Reset and reimagine your Extended Leadership Team
The best Exec team in the world are only as good as their ELT.
Generally comprised of the group of leaders one level below the Executive Team, the impact of the ELT (Extended Leadership Team) is frequently underestimated and their development overlooked.
Get it right and you will have the most powerful group of opinion leaders in your organisation taking collective ownership for identifying business improvements and leading change. You’ll also be creating your next generation of leaders.
Get it wrong and you will end up with a layer of permafrost. The ELT can lack a real sense of empowerment and collective accountability, and indeed, understanding of what this group is actually for.
The issue begins with membership. In a well-intended attempt to be inclusive, the initial criteria for membership are often a direct reporting line to the Executive Team – rather than the potential to impact change. Depending on the size of the organisation, a membership based on reporting lines typically creates a few anomalies which can end up negatively impacting the group dynamic and potential for strategic thinking. For some, being on the ELT becomes a visible badge of honour denoting status and importance. We find it hard to delink org charts and reporting lines from our own personal power and authority.
Step into an ELT meeting and you will hear a lot of information being cascaded and reverent Q&As. Eventually, the Exec get frustrated that the meetings with their ELT become too one-way, with little proactivity and collective accountability to lead change. ELT members shrug their shoulders, not really knowing why the group was formed in the first place.
I’ve identified ELTs operating at three different levels:
Level 1: A forum for cascading information
The group serves as a conduit to quickly cascade information across the organisation. Business performance and key in-year gap-closing actions are shared. Clarification questions are politely asked. These meetings are important for alignment, but no new value is created for the organisation. To me, these types of meetings feel a bit like a microwave meal. All of the interesting cooking is done elsewhere and it is brought to the meeting for reheating. Functional, but not very nutritious.
Level 2: A squad of change leaders
The group is empowered to work cross-functionally, identifying and solving for new business opportunities and broken processes, and developing the next generation of leaders across the organisation. Rather than ‘Team’ the focus is on ‘Teaming’ as squads of people come together to do real work on the things that really matter to them. The Executive team mentor, unblock, and resource key projects.
Level 3: A mirror executive team
The group works not with their individual functional or geographic speciality, but as a group of business leaders exploring new opportunities and challenging existing organisational assumptions. They share some meetings with the Executive Team to provide rigour, reflection, and difference. The group is typically much smaller and membership is rotated annually.
So, where do you begin with reimaging your ELT?
1. Clarify the purpose of the team
If your ELT has become stale, firstly revisit and reset your contract with the group. What is the Give/Get of this relationship? What, specifically, are you asking of them as leaders and what can they ask in return of the Executive Team? Give people a chance to opt out once they understand the expectations. If, culturally, it would be too unpopular to re-cast membership of this team, consider introducing rotating memberships.
2. Help establish cross-functional squads on things that really matter to the group
Use the team to build the team. Find out the key pain points and value creation opportunities that the group genuinely care about, allow the group to self-organise to work on the things that matter to them, and then get out of their way. Create a review mechanism where the Exec are engaged to co-create rather than govern.
3. Support from the Exec Team
Set up Exec team mentorships outside of their own areas. Dedicate time on the Exec agenda for review, recognition, co-creation, and support. Finally, send some initial signals of commitment in the form of small scale resources (pilot/seed fund, development, expenses). These can go a long way to convince the long-term cynics of your intention.
Reset and Reimagine your Executive Leadership Team.