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Companies can no longer rely on single individuals at the top to handle the complexity and uncertainty of the global environment. Instead, they need “leadership ensembles”— teams that can capitalize on diversity, stay current with developments in different parts of the world while anticipating future trends and their implications, and make smart decisions without sacrificing speed.
The article, which was published in the Winter 2014 issue of Leader to Leader, explores how leadership is evolving, particularly at companies that derive a significant chunk of their revenue from global operations.
Researchers at the Accenture Institute for High Performance interviewed 50 C-level executives and studied a total of 39 companies on five continents to learn how leadership was evolving. In most of the companies studied, multiple “top teams” exist to perform a variety of functions.
These teams consist of groups of executives, each with distinctive expertise and perspectives, who come together in combinations suited to specific situations. Because they share common understandings and a common discipline, they can be reconfigured without significant loss in effectiveness.
Other Leadership and Talent articles by Accenture Institute for High Performance researchers
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Global companies face daunting challenges and in turn, the executives that lead them. It is for this reason that the paradigm for effective leadership has changed.
Senior leaders are now expected to:
To manage all this, companies can no longer rely on single individuals at the top to handle the complexity and uncertainty of the global environment. Nor can they be ruled from corporate headquarters while viewing their local operations as isolated pockets of activity around the world. Instead, they need top teams that embody a decidedly different set of qualities.
Our research revealed that in most companies, “top teams” exist to perform a variety of functions. And many of those groups are not “teams” by any dictionary definition but rather ensembles of leaders who, together are able to bridge a host of differences—in language, culture, time zone, experience and more—with a new approach to leadership.
Across the companies studied, it was found that top leaders come together in four distinct ways and in roles that can be taken on as needed for a specific purpose and period of time. The four ensemble configurations are:
Kitchen Cabinets: An inner circle of trusted advisors, where members are nested in adjacent offices or dispersed globally but connected by video and voice—usually chaired by the CEO.
Tiger Teams: Composed of experts and divergent thinkers, but tasked with an explicit goal.
Advocates: Teams of “rivals”—usually groups of senior executives and experts assembled specifically to review a situation and to generate, through debate, a wider and deeper understanding of causes, consequences and options.
Operators: Often made up of people executing responsibilities related to a specific function, process, or location.
Robert J. Thomas is the executive director of the Accenture Institute for High Performance and the author of Crucibles of Leadership: How to Learn from Experience to Be a Great Leader and The Organizational Networks Fieldbook.
Joshua Bellin is a research fellow with the Accenture Institute for High Performance.
Claudy Jules is a senior principal in Accenture’s Management Consulting practice.
February 4, 2014
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