instead of a symphony and a pit team instead of an orchestra?

Well, there are 21 reasons why – these correspond to the labels on the pitstop meta-model.  These communicate the requirements of an effective Senior Leadership Team, and can be grouped under 4 headings; design, dynamics, leadership, strategy-execution.

Based on our work with over 900 teams in organizations such as Pfizer and Great West Life Co., we believe the choreographed precision of the pit team sets the new standard for cross-functional collaboration.  However, such teamwork does not come naturally and without a determined effort (as well as consistent practice) on the part of all those involved.  There are specific behaviors that are required to foster collective performance (e.g. trust and respect – bottom of the pitstop meta-model).  Moreover, its is about ensuring that people are in the right roles, doing the right work (top of the meta-model).

Interested in the performance of your senior leadership team?  Contact us today.















(1) ‘The symphonic C-suite: Teams leading teams', Deloitte 2018 Global Human Capital Trends, Authors: Dimple Agarwal, Josh Bersin, Gaurav Lahiri, Jeff Schwartz & Erica Volini, March 28, 2018.

(2) Those who favor jazz as a metaphor for modern management include: Paul J. H. Schoemaker and Steven Krupp, ‘Winning the Long Game: How Strategic Leaders Shape the Future' PublicAffairs, 2014 and ‘The Upside of Turbulence: Seizing Opportunity in an Uncertain World', by Donald Sull, HarperBusiness, October 6, 2009.

(3) ‘Pitstop to Perform™', Ray Collis & John O Gorman, ISBN: 978-1-907725-08-1, Jan. 2018.

(4) ‘Growth Pitstop', Ray Collis & John O Gorman, ISBN: 978-1-907725-06-7, Jun. 2016.

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