The call for leadership has arguably never been greater in organisations and across society. To a degree, this reflects an irrational devotion to the personality and capabilities of leaders. All the attention is then placed on the CEO and other prominent individuals in an organisation. And much of the success or failings of their enterprises are attributed to what they do or do not do. Whilst there is no doubt that they play a critical role, our observation is that to transform organisations and social systems, collective leadership is required to integrate perspectives, share responsibility and mobilise people.
Given the above, perhaps unsurprisingly, there has been very little research into executive teams. Research has exclusively focused on the attributes and styles of individual leaders, not leadership teams. From this position, we see a need to get beneath the surface of the experience of executive teams and understand how they can be supported. We have endeavoured to understand and appreciate the experience of team members.
We carried out this inquiry during the pandemic and our findings reflect both the unique challenges that leadership teams experienced during this period as well as revealing more universal experiences that come with the role of being the executive.
The purpose of this research therefore has been to understand the experience of executive teams in leading their organisations and, in doing so, to discover how they make a difference and have a meaningful impact.
The teams we studied headed entire organisations or major business units. We have taken a systemic position in trying to understand their experiences; looking at the team from the outside-in to explore how environmental dynamics, such as political and operational pressures, shape the team’s dynamics and emotional life; and looking from the inside-out to understand how the team’s dynamics shape their influence and impact on their environment.