Executive Teams - Managing Conflict

High-performing boards and executive teams

High-performing boards and executive teams

The concept of high-performing teams was pioneered in the 1950s by Tavistock thinkers who understood that to be truly ‘high-performing’ a team must be aware of not only what it is achieving but also, crucially, how it is working together.


When we are invited to work with any executive team or board we analyse what is going on beneath the surface by spending time observing the group as they go about their business. We thus become aware of the dynamics that are being played out in parallel throughout the organisation.

  • We may witness unspoken and conflicting personal agendas. These impact upon how effectively teams are able to work together and may prevent them achieving what is expected.
  • We notice trigger points when organisations are changing and their structure and systems are inadequate for the task.
  • We observe the emotional undertow that precludes a rational approach to challenges and we encourage teams to reflect on what is happening – in that way they can reframe their issues in a fuller understanding of what is actually going on and what might be the root cause of team dysfunction or failure.

An executive board should ideally be the containing hub. It needs to manage complexity, change and uncertainty on behalf of the organisation. The huge challenge of this responsibility means that individual board members must be resourceful, resilient and open to whichever difficult emotions are impacting upon staff. An inability to be so can directly affect the organisation’s capacity to carry out its task. Failure to manage emotion and the dynamics of difference surfaces as lack of trust, rivalry, prejudice and exclusion and leaves teams vulnerable and ineffective. The resulting negative behaviours may then emerge throughout the organisation, leading to stagnation, a failure to reach potential and, at worst, to disintegration.

Tavistock consultants create the conditions in which it is possible to examine difference and stimulate curiosity and tolerance for individual perspectives. At the Tavistock we have spent more than sixty years understanding how group and organisational dynamics within boards and executive teams directly affect their ability to achieve success. By identifying and working with difference, overt or hidden, we tackle the thorny problems that may have been preventing teams from becoming truly high-performing.

Paying attention to how your team is working will improve your strategic focus and performance. You’ll experience greater participative leadership, openness, trust and communication. Our experience is that teams that work this way are able to understand their organisations more holistically, work across boundaries and manage change more effectively. We regularly observe that attention paid to the culture of the team and relationships within it will help it achieve its goals.

Please give us a call on +44 (0) 20 8938 2475 for a confidential conversation about how we might work with your team.

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The slow-but-deep teaching style and the complementary approaches of the two teachers works well for me. I like the balance of theory and experience, a cycle of thinking-reflecting-doing-reflecting.
- Executive Coaching Development programme member