Building a team is necessary when you decide your company needs to grow beyond you. I've interviewed hundreds of founders and CEOs on my podcast, "Growth Think Tank," which is focused on Inc. 500 companies' growth strategies. These leaders know the importance of having an executive team that's aligned with the vision of the company -- and capable of engaging others to carry out work that drives growth.
The executive team is comprised of experienced professionals who have specific domain expertise. You may find a chief operating officer, chief marketing officer, chief human resource officer, chief information officer, chief revenue officer and others. You may have less traditional titles; however, the leaders on these teams must align around company objectives to be successful.
The executive team gathers to set goals, review progress and develop strategies. If the executive team doesn't have a common direction or work cohesively, your company will struggle. You may even have to shutter the company you founded if you can't come to an agreement on key issues.
What Alignment Looks Like
Teams are individuals striving toward the same goal. The big challenge with teams is that they're made up of people with different feelings, ideas and pride. This is especially hard when each person has a strong will and a desire to be heard. The ideal team can find a way to agree on the company's direction; it has shared values that enable team members to stay grounded in working together.
Alignment is an evolving process. A course correction for a team is similar to an airplane flying to a destination-- it's not flying in a straight line. A plane is in a constant state of adjustment until it reaches its final destination. Likewise, alignment is your single best growth strategy.
Here are two leverage points you must get right to develop an aligned executive team:
1. The Hiring Process
When possible, you want to hire your executive team. This is one reason it's so common for a new leader to have a team follow them to a new company. The selection of the right people for the team is just as important as the business idea itself. One driver for Inc. 5000 leaders' success is their ability to hire people based on their companies' core values.
One example of this is Jan Bednar, CEO of ShipMonk. ShipMonk was ranked 29th on the 2018 Inc. 5000 list, with three-year revenue growth of 7,636 percent. The company provides order fulfillment to fast-growing e-commerce brands. Bednar shared with me that being "nimble" is a core value for all employees of ShipMonk, especially the leadership team. Hiring is a process of accessing an individual's ability to be nimble and embrace change.
Bednar said, "If you're hiring somebody that's worked in fast-growing changing environments, they are someone that embraces change." He also shared with me that employees with a corporate background are different: "If somebody's been in a company that hasn't been growing, it is rare they are nimble in a way that we need." ShipMonk's growth and ability to serve its customers demand the company move fast, which is why hiring on values is so critical.
To have an executive team that can find alignment, you must share a common set of values. Great leaders know the values the company needs to thrive and then interview and select people who demonstrate those values naturally.
2. Team Communication
Everyone knows the importance of communication within a company. It's how you share ideas, evaluate progress and work together. Aligned executive teams have impeccable communication skills, maintaining the right cadence of meetings and empathy for others.
Executive teams usually gather once a week in a very structured meeting that reviews where they are and where they're going. These meetings aren't a place for egos or political maneuvers.
Fast-growth teams tend to use a common language of objectives and key results (OKRs to set direction, review progress and reduce risks. To understand how executive teams align on OKRs, I interviewed Diedre Paknad, CEO and co-founder of Workboard, a platform that allows leaders to manage OKRs in real time. "When your people are aligned on the OKRs as a team and you communicate for outcomes, you are all leading growth," she said.
Paknad also shared with me that "executive teams that communicate effectively on how the OKRs are progressing and quickly identify risks are three times more likely to hit their targets than teams that don't do this well. OKRs become the data around the alignment."
When you have executive team alignment, these people become some of the most trusted people in your life. Each member is a unique source of strength who finds a way to work with others to lead the company through growth.