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In the most amicable of the interaction patterns, the CEO and other TMT members see eye to eye right from the start.
What would be a wise strategy in this environment? Build on this congenial atmosphere by employing rational argument and drawing others into the conversation.
This is when the CEO disagrees with the rest of the team at the beginning, and the team resolve their differences through a constructive discussion during the meeting.
Studies show that managers can gain legitimacy by appealing to a higher authority and, again, by using rational argument to great effect.
This is a scenario in which the CEO retreats to the background as an observer, while two team members debate an issue.
Duelling managers can bolster their case by declaring ownership (“this is my project”) and drawing on one’s experience and knowledge (“I know my team better than anyone else”). The spectating leader might be wise to delay a decision while emotions cool, as the CEOs in our study did.
This is when disagreement between the CEO and a team member triggers an adversarial dynamic at the start of a strategic issue discussion. There is a risk the decision-making process becomes polarised.
Here, participants need to be politically savvy. They can seek support, build a coalition by directly appealing or looking at colleagues, and draw on the credibility and agenda of others. A CEO could check to see if there’s scope for an upward appeal (“the founder needs this to be done before the end of next month”).
This pattern evolves when the CEO and a TMT member are in opposition: The former challenges and undermines the latter while other members simply look on.
For those who find themselves in an undermined position, dismissed and ostracised by the team, the best chance of surviving is to duck, retreat and fight another day. In our study, one executive chose to derail the discussion, and another turned the conversation to another topic. Another magnified the risk of the rival proposal.
It is important to note that more than one constellation could form in a single meeting. Team members can be congruous or cooperative when they discuss one issue and adversarial or undermining on another.
This suggests that the TMT decision-making process is more dynamic and nuanced than shown by previous research.
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