Think about your leadership team—it’s a group of high-power, high-capability individuals that works to maintain and improve organizational success. Now, consider each individual on that team: every leader has likely come from a different professional background, with a discrete career path. The Vice President of Human Resources, Sheryl, likely started her career in an entry-level generalist role, moving up the ranks as she proved her competency and efficiency. Through her entire career, Sheryl had to focus exclusively on improving value through people—until she joined the leadership team.
Now, Sheryl will likely be stuck in meetings during which the CEO focuses on sales, margins, and quarterly net income. Sheryl thinks more time should be spent discussing attrition, engagement, compliance, and talent acquisition. Rarely, if ever, does Sheryl get to lead conversations with her CEO and her colleagues for which she has the most passion. To compensate for her inability to focus on her HR team’s priorities, Sheryl begins to cater to her previous colleagues; she represents their best interests in every executive meeting, ultimately disregarding the proposed best interests of the leadership team as a whole.
Sheryl is experiencing functional team primacy; her priorities remain with her previous teams, colleagues, and direct reports—she has trouble accepting responsibility for the goals of the leadership team. When high-performing individuals are promoted into new leadership roles, especially within the organizational management team, they often experience similar feelings. A new Vice President of Operations might give disproportionate favor or attention to the company’s field reps, instead of devoting himself to the goals and priorities of his new team.
When new leaders experience functional team primacy, the efficacy of the leadership team is shaken.
As I’ve worked closely with international leadership teams, I’ve found functional team primacy to be at the root of almost every intergroup conflict or performance dysfunction. To become an efficient, high-performance team, every member must adopt the new team’s goals and objectives. This takes both a personal commitment from each member of the team and a collective commitment to value the disparate perspective of each team member.
After making the personal realization that she truly is integral to the leadership team, including its broad business accountabilities, Sheryl is able to more effectively contribute her passion and expertise. Her representation of the organization’s talent and human capital is crucial to developing a precise overarching strategy for the company—without her contribution, the leadership team would fail to execute in a way that maximizes the value of its human capital.
To learn more about overcoming functional team primacy, tune to our previous webinar: 5 Obstacles to Team Effectiveness – Maersk Case Study.