The Meeting, Ester Almqvist, 1929, (Source: The Swedish National Museum. Wikimedia Commons)
Ideas for Leaders #229

Leadership Ensembles: 4 Blueprints for Senior Decision-Making

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Key Concept

The ‘Lone Ranger’ style of senior leader decision-making is a thing of the past; most organizations now bring together groups of leaders (‘ensembles’) for input into different types of decision-making. This Idea identifies approaches for these ensembles to follow in order to make the most successful choices and reach the best decisions when they come together.

Idea Summary

Imagine a cellist, taking on different roles depending on whether he/she is playing with a quartet, a chamber orchestra, or a full orchestra. Today’s leaders are not dissimilar; they come together in different arrangements to undertake most of an organization’s decision-making. These groups of leaders, or ‘ensembles’, debate changes in their company’s direction, or draw on close relationships to quickly ratify a decision, or discuss possible solutions to a problem, etc. Different types of decisions require different ensemble configurations. But to lead most effectively, ensembles must understand how they fit into and shape the company’s overall operating model.

These are thoughts put forward by a CEIBS professor, Nandani Lynton, alongside co-authors from the Accenture Institute of High Performance. The importance of leadership ensembles is clear; even though they usually only consist of the top one or two per cent of executives, they bridge a host of differences in, for example, languages, cultures, experience, etc.

Through interviews with more than 50 executives, Lynton and fellow researchers identified four general operating model approaches (or ‘blueprints’) that successful ensembles can follow, which can help frame the context for decision making at the top:

  1. Incubators: this blueprint is often taken by ensembles in companies that are growth-oriented and branching into new markets, but are not looking for rapid entry. The ensembles value a cohesive corporate culture, seeing themselves as stewards of the behaviours that will generate future success.
  2. Diplomats: ensembles that operate as diplomats are often expanding globally, and apply this blueprint to pursue outcomes through a process of give-and-take among local businesses, and also between local businesses and headquarters.
  3. Engineers: with this blueprint, ensembles do not disregard corporate culture, but view changes to processes and structure as the most immediately useful tools at their disposal, that will ultimately build and foster a single culture across the firm.
  4. Directors: finally, ensembles taking this approach prefer decisions to be made by those who are closest to the operations involved.

Though all four blueprints are important, ensembles tend to stick to one and have difficulty in switching to one or more of the other four blueprints, even when the one they have chosen is working less effectively than expected.

Business Application

The researchers highlight that in today’s dynamic business environment, collaborative or ensemble decision-making is often more effective than a solo approach. They suggest the following three steps for organizations to improve their blueprint options, and generally lead to decisions that are more effective:

  • Understand what operating model blueprint leaders currently prefer: explicitly articulate a preferred operating model approach, rather than following an unspoken agreement among top leaders.
  • Continually assess how your preferred blueprint helps or hinders your organization’s goals for global expansion: be aware that this is not a one-time decision but an ongoing calibration.
  • Understand the connection between the blueprint and the way the ensemble operates: make an explicit link between your operating model blueprints and the way that leaders themselves come together as an ensemble at the top.
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Idea conceived

  • September 2013

Idea posted

  • October 2013

DOI number



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