Building a strong, collaborative leadership team takes time.
For a very long time, ThirdLove as a company didn't have an executive leadership team. Aside from myself and my husband Dave, we didn't really have vice presidents or other C-level team members. Not because we didn't want to, but because we weren't really there yet. But over the past one to two years, we've begun to build that team from the ground up, to the point where today we have a group of executives leading different aspects of the business.
There are 10 of us total.
Like most effective teams, there is a range of experience levels amongst the members of the group. Four of us are "old school," in the sense that we've been around since the early days of ThirdLove and have walked through fire a few times and made it to the other side. Then there are three who are new to the company, joining within the past year. And the remaining three have been around for over a year or two. Having this diversity of tenure and perspective has been transformational for us as a company.
Here are the ways we've gone about intentionally building our leadership team, and the small things we've done to ensure everyone's voice is being heard and valued.
1. Make an effort to get to know each other on a personal level
Respect is fostered when you learn and understand where people are coming from.
One of the most important things you can do when building a leadership team is to take the time to get to know each other as people--not just co-workers, executives, or managers. For example, we hold our executive meetings once a week for an hour. The first thing we do, as we go around and provide business updates, is to share a highlight from our weekend to give each other a glimpse into our personal lives. It could be something positive or it could be something difficult that happened that's important for the group to know and be aware of. After our highlight, we then share our bullet points of updates and "pass the baton" to the next person.
Some might argue the "small-talk" or personal-sharing portion of executive meetings is unproductive and unnecessary, but I disagree. This is some of the only time we get during our busy weeks to connect as a group on any sort of personal level--so unless it's a priority, it doesn't happen.
2. Foster a safe place to be aligned during meetings, and focus on the topics at hand
In every business, issues will arise. So part of building a company is addressing things that can be fixed, tweaked, improved, and iterated on every week, if not every day. One benefit of having an executive team is being able to speak freely about issues constraining the growth of the company and brainstorm solutions together.
The second benefit, and this is significantly under-discussed in the business world, is having a secure and safe space to voice your concerns and opinions. Each executive is responsible for overseeing a different part of the business, and with that comes individual challenges, as well as individual perspectives. We all see the business through our own vantage point--which means we need to not only share what we're seeing but have other people either validate or challenge our point of view.
That said, everyone on your executive team always remembers the group is stronger together, so we align around whichever decisions bring the company forward most effectively.
3. Give equal weight to each person's unique perspectives
There's no purpose in having a leadership team if you've already decided you yourself are the sole leader.
The whole reason companies build leadership teams is to provide each other with a wider lens on the business. For example, when we recently decided to move our warehouse provider, one woman on our executive team (who has been with the company for four and a half years) executed our last warehouse transition and learned a lot from that experience. Her perspective is incredibly valuable--but that doesn't mean it's the only perspective.
Very often, it's the newer executive team members who are able to shed light on ways the company can improve by pulling from previous experiences. Their previous company might have gone through similar challenges, or they might have a different background than clothing and be able to suggest new, creative ways of looking at things.
The more you can encourage this sort of collaborative brainstorming, opposed to siloing people off to their sole departments, the more effective your team will be as a whole.