Your team is your brand Executive transitions

19 July 2017

Does your team work best as a relay or a basketball team? What do you do when you inherit a dysfunctional team? Do you have the right people in the right seat? How are your team’s goals being set and met? Ajit Kambil answers these questions as he talks about trust, teamwork, and collaboration.

Within a year, the team that you have begins to reflect on your brand, and it may be even within six months. People will be noticing how you are managing your team around you. It's very critical to get that done right.

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TANYA OTT: I’m Tanya Ott and this is the Press Room, Deloitte University Press’s podcast on the issues and ideas that matter to your business today. If you’re listening right now, there’s a really good chance that you’re on a team. I’m not a gambler, but I’d take that bet any day of the week.

There are all kinds of teams. There’s your family. Maybe you’re active on a community board or in a club or you play a sport. How well that team operates depends on a lot of factors, but at the top of the list is how it’s organized and led. It’s true on the court and in the office. When you’re a manager—doesn’t matter if it’s middle management or C-suite—once [you’ve] got your team members in place, you’ve got to figure out how to help them work like a team. It’s not always easy.

AJIT KAMBIL: Think about a relay team. Every individual on that relay team gets the baton, runs as hard as they can, and just passes off the baton to the next person. It's almost like a series of individual performances that lead to a collective action. In the case of a basketball team, the coordination amongst the team is much more fluid. Each person has their position that they have to play [in]. But they will sometimes go out of their position if the nature of the game demands.

TANYA OTT: How the team operates, the level of trust that’s needed, can be quite different depending on the situation. Ajit Kambil is global research director for Deloitte’s CFO program and creator of the Executive Transition Labs. It’s a one-day workshop that helps new CFOs [with] thinking about their goals and how they allocate resources. Kambil says knowing what kind of team you want—and getting it right—is crucial when you’re a manager.

AJIT KAMBIL: Ultimately, the people on your team and how they function as a team is visible to all of your stakeholders. And in many ways, if they operate in this very siloed or conflicted way, it affects your brand as the leader. You want to have a functioning and very effective team that represents your brand to your critical stakeholders.

TANYA OTT: Is one of those versions of teamwork more effective than the other?

AJIT KAMBIL: It depends on the nature of the work to be done. Both kinds of models can work and for different leaders, both kinds of models may work differently. Some may prefer [a] more fluid organization. Others may feel, “I have really great specialists in my organization. As long as I design the right interfaces between them, I can have the kind of outcomes I want and they can function almost like a relay team.”

Different leaders will have different choices. Different contexts will have different kinds of teammates. Where the work is very well-defined and tasks can be very specialized, it could be more of a relay team.

Where things are more ambiguous, continuously changing, you may need to have more of a basketball team to fluidly respond to make sense of these situations and act upon it.

TANYA OTT: You've had well over a 1,000 CFOs go through the Executive Transition Labs that you and your team run. When you're talking with them about this next step—where do you go with your team—what are the biggest questions or pain points they have?

AJIT KAMBIL: A lot of it depends on what they inherited from a previous leader. It could be that they inherited a team that was not previously well attended to. [It] could be a team that is very siloed, [that] had a little team dysfunction and conflict. What they then have to do is reset that team to work together, understand the mutual roles and responsibilities of different people, and then really act together in a consistent way going forward with the rest of the organization.

What I usually begin with is: what is the brand you want your team to have? You may want to involve different members of your leadership group into framing a brand statement because that gives an overarching goal to which you all collectively work toward.

Some CFOs may say the key elements of the brand may include: “We are very insightful in providing information and insights that help decision makers in the business.” “Our team provides accurate information.” “Our team provides timely information.” There are different elements of brand attributes that they may collectively think about as a group and that's a very good starting point for setting a collective vision for the team.

The next thing is to really think about the critical goals of that team. Is it [that] they need to reduce the costs of finance by certain percentage points? [That] they need to make sure that they close the books within a certain number of days? And then it's establishing clarity in terms of roles that different individuals play in accomplishing those goals.

There's some very interesting research from way back in the 1970s. Richard Beckhard did this…

TANYA OTT: I’m going to interrupt Ajit here for a minute to let you know Richard Beckhard was an adjunct professor in the MIT Sloan School of Management and a pioneer in the field of organizational development.

AJIT KAMBIL: He had a model around goals, roles, processes, and relationships and people who followed on that research, many of them found [that] lack of goals and lack of role clarity were two critical factors that diminished the team's performance. I like to get those CFOs coming to our transition labs really thinking about the brand, then the goals, and then the roles that different people play on their team.

