Podcast EP 128 | Is Your Leadership Team Too Big?

Is your leadership team too big?

There’s a real challenge that comes with having too many people in a meeting or on a team. Some leaders want to be all-inclusive and can end up with too many people in the room, or others can end up with too few people.

Each of these can come with a set of second-order consequences that can negatively affect the effectiveness of the team.  And the performance of the business.

The challenge here is that the leadership team naturally expands in most companies for deeper insights into the business, more expertise, buy-in and their own development. Unfortunately, it is a challenge to un-invite and these larger teams can become ineffective.

In this podcast episode, Kevin Lawrence and Brad Giles discuss definitions of executive teams and leadership teams, and the guides you should use for maximum effectiveness.




Please note that this episode was transcribed using an AI application and may not be 100% grammatically correct – but it will still allow you to scan the episode for key content.

Kevin Lawrence  00:13

Welcome to the Growth Whisperers podcast where everything we talk about is about building enduring, great companies, awesome companies that go for a long time. And Brad and I take a lot of pride in helping people to build those awesome companies. I’m Kevin Lawrence here in just outside of Kelowna, in a place called peachland British Columbia today. And Brad, my great friend is Down Under in Perth, Australia, Brad, how was the day so far?

Brad Giles  00:40

It’s pretty good. It’s off to a very good start. And it’s quite early here in the morning. And yeah, things are well.

Kevin Lawrence  00:47

And I’m good. I’m wrapping up my day, a very busy day today. But it’s a Monday I’m recording this. And it’s just a full on day since 8am. And we’re now at 4pm. And couple more hours left. So what’s the what’s the word or the phrase, the thought of the day? What have you got?

Brad Giles  01:08

So there’s this, there’s this thing going around called Quiet quitting. Right now, when I was a lead, we used to call it just slacking off. Yes, we used to just call it slacking off, right? There’s this, there’s this, I’ll call it a movement in a very loose and disrespectful way. Where people, they’ve, they’ve mentally quit their job, but they’re only going to do the absolute bare minimum. And I recently was kind of looking at that and learning a little bit about that. So yeah. Quiet quitting, not a positive thing. But when you manage people, you can manage the minimum hire.

Kevin Lawrence  01:50

Well, mine was flexibility. And, you know, working with entrepreneurial companies all the time, things are always changing. Yeah. And if you like a straight lane, and predictable, everything, working with entrepreneurial companies isn’t a great thing. Because there’s all kinds of stuff where you got to be on the fly and ad lib. So I like flexibility. And I was reminded because one of the CEOs that I worked with, were chatting the other day, and he doesn’t like to make decisions unless he has to, or constraining decisions, yeah, likes, let things roll and see how they work out, which allows a lot of flexibility. So flexibility is very different than your quiet quitting, because flexibility is also great for team members, you can work from home, you could work, you know, in the office, you could work, you know, however you would like to. So people love flexibility in lots of ways. And some people don’t. But those quiet quitting, people have way too much flexibility in those companies, if they can get away with that. That’s a whole other thing. So we want you know, we want flexibility, not to the point of quiet quitting. So what do we what are we? What are we jumping into today?

Brad Giles  03:04

What’s the right size for a leadership team? Or put another way – Is your leadership team too big? Maybe your leadership team is too small. It could be maybe your leadership team is just you and you’re the genius with 1000 helpers. But what’s the size of a leadership team? Sometimes, you know, we can get into some rabbit holes of awesome problems where a new person comes on. And maybe part of the deal is that we’ll give them an invitation to join the leadership team, or we’re forming a leadership team. And we think, Oh, we definitely have to get Mary on board. You know, she’s in an area where we need her. So what I guess we’re trying to do is to take away the personalities and just talk about some of the dynamics of a leadership team, how they work, and yeah, maybe is yours the right size?

Kevin Lawrence  04:03

And it’s basically what do you need? What do you not need? And it’s really interesting, because nobody does make a distinction between words that we use, I would say an every one’s got their own, but what I call an executive team is the direct reports to a CEO. That’s not so you could just call them CEOs direct reports or executive team. Leadership Team is that team plus usually a handful of other people that are either super valuable contributors to the discussions in decisions or in a department that is really critical. And so basically, the leadership team is generally the CEOs direct reports plus a few of those people’s direct reports. Yeah, and it can range from seven to 25 people depend pending on how it goes in that group, that leadership team, they would normally be involved in your annual strategic planning and your quarterly planning, reset meetings, they might be involved in your longer monthly meetings, sometimes that group morphs to be the in the weekly meeting with the CEO. Right? Not always, sometimes the CEO has an executive team only meeting but sometimes that larger team, but this is the core thought leadership decision making team of the business and for sure they’re together at the quarterly and annual strategy meetings and plus some other strategic things in between.

