What Is Team Chemistry?

Team chemistry refers to the ability for the members of a team to complement and support each other. If you do a Google search for “team chemistry,” though, most of the results are about helping leaders create chemistry among people in staff positions. But CEOs have a special challenge—the team they manage is composed of just leaders.

Why chemistry is important among the senior leadership team

The art of team leadership is determining which combinations of strengths, behaviors, and skills are:
  • Important for the needs of the business
  • Complementary to the other team members
  • Complementary to the CEO

As you start to build a team, you need to consider where the talent gaps may lie, and how your team leaders are going to work together. The success of your organization depends on unity—the ability for a group of people to solve problems as one. In addition, your ability as a leader to communicate and engage with them as a unified team matters—even when there may be a disparity among how they engage and interact together.

When you’re building team chemistry, it’s not just from the perspective of what works for the business. Everyone with a seat at the table has different needs to be met. Like any relationship, not everyone is going to work out great and have the right chemistry with each other from the start. Or, at first, everything can seem to be perfect. Once people start taking on the daily challenges of running a business, though, things can get stressful.  It takes commitment, attention, and intention to continue to evolve the team and improve it over time. A good CEO needs to take on the relationships amongst the leadership team much as each team leader takes on the work of his or her individual department.

The challenges of creating chemistry when growing a leadership team

Let’s take a look at what typically happens in the beginning, when it’s just a founder or two partner founders (as is typical these days for startups). If you were able to hire the entire leadership team all at once, you would have an interesting opportunity to create just the right mix of talents, disposition, and experience…like one big jigsaw puzzle.

The reality, though, is that as the company begins to evolve, there isn’t the funding to hire the team all at the same time. Even if you did have the funding, it’s likely that you might not even know what you really need yet. Also, the business might not be ready for all those areas to be scaled all at once.

Managing a team of leaders involves getting a group of really smart, super-talented people together and asking them to play nicely together.  But now, they’re no longer in charge of everything and making all the final decisions.  It becomes more about teamwork and collaboration.  When you’re looking at role definition and hiring for the specific roles in which they came into, you are looking at the best of the best. Of course you want to get an “A” player if you can, you want to make sure they have excelled in their role somewhere else, or they at least know that business. You want to make sure you’ve found the best possible candidate.

The unique dynamics of managing a team of leaders

Getting a lot of these types of people together, though, can often breed competitiveness amongst the team members. It doesn’t happen by design. It’s more likely they just don’t know how to ratchet down on the “I’m the smartest person in the room, I’m the best at doing what I do, I know better” view.  You then have to figure out ways for the team to be better listeners, and to understand that there might be an alternative approach that could work better than their idea. This type of humility and vulnerability is something that not everyone has, especially if they’ve been an “A” player in prior roles.

Think about people who played sports in college—the ones that were always the best, the team captain, the strongest on the team. They go into the business world and often they’re not the best anymore because they’re in a whole new environment. They sometimes struggle with communicating, engaging, and collaborating. When you’ve got a lot of greats in every position, who’s driving to get them all to be able to work well together? This is one of the crucial and sometimes difficult roles for the CEO.

Team chemistry begins with awareness

The ultimate goal for the CEO is to find and nurture a team chemistry that enables solid business decisions instead of emotional ones. You’re looking to create a roadmap that puts the business first, instead of individual functions. Neither are easy to do, even when you are the leader of the group, because you may get caught up in your own emotional views of which is the most important function for now.

Strive to look at the situation objectively, to see where there isn’t synergy, and where the team is not aligning. Most of the time, it’s an issue of communication—not who’s the smartest person in the room. It’s about how people engage and interact, if they are being thoughtful to someone else, if they are more open to listening to someone’s alternative approach than their own way. You may find that sometimes the rest of the leadership team may be focused on measuring their individual expertise and individual success, not the team’s. Perhaps they might even have to sacrifice a little bit to give to another team.

Those types of collaborations, though, have to be driven by you as the leader.

(This is the first in a 3-part series on Team Chemistry. The next installment will explore “How to Build Team Chemistry Effectively From The Start”).