Who's in the Room?: How Great Leaders Structure and Manage the Teams Around Them
January 2012, Jossey-Bass
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Who's in the Room?
Do you know who really makes the big decisions at your organization? If you think answer can be found on an organization chart, think again.
In WHO’S IN THE ROOM? (Jossey-Bass; January 24, 2012) Bob Frisch sets the record straight on how big decisions really get made. The truth is that it’s rarely the formal senior management team who’s in the room with the leader as they think through major issues, but instead a kitchen cabinet—an ad hoc, unofficial, and flexible inner circle of advisers that doesn’t even have a name. Yet most executives can name its core members.
Organizations can get derailed by the gap between the way decisions actually get made and the way we’re told they’re made by org charts, process flows, group charters and job titles. The senior management team feels shut out and insecure about their status. Will they be consulted before the next major decision or only informed after? Will their opinions carry any weight? Confusion, mistrust and even resentment build, the senior team is then declared dysfunctional, and psychologists are brought in for a dose of team building, using the wrong tools trying to solve the wrong problem.
Rather than trying to solve the conflict as a behavioral problem Frisch points out we need to focus on how CEOs actually make decisions and reorient key processes to reflect this truth. As CEOs (not executive teams) are ultimately accountable for these decisions, they should be able to access the best advice free of the tyranny of the org chart. When viewed in this way, the kitchen cabinet with its small size and confidential counsel can be an effective decision making tool rather than a force working at cross purposes with the senior management team.
Armed with these fresh insights and based on interviews with CEOs of such organizations as MasterCard, Allstate, Ticketmaster and the Red Cross, Frisch shows how CEOs can both build more effective kitchen cabinets (for instance, instead of going with advisors with whom they are comfortable, they should pick individuals who will help them make better decisions, even challenge them) and at the same time unleash the full power of their executive teams so they are, in turn, free to focus on building a shared view of the future, coordinating the resources
In essence, Frisch calls for reversing the trend of treating groups as accountable for making major decisions. It’s individuals, not groups, that should decide – with the appropriate teams around the leader providing input and advice, and later ensuring successful implementation of the decision.
“It’s time to send the psychologists packing,” writes Frisch. “Time to stop hamstringing yourself and selling the members of your executive team short. And time to free decision making and decision makers throughout your organization from the tyranny of the organization chart.”
You’ll know Frisch’s advice has worked when you see a dramatic drop-off in people coming into your office and asking, ‘‘Why wasn’t I in the room?’’