Lots is written about the dysfunction of the team that Trump has assembled: backstabbing, turnover, intrigue seem to be common. Not very surprising and not very new.
This post will spell out a few reasons why I believe that dysfunction is so frequently “built into” the genetic code of very senior teams. Severe dysfunction at the most senior level is something that I expect. I am very surprised when this is not the case.
First however, a small historical anecdote. At the beginning of the 20th century, very senior competing officialdom in England botched up the middle east for more than one hundred years by issuing in parallel conflicting and diametrically opposed policies such as the McMahon-Hussein correspondence and the Sykes Picot agreement. This dysfunction has caused endless chaos and countless wars. We are not anywhere close to extricating ourselves from this mess which was caused in great part to the most severe senior dysfunction at the senior level of the British administration.
Jumping forward in time, I will provide my observations about why very senior teams have such severe dysfunction.
- Senior leaders have limited time, so gatekeepers have more power than experts, a critical component for creating severe friction.
- It is VERY common for the guy at the top to be an extremely paranoid player who plays one team member (and interest) against the other as a default. It is very hard to get to the top if you don’t have this skill. Those who float to the top are a special breed; they are extremely adept political animals who shift blame with great skill. The glory (when created) goes to the leader; the blame is shifted downwards. So there is often nothing to gain and much to lose by being a team player.
- People who work with senior leaders learn to be sycophants who please the leader almost to the exclusion of all others.
- Many senior leaders want the people around them to churn out of the organization every so often, thus eliminating the creation of alternative power bases. So they create a rotating exit door to keep the power of others at bay.
The sun rises, and the sun goes down,and hastens to the place where it rises.