“Better business results are achieved when the senior management is free to realise its full potential”

Is the leadership of your company a mystery that confounds you and your career expectations? If the answer is yes, Bob Frisch may have penned the book for you.

Frisch asks: do senior management teams really make all those critical decisions? And deduces, through his research, that, in reality, these decisions are typically made by the boss and a small group of confidantes – a “team with no name”, or “kitchen cabinet” – that operates outside the perceived parameters of the company’s formal operations.

Meanwhile, other key players wonder why they weren’t even consulted in a timely manner. The dysfunction that results from this disconnect has led, in many cases, to years of unproductive team-building exercises. But such problems, Frisch reveals, are ones of process and structure, and do not have any basis in psychology and personalities.

This bold work, by one of the most original thinkers in corporate training today, addresses a two key areas. And can greatly help the reader on the senior branches of the organisational tree.

Firstly, it does so by helping the reader understand and utilise the way decision-making takes place in their organisations in actuality. And secondly, by showing how these teams-at-the-top can be leveraged, to the reader’s best advantage.

Moreover, through unleashing the full potential of their senior management teams, companies will achieve better business results, while also enhancing organisational harmony.

Above all, if you’re a boss, here you will find ways and means of avoiding that dreaded but frequent eventuality – the frowning manager coming into your office and asking: “Why wasn’t I in the room?”

The central premise of Who’s in the Room?, is that the most important decisions rarely get made in accordance with the organisation chart, and Frisch rolls out the very persuasive case that the head decision-maker will secure a better outcome if he or she relies on advice from the unofficial “kitchen cabinet,” rather than the formal executive team.

The composition of this informal-yet-powerful group varies based on the nature of the decision being made, but is highly efficient, existing as it does outside the daily politics and baggage of the formal organisational-chart structure. This frees up the “official” team to tackle the issues that require and benefit most from cross-organisational input, such as goal-setting, allocating resources, and managing dependencies. Fearlessly eschewing decades of conventional organisational psychology, Frisch posits that the solution lies not in changing behavioural patterns, but in dismantling the senior management teams as the ground-centre of major corporate decision making.

Using a broad portfolio of teams – large and small, permanent and ad hoc – effective leaders can match each decision to the appropriate team in a fluid and versatile approach that is usually overlooked in more mainstream texts. Then Frisch shows how leaders can unleash the full power of their key players against a specific set of critical tasks for which they are uniquely suited.

Which can be achieved by this? The appropriate teams are put together for addressing the hot-ticket issues at the right time, and the skills and talents of the organisation’s most senior and valued leaders are more effectively deployed.

The manner in which this book debunks the notion of the formal “top