Brad Giles  05:39

I suppose for listeners, don’t get hung up on the the naming. It’s more think about the people who are making the decisions, the key people, they come together as a group. What is this is talking about the functionality of that group? And as do you get to a point too small or too big, where it’s a kind of a problem around that?

Kevin Lawrence  06:02

There’s one company that I saw, and that leadership team that made all the decisions was two people. Yeah, in an organization of the size that they were, it was absolutely too small, but it was very efficient. And that’s the benefit, that you can deal with everything. Like, you know, if we had a company with, you know, 400 employees. And, you know, you and I were to keep people running it, we could make all the strategic plans and do make all the decisions insanely fast. But it wouldn’t be very efficient, it wouldn’t be very effective. Because one, we’d have a lot of blind spots in our organization and a few 100 employees to the people doing the work wouldn’t have any buy in and would just feel like we’re telling them what to do. Yeah, so there’s so we know to is logical. The challenge is it sometimes starts swelling towards 12, 15, 22. Here where these teams become really big and cumbersome.

Brad Giles  07:02

The problem with a really small leadership team that take two or three people, if depending on the size of business, is that you might not reach out to all of the corners of the office, if that makes sense. Yeah, so let’s say there’s you and sales manager who meet up and you form your own small leadership team and you make the decisions, while the people in operations or marketing or accounting may not have a hand in that. So you want diversity in the leadership team so that you can kind of get some information, let’s say outside of the ivory tower, or some information that’s kind of from around the business.

Kevin Lawrence  07:43

Yeah. So yeah, make better thoughtful decisions. Number one, yeah, too. And there’s two things, making the best decision you can and to getting buy in. And there’s two separate things that you’re trying to achieve with that team. And sometimes their bias too much towards just efficient or good decision. And sometimes their bias too much, but we’re in alignment and getting everyone’s buy in. So we’ll get into that. But I’ll give you an example. So one company we’ve worked with for quite a while and our leadership team has grown and shrunk over the years, there’s no because there’s no perfect answer. But generally, we’ve got about 11 or 12 people, and I’m looking at our annual meetings and our quarterly meetings. It’s a very transparent group. That’s a group down us very high trust. And generally, for 90% of 95% of the work we do, that team comes together and does the strategic planning, and makes a lot of the big decisions. Now sometimes you bring extra people in for alignment. So I think actually, the core team, I think is it’s nine, but often it will be 12 because the CEO likes to invite different leaders in on a rotational basis, right? The key is that when they invite them in, they say it’s, you’re coming for this meeting. They don’t expect to always be part of that team. Yep. Once you’ve invited someone onto that special decision making team telling them they can’t come to meeting is like kicking them off the island and survivor. Yep. And there’s a lot of drama. We actually, this has happened a few times, but we lost an executive after that. And they weren’t Sorry. Yeah. As a director. This last minute, it’s a massive almost insult to them. So once you invite them on, it’s very hard to get them off.

Brad Giles  09:41

Yeah. And so you want to be sure if you’re inviting someone onto a leadership team, that’s, that’s for sure.

Kevin Lawrence  09:48

Yeah. And my default is invite them on to come for one or two meetings and say it’s a one or two meeting thing. So you have an automatic exit because it’s super hard to manage and next thing you know, they’re big because they were there not because they need to be there.

Brad Giles  10:02

If you’re gonna have a leadership team that you just mentioned they were 11 or nine as a core swelling to 11. Was that right?

Kevin Lawrence  10:11

11,12 13 Sometimes.

Brad Giles  10:14

Yeah, so nine is, is kind of is large, I’d say 12 or 13. Obviously, if you jumping in and out, that’s a slightly different scenario. But if you’ve got 10 or 11, people, you know, you had better be running, highly effective meetings.