TANYA OTT: You mentioned earlier in our conversation the importance of getting this right because the brand of the team can suffer if it appears to other divisions within your company or to external stakeholders that the team just isn't quite functioning fluidly. That's a pretty significant issue.

AJIT KAMBIL: Exactly. That's why the first thing in a talent agenda for an incoming executive is to get the right people in the right seat. The next thing is to really get the team that they have to function well, because within a year, the team that you have begins to reflect on your brand and it may be even within six months. People will be noticing how you [are] managing your team around you. It's very critical to get that done right.   

One of the things that's a very simple exercise that people use is they may say, “Come and tell us, as each individual, what are your top five priorities and outline them.” Say I have high confidence in a particular priority and low confidence in another priority from an execution point of view. That creates [a] shared visibility on each individual's goals and how do they align to the overall goals of the organization. It allows for each individual to show some vulnerability in terms of saying, “Hey, I'm really less confident about this because I may have a talent risk in my team or subteam or I may have [a] resource risk.” It allows people to show where there is risk in the organization and then have a conversation about how they [can] collectively solve for problems.

There are different ways in a team meeting that people can begin to surface what everybody is doing, create a shared view, and help each other.

TANYA OTT: You hold the team meeting. You create a shared view. You walk out of that process with goals and expectations and things to execute. How do you make sure that you actually can continue the momentum so that it's not like one of those situations where you go to a conference, you're so inspired, you come back, and then all of the materials you collected at the conference and all of the knowledge goes into a binder that goes into a cabinet somewhere?

AJIT KAMBIL: That leads to another thing, which is, what is the cadence of meetings that, as a leader, you have with your leadership team? Is it every month you have your core leadership team meets? Or is [there] a core and extended leadership team meet [that happens] for an hour or two hours by phone, video, or in person? What is it that you do in between those team meetings as individual touchpoints?

Once you have clarity on goals, as the leader you want to monitor how individual leaders who report to you [are] moving forward on those goals. Do they have the right resources and are they taking the right actions to execute on those goals? And so you would use your team meetings to look at collective goals and the individual meetings to look at both individual and collective goals with your people.

TANYA OTT: What other issues arise? What other advice do you have for folks who are going through this process?

AJIT KAMBIL: There's been a lot of research on teams that is being done and some of the latest research highlights it's really important not only to get clarity of brand and so forth, but it's really important to create the context in which a team can operate. Even psychological safety is one of the attributes that's been found recently that's very salient to enabling higher performing teams.

TANYA OTT: What does that mean?

AJIT KAMBIL: What it really means is it allows people to speak up and put their ideas out there without feeling vulnerable to retaliation or being put down. So creating a context for how team meetings are conducted where individuals are heard is a really important context-creating measure that you can take as a leader to get ideas from across your team and get people to make visible to the issues that really need to be addressed.

TANYA OTT: Is it more challenging to do that when you have a team that is geographically dispersed and you don't have a lot of face time? How do you attack that issue?

AJIT KAMBIL: That's a really great question. What we do find obviously in very large companies is teams become very dispersed. I think there are a couple of things: one is you do have to have face-to-face meetings at least once a year and those face-to-face meetings have to have time for formal work, but also time available so that individuals can connect outside of work and establish a context for working relationships amongst themselves.

The second thing is there are certain tasks that need to be done with the collaboration of different leaders and it's important for you, as a leader, to engineer the collaboration of this geographic disparate folks onto a team so it does maintain ongoing building of connections. It demands a lot more work. It's harder when somebody is sitting in a time zone 9 hours away or 12 hours away. But by doing so, you reinforce that you're part of a global organization and, most importantly, different parts of the world [are] heard in terms of their needs and issues that need to be considered in solving a problem.

Creating a context for teamwork, safety, allowing people to communicate—I cannot overemphasize—and having meetings early on in your tenure that bring people together in a well-structured way where people feel their time is not wasted. Maybe get members of your leadership team to design that meeting with you or for you and lead it for you. Addressing the brand question and what are the critical goals that people need to work together on, early on, [is] really important.

TANYA OTT: Great! This has been another great conversation. Thank you so much for your time.

AJIT KAMBIL: Terrific! Thank you, Tanya.

TANYA OTT: Ajit Kambil is global research director for Deloitte’s CFO program and creator of the Executive Transition Labs. He’s written a great series of articles about recruiting talent, managing your time, and other topics. You can find the print versions and our podcast conversations at

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I’m Tanya Ott for the Press Room. Thanks for listening and have a great day!

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