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External focus key to minimising executive conflict, says expert

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Making sure executives’ natural competitive nature is focused externally is key to minimising conflict, according to Stonehaven Associates partner Elisabeth Marx.

Speaking at the CEB summit for HR executives in London, Marx said there can be a problem when building executive teams, as the type of person who makes it to that level is likely to feel in competition with colleagues.

“The most highly ambitious executives are also the ones who are inherently more competitive,” she said. “It’s a question of how you direct that energy. The danger is if it’s focused internally it can lead to scapegoating and people wanting to stay in their silos because they’re worried about getting something wrong.”

Marx, who is the author of The Power of Global Teams, claimed that CEOs often see teams at the top level of their companies as much more effective than they really are.

Quoting research from Harvard Business School that suggests only 6% of executives within the Fortune 500 see their top level teams as “well integrated”, she suggested many executive groups form “committees and not teams”.

“Often CEOs don’t see the gap created by the lack of collaborative working,” she explained. “But building teams at the top level is business critical. The chief executives who go on to be the most successful are the ones who can influence and manage the emotions of all of the executives to form strong top-level teams.”