Bringing insight and clarity to the complexity of informally-shared authority to re-energise the leadership team of a high-tech start-up.

The three owners of a highly successful software start-up approached Tavistock Consulting to facilitate an away day to think through strategy and identify the changes needed to accommodate their rapid growth.

It seemed a straightforward request, but during initial conversations with the clients – the two original entrepreneurs and a developer who joined the team later – it became quickly apparent that there was much going on below the surface.

With its hands-on, highly respected owners and team of twenty, the company boasted a strong culture of high staff engagement but recognised that they had some issues around leadership. Although as a group the threesome recognised the company’s need for clear direction and a more formal structure, they hadn’t been able to make it happen.

Through a combination of personality profiling, individual interviews and group sessions, we built up a picture of the leadership team and the dynamics that existed between them, identifying those aspects that might be blocking effective teamworking.

We began to see that, behind the difficulty in establishing the new structure there were some deeper conflicts, not immediately apparent and difficult to articulate. It seemed impossible for any member of the leadership trio to either take up authority to lead or to allow the others to do so – as though leadership was something to be feared, or that might damage the valued friendship in the group. At the same time, resentment brewed below the surface as conscious and unconscious conflicts played out.

The breakthrough came when the two founders were able to look at the consequences and the emotional undertow of the inequalities in ownership, and the third member, rather than harbouring a grudge, was able to accept what lay behind that situation.

  • Resolving the ownership question allowed all three leaders to think openly about what sort of leader the company needed and what roles each of the trio wanted to take on.
  • As a result, one founder was authorised by the others in the role of Chief Executive, responsible for overall strategy, while the other two focused on innovation and new product development.
  • The consultation shifted focus to working with the new Chief Exec who was then able to define and implement the structure of a fully authorised and functional management team.

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