Kevin Lawrence  10:37

You’re questioning my ability to run a meeting? No, I’m just walking over the audience. They have a first I know, I know, they have a facilitator, though, like the when you get to that size, you need a facilitator to run the meeting. The problem is, it takes one of the executives out if they tried to do it. And it takes a fair amount of skill and technique. And so as a facilitator, when I’m running a meeting, I’ve done 1000s of them, I can easily run a meeting with a dozen people, what we have to do is to just there’s for a lot of really critical discussions, we got to break up into smaller groups, because it’s hard to have a hearty discussion with 12, the three outspoken people will want to speak. And even the conversation slows down. There’s too many people to have productive conversations. So we often split up and then come back. And it’s funny because the group doesn’t like to split up. It’s like splitting up the family dinner. And you know, there’s the kids table in the adults table. Well, it might be okay with kids. But when you try and put the adults in two separate rooms, there’s resistance. So you got to go against gravity almost and split people up to go and do it. But it can work. But it’s if you don’t do it, it’s a very challenging meeting to run to make it effective. Without an outside facilitator.

Brad Giles  11:57

Yeah, you have to be effective. So I have a book coming out on the first of November, it’s called onboarded. And in there, I talk about this problem as the team grows, the complexity increases, because if it’s you and I talking Kev, we’ve got two points of communication. If we add another person into this conversation, then we’ve got six points of communication. Okay. So you and me and me and you, for example. And then so you grow that and you grow that those points of communication, once you get to about 10 people, you just the because those points of communication are exponential rather than linear, if that makes sense. Like they just kept growing. Yep. Yes. Keep up with it.

Kevin Lawrence  12:46

Each additional person makes it notably more challenging. Yeah. And makes the meeting longer, because it takes more time. Yeah. So it’s that. So it you’re dramatically increasing the difficulty of having an effective the of having an effective meeting.

Brad Giles  13:04

There’s two of us on this podcast. Imagine if we had nine people on this podcast? Exactly. It’d be really so much better. No, yeah, it’d be really easy to get effective outcomes.

Kevin Lawrence  13:16

It is. But the distinction is, it’s a combination of making the best strategic decision, versus making that and getting a lot of alignment. And for a lot of companies we work with getting some additional alignment is there’s value in that. So we’ll give up a little bit of efficiency to get a little more engagement and alignment like another one that we work with. You know, at one point, we had 24 people on the leadership.

Brad Giles  13:44

Wow. Yeah, yeah.

Kevin Lawrence  13:47

Now, based on the size of the business, it might have been a little much for that. So I thought based on the size of the business and what was going on. It wasn’t I think, for the intent, it wasn’t wrong. But there was another one I had 30.  It was breakout groups. But that’s the only the only way to have a discussion, but it was constant breakout groups. And when we did that one on Zoom. It was breakout group after breakout group. And it it it worked with a little bit of strategy and a lot of execution. But in that group, we ended up getting the CEOs direct reports, to do separate really deep strategy. And to take a lot of the input from this group and boil it down and get to the final place. But you’ve got to in it takes a lot of like the amount of prep we had to do for those meetings. Yeah, to engineer it to make it work. So when that case, we’ve got a group of five, that that is the direct reports, basically the CEO, who are the executive team that does the deeper strategy, and we just had like a two and a two day session just on that. And then the rest of the team comes up and picks up that strategy and builds it into execution and has some strategic debates. But it’s they’ve at that size, they’ve, they’ve really broke it down to what used to be the strategic planning meeting to it’s like the execution meeting where the strategy is done outside it with a smaller team. And they’ve had to basically create two meeting rhythms to be effective with that, and it for them, it works really well. It’s just a lot of engineering when you want to involve that many people.

Brad Giles  15:47

Yeah, for sure. So it’s a bit of it can be a slippery slope as well. So imagine if you start off with a leadership team of six people, and then you grow and you’re successful. And then you need to bring on a new role that you didn’t have before, or they absolutely get an invite to the team. Okay, so then let’s go six months or a year down the track, and you bring on a new person, senior person as well, they got to get an invite to time. And so suddenly, you can blink your eyes, and you’ve got 10 people, and the meetings are slightly dysfunctional. So you’ve got a, as I said, it’s a slippery slope, and you’ve got it.

Kevin Lawrence  16:23

So that’s how this company used to have eight. Yeah, a decade ago, there was eight. But as they’ve grown those additional will, you know, the other VP is there. Well, the other director is there. And all of a sudden, it’s like, you get too many. Yeah. And so. So there’s, there’s lots of examples. And we’ve got lots of companies that, you know, like, if you said, we’re going to do some strategic planning with a with a, with a leadership team, and there are six people, it’s a walk in the park. Yeah, as a facilitator, it’s notably easier, it’s faster, because there’s less points of data to align and make decisions with. And again, when you get up to the 12, which is very common for our medium sized clients, it’s just harder. And it’s harder, harder to pull off effectiveness.

