DierkeHouben Insights

What to be aware of when you join the Top Team − Tigers, not Cats

„Systemically speaking, cats and tigers are pretty similar – however, you would do best to treat them quite differently!“ This metaphor by the British historian Robert Conquest succinctly describes the challenge of team coaching at the top: Top management teams are an exceptional species. Typically, one finds certain collective behavioural autopilots in top teams that can be detrimental to progress and innovation.

Here are the 6 patterns you have to cope with if you want to be a Conscious Leader, mastering a game change at the top:

1. Facts are more important than understanding perceptions:

Mangers in the top team are typically rational alphas with high analytical intelligence (IQ). Objective facts are their currency. Subjective perception or emotional intelligence (EQ) are not rated at the same level even though perceptions and interpersonal tensions make or break the team success.

2. Action is more important than joint reflection:

Top managers are action-oriented. When quick decisions become the benchmark of effective action, it leaves no time for self-critical reflection. Each strategic issue is given priority. Additionally, many managers are experienced in avoiding reflection, as self-critical questioning carries the risk of destabilising the self or one’s role.

3. Routines are more important than adaptive learning:

Acting according to routines is one of the most important success strategies in top management. They usually operate in Daniel Kahneman`s („Thinking Fast. Thinking Slow“) Fast Routine System 1. Adaptive learning by critically questioning these routines and switching into the Reflective and Slower System 2 rarely happens as this would be a „waste of time“.

4. (Pseudo) consensus is more important than productive conflict:

Top teams are experienced in avoiding open conflict. Every conflict increases the risk of being discredited by the organisation or the stakeholders, as “without clear direction“ or „estranged”. Conflict might open the „Pandora`s box“ as the competitive sentiment is common: Top teams are often crowded with general managers who could switch roles easily and have a clear opinion about the others` performance.

5. Direction setting is more important than leading by example:

Top managers rarely use an „I“ when defining a problem. Top teams usually rely on „rule defining,“ i.e. on technical approaches such as codes of conduct. „Role modelling“ and leading by example, demonstrating productive collaborative or empowering behaviour in the top team itself, is often underestimated.

6. Results (WHAT) are more important than processes (HOW):

„Visible results” is the one priority that ranks above all others for top teams. Results, decisions and concrete agreements are what matter. The quality of HOW, i.e. the collaborative process or dialogue, rarely count as meaningful in their own right even though it is the key driver of any successful top team.


Boost the Conscious Leader inside you: No doubt, in top teams you`ll find strong barriers against self-critical reflection as basis for behavioural change in the team – and in the organisation. You have to be aware of these patterns to change them. Curious? If you want to read more about team patterns and effective development at the top of an organisation, click here to connect to our Insights: “Team Coaching at the Top: How to accelerate Top Management Teams”.

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