The structure of organisational leadership is conceived as being two dimensional. That is, there are two teams, the board and an executive, operating independently of one another, yet residing within the same organisation.
For clarity, my definition of the term ‘executive’ refers to the CEO and senior functional managers, e.g. chief financial officer, operations manager, marketing manager, etc., who have regular contact, formal or informal, with the board and/or individual directors.
I propose that organisational leadership is, in fact, three-dimensional. That is, there are not two, but three teams that make-up the trinity of leadership: the board and executive, the traditional two-dimensional theory and the ‘third team.’ This team is the most powerful team within the trinity of leadership of an organisation. The third team is formed whenever the board and executive collaborate or meet in formal or informal settings.
The use of the term trinity: “Tri” meaning three, and “Unity” meaning one, acknowledges that individually they are unique and different, yet their power, and ultimately the performance of the organisation comes not from their individuality but from their unity.
The third team is at the heart of organisational performance; it develops and agrees the organisation’s common purpose, performance goals and approach. From this collaboration, members of the third team realise that while they are individually responsible, they are jointly accountable for organisational performance. A culture of mutual accountability leads to increased levels of synergy, trust and confidence within and between the individuals of the third team.
A culture of mutual accountability and synergy, trust and confidence are not achieved through policy, mandate or regulation. They develop from the multi-dimensional behavioural and cultural attributes and characteristics of the individual board and executive members. Choose your third team well, because the sum of the individual attributes, characteristics, cultural norms and values will be reflected in the organisation’s culture and ultimately its performance.
Two recent examples, Volkswagen and their deception of the market and its regulators, and French firm, Total SA, who has allegedly rigged natural-gas prices in the south-western USA for years. Typify organisations where the culture of the third team and ultimately the organisation has been nurtured in an environment lacking in synergy, trust, confidence and mutual accountability. While the head of the CEO of Volkswagen should rightly be on the block (metaphorically speaking). I suggest members of his Board of Management, and Supervisory Board should be with him. Recognising the existence of the third team, and its importance to developing mutual accountability alongside the cultural norms and values treasured by all stakeholders, would be the first step on a long journey to recovering their lost credibility and integrity.
How will you know if your organisation has a trinity of leadership or a fractured two dimensional leadership? When the elements of: synergy, trust, confidence, and a culture of mutual accountability exist in an organisation’s third team. You can hear it in the voices, and see it in the mannerisms, support and belief of every member of the third team as it imbues every facet of organisational culture and drives organisational performance. If it is not visible to you, you don’t have it!
Dr Denis Mowbray FCIS FGNZ