Alexis Monville (en)

person sitting on mountain cliff

Primary Team

In The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni tells the story of an executive team. To avoid having the functional leaders be only interested in their own department, the CEO asks them to consider the Leadership Team as their primary team.

The idea of a primary team that takes precedence over all the others is key to overcome silo-thinking in the interest of the higher-level company goals.

How can the primary team approach be used when we go deeper into the organization?

Let’s take the example of Bob, a Global Sales and Marketing leader who reports to the CEO. His primary team is then the Corporate Leadership Team.

Let’s assume that Bob’s reports are a Marketing Leader, Rahman, and three Sales Region Leaders: Yun, Igraine, and Aileen. Those four leaders form the Field Leadership Team.

Have you noticed what I just said?

Bob’s primary team is not the Field Leadership Team, even if he is the manager of the people in the team.

Bob’s mission is to assist his reports to form a team so that they can lead Sales and Marketing for the company in all the regions. In addition to his reports, Bob invites in the Field Leadership Team leaders of supporting functions to share the same goals.

Let’s cascade that at the regional level. Igraine leads EMEA. She has direct reports covering sales in sub-regions, marketing, and dotted-line reports from the region’s supporting functions: People, Legal, Finances, Operations.

Bob wants Igraine to consider the FLT as her primary team. But, Igraine does not see that this way. She has successfully grown the business from a small subsidiary in one country to a significant business rivaling in size and growth rate with Aileen’s Americas region.

Igraine is deeply involved with the business in the region. And every day brings confirmation that she needs to be deeply involved in the details to make sure that decisions are made in the right way.

Igraine would like to form a leadership team with her direct and dotted-line. But where to start when you need to be calling all the shots, and you know that you need to be involved in the details.

Igraine cannot let the business fail. She seems to be the only one who really understands the business’s details and the only one to really care or act at the right time.

Furthermore, people are asking for change even quoting Einstein on insanity, but we have been very successful in doing what we are doing, do we really believe something has to change?

The short answer is Yes!

Let’s go through some of the aspects of the changes.


What about if what you see as a confirmation of the need to be deeply involved was in reality due to a self-fulfilling prophecy.

When Douglas McGregor introduced the Theory X and Theory Y on human motivation and management he developed at the MIT Sloan School of Management in the 50s, he explained that they were only assumptions.

But, I would say here. Unfortunately, if you agree with the assumptions, they will be realized.

So what Igraine observes as a confirmation, could be in reality, just a consequence of what she is doing in managing herself and her team.


In The Motive: Why so many leaders abdicate their most important responsibilities, Patrick Lencioni covers the question of interest that comes with what is observed above. Maybe, the motivation of the leader does not match his or her current role.

In our fictitious example, Igraine was very successful and was promoted to take “bigger” jobs. Still, in reality, her interest, motivation, and energy come from what she was doing before.

Either she makes the decision and finds interest in the “bigger job,” or she will not make a shift. Not only her progression will stop there, but her whole region is at risk if she does not.

I believe this is what led Laurence J. Peter to formulate his famous principle.

Balance on the BEPS Axes

You may have read about the BEPS Axes of a Leader before. BEPS stands for Business, Execution, People, and System and helps people realize when they don’t invest in one or more axes.

The Business part of the equation is the most important. It’s about understanding the business and the ecosystem your organization evolves in, understanding why you provide solutions, products, features, and services, and formulating a clear vision. We should always start here

Most people make the mistake of focusing on Execution, but this is not usually the main problem. It tends to be an issue for managers when they are deep in execution or defining the precise tasks each person should work on. By going too deep, they forgot the other axes.

People can be more of a problem. Hiring, growing, managing performance, and self-improvement is often passively delegated to HR or managers. However, this is not always a beneficial practice.

System is a big one, and usually, one suffering from underinvestment. As American engineer W.E. Deming said, “a bad system will beat a good person every time.” Understanding the system formed by the people, the organization, the processes, and tools is of paramount importance and will help you remove the obstacles to great work. It’s all too common to see layers of complexity piling up on top of each other. Simplicity is key.

How to help Igraine?

Back to Igraine. What happens is that Igraine is deeply involved in Execution to make sure the business is successful. Igraine knows the System very well and knows how to navigate the System very well.

The chances are that the System grew around Igraine without her realizing the complexity of it. Multiple people took the lead of specific aspects forming teams that grew “natural” boundaries around them.

The silo-effect emerges because of these boundaries, but Igraine can navigate the system without even feeling the boundaries. The problem is only visible to the other people in the organization who will experience the difficulties linked to these boundaries: slow process, busy work, inaccurate and/or inaccessible data.

Now that the system is in place, it can take a lot of energy to change it. The teams would love some change, but usually, they identify that changes are needed in other teams. Not many people have a complete understanding of the whole system and the ones who have usually don’t experience the complexity the same way as others. So they don’t have a big incentive to change it.

This is where Igraine’s deep knowledge of the System can make a difference. By focusing her attention and energy on changing the system to make it simple and efficient for its regular users, she can greatly impact the organization’s performance.

The whole system connects to her, putting her on the critical path of all decisions.


Telling Igraine, she should delegate will not help. She knows that. She wants that. It is just not happening. Telling her, she has to intentionally not make a decision but grow the people to make them is not enough.

To help her, people in her organization can influence the change by taking the lead on specific decisions.

Let’s take a concrete example: the definition of the commission plans. Do you want Igraine to decide on every one of them? Let the process runs the way it ran in the past, and this is exactly what you will get.

You have to insert yourself into the system. Start with the Why. Write down the motivation behind the commission plans, the behaviors to influence, and how the plans’ components are meant to influence them.

Now put your thoughts into your proposal. What do you want to achieve and how it will affect the plans: add/remove a component, add/remove a plan, align the plans of different roles.

With that in hand, you can meet with Igraine and involve her in the high-level decision. Once you reach an agreement, you can now propose to review all the plans for your perimeter.

In doing so, you drove a change in the system, you got Igraine to delegate something that was falling on her plate for historical reasons, and you made her decision at the level she should be involved in.

You are not asking for more delegation, or even worse, waiting for delegation to happen. You are driving it.

To do that with confidence, you need to balance your investment on the four axes and involve multiple stakeholders in preparing your proposal. You have to leverage the organization’s knowledge and the knowledge of Igraine to make the change happen.

When the leaders in Igraine’s leadership team can drive those kinds of changes, Igraine will have proof that she can delegate more to her leadership team.

You don’t need to wait for the change to come from the top.

You can make it emerge and help Igraine make the right choice for her primary team.