Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Study Shows CEOs Prefer Team Model

working paper that came out this month from the Harvard Business School on "Span of Control and Span of Activity" sheds some light on how today's CEOs engage with their senior executives. 

Interactions between top executives are central to the top management team (TMT) literature in management. According to this area of study, senior senior management acts as a team, not as a group of executives operating independently.  The CEO interacts with senior managers and senior managers interact with each other to share information and collectively make decisions.  

In contrast, models in economics propose the classic inverted tree model of organizational structure.  The CEO and each subordinate has a pairwise nature (one-to-one) and there is no multilateral interaction involving more than one subordinate, or with a subordinate and other managers (one-to-many).

According to the time use data from this study, when the CEO sits down for an internal meeting, there is representation at the table from across the organization.  In fact, "almost a half of CEO interactions with insiders are in fact cross-functional, which provides some initial supportive evidence for the team model of managerial interactions", and this lends itself to collective thinking and decision-making. 

One of the findings reported in the report's summary is that "CEOs interact with their subordinates in a team-like fashion and less as a group of independent executives. This is generally supportive of the central implicit assumption of the TMT literature that senior managers interact like teams, and in contrast with the simple inverted-tree model prevalent in the organizational economics literature."

There's more to learn from this study about CEO interactions with subordinates, yet the confirmation that the cross-functional senior team is going strong seems to mirror the increased focus on team dynamics within the industries of leadership training and development, management consulting, and executive coaching. 

"Individuals don't win in business, teams do."  Sam Walton

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