Article: Leading the charge: The top-team’s role in scale-up


Leading the charge: The top-team’s role in scale-up

Support from the senior leadership team is critical to the success of an organization during a scale-up. Here’s how.
Leading the charge: The top-team’s role in scale-up

In successful organizations, top teams spend an equal amount of time driving performance and health simultaneously


There is never a pilot project that does not succeed. The challenge always lies in scaling-up. Organizations are normally quite good at testing ‘proof of concepts’. With the full weight of senior leadership and resources, these normally succeed. However, scaling up new ideas across the organization or new businesses is a different ball game altogether. Research shows that organizations succeed only 30 per cent of the time when taking up scaling goals.

There are four tenets that can help the C-suite or top team play a powerful role in leading an organization through scale-up:

ONLY do the work that no one else can do

Few top teams consistently spend time where they should. At times, members of the top teams don’t delegate many tasks. More importantly, only a few top teams make an effort to define their mandate or joint purpose. It is often not clear whether the team is an information-sharing forum or a decision-making forum, and what topics are appropriate for discussions. High-performing teams, on the other hand, leverage their unique view across the organization and their authority to take decisions that affect the whole business. Top teams are also the guardians of an organization’s health, responsible for securing the ability of the organization to align behind a common goal, to collaborate and execute seamlessly and drive for renewal. In successful organizations, top teams spend an equal amount of time driving performance and health simultaneously.

Be exclusive: No one should automatically have a seat at the table

Getting the right people on the team and the wrong people off it is the CEO’s responsibility. Common mistakes are that ‘title is membership’, that people who have been on the team continue to remain there, or that all direct reports have a place. Allowing more people on the top team than needed, leads to a ‘team within a team’ scenario where the ‘real team’ ends up being a small group of people.

Manage the energy: Live, breathe and embody where and how to lead the organization

Energy is crucial to the success of a scale-up. Successful efforts are ‘exothermic’– the initiatives and aspirations generate energy, create excitement in the organization and a virtuous cycle of commitment and action. Unsuccessful ones are ‘endothermic’– they drain energy and people get tired and uninspired by the aspirations, and find the initiatives interfering and overbearing. Such efforts lose steam and don’t deliver. If more than 35 per cent of the entire organization does not ‘actively support’ the change within 12 months, the effort will lose energy and fizzle out. A shared view, clarity and commitment are essential.

Productive dialogue: Challenge, debate, decide

In the context of rapid scale-up, high-performing teams have some productive habits like the ability to make the most of individual members’ skills and perspectives (aided by effective listening), the willingness to challenge each other and have tough conversations, and the ability to drive an efficient decision-making process. The team through an effective learning cycle of reflection (taking stock of dynamics to uncover issues), skill building (learning and practicing new skills) and action (using the new skills on real business problems) can drive change rapidly across the organization.            

In conclusion, the need for top teams to act like ‘working groups’– collections of individuals who are accountable for their own unit and get together occasionally to share their contributions is imperative. 


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Topics: C-Suite, #AQuestionofScale

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