Brad Giles  17:12

It’s harder to get the results that you need. There’s a team that I work with in Sydney. And that slippery slope is what has happened there. It’s they started off with one and they brought in a new and it’s just suddenly it’s gone. Now I think they’ve got 11. And you kind of said it’s, it gets harder, but what you see intuitively happening is there is a core within that group that’s emerging. And it’s like, what we’re bringing the other people on, because we feel obligated to because of their either seniority, or they’re already on the team, or something like that. So yeah, it’s I tend to agree with you back there, I tend to think that if there’s a sweet spot, it’s probably six to eight people. So that’s ideal.

Kevin Lawrence  17:59

There is a place for 14 to 16 there is you’re just going to have to engineer the meeting a lot more, do more pre work, you’re just, you’re just you’re creating a lot.

Brad Giles  18:11

There’s a place for it.

Kevin Lawrence  18:13

But I’ve got a client in India, we have like, the last one we had, we had it in Bombay, and there was 16.

Brad Giles  18:23

When you go to breakout rooms, or breakout tables, depending if it’s in person or not, you’re gonna probably go into groups of five to eight people in each of those breakouts.

Kevin Lawrence  18:37

Like five, five or six? Yes, yeah. Engineer the meeting differently. And again, in that one where there was 18? Yeah, the the three brothers that run the business. They’re awesome. That I worked with her. We had, we have a street strategy meeting beforehand to map out the high level and get things clear. And then we bring it to the team to get to get the strategy finished. And alignment, we’ve pre prepared because otherwise it would be too challenging.

Brad Giles  19:04

Yeah. The point is that humans work effectively in that space. So yeah, you can have a lot.

Kevin Lawrence  19:11

I get your point, though, I get your point. In those environments, you break them down into group of six, which is an easy team for hearty discussion and debate. Yes. And so if you’re going to have more than let’s call it the six, you’re likely going to have to break into groups. So you get back to the six. Yeah, like in my other clients and us. That’s a great point, Brad, is that if you do more than six, you’d love to break down into groups that are, you know, around six if you’re going to have party discussions.

Brad Giles  19:37

So don’t expect to have 12 people in a room and be highly effective unless you’re using something like breakout rooms. Yep. You’re going to have to manage and understand that it’s not impossible, but it could be too big to get them all in a room and expect them to work through an agenda in a highly effective manner. So Jeff Bezos, you know, he He’s got a relative degree of success. And he said that everybody in the firm needed to assemble around what he called the two pizza rule. So that meant is that if a team was working late, and they couldn’t be fed off to pizza pies, then he said, It’s too big.

Kevin Lawrence  20:23

So depending on your appetite, that’s a maximum of probably six ish people.

Brad Giles  20:28

Yeah, that’s right. Yeah. And, and so there’s some math’s behind that. Yeah.

Kevin Lawrence  20:34

So the summary I would give for today. It’s basically, you know, healthy discussions happen in groups of about, let’s say, six, right, on average, five, seven, Max. And if you’re going to have more than that, you just have to engineer it, and you’re making it harder for yourself to manage to run that meeting? Well, if you use a facilitator, it makes it harder for the person that you’re paying to do it. So maybe it’s not so bad. But you’re going to have to likely break up into those smaller groups to have effective discussions and then come back to the main group is, is kind of the thing here. So is your leadership team too big or too small? Well, we don’t know if that’s up to you. But if it’s larger than six or seven, you’re likely going to have a hard time having the discussions you need to and you’re going to have to break up into smaller groups, whether it’s within the meeting, or a separate, smaller, super strategic group outside of the meeting.

Brad Giles  21:27

Yeah, yeah, Indeed. Indeed. So a couple of podcasts that are related to this one, you may be interested in Episode 92, the monthly leadership team meeting, Episode 77, the curse of being on a great leadership team that’s a cracker that on an episode 24 How to get leadership teams to think strategically. So is your leadership team too big? Well, that’s kind of on you, I suppose. But there is certainly some human dynamics that you can’t ignore, that may mean that you need to change things around. So Kim, good chat today. I hope that yeah, I hope that you’ve enjoyed our chat about is your leadership team too big. So my name is Brad Giles, and you can find me at evolution partners.com Through you, Kevin. You can find it Lawrence and co.com. And we both produce weekly newsletters that you may find interesting. Of course, you can find this episode as well on YouTube. If you search the growth Whisperer is of course subscribe to that as well if you see fit. Hope that you have yourself a great week and you’ve enjoyed our chat about is your leadership team to be look forward to chatting to you again next week. See you later.

Kevin Lawrence  22:43

Have a great one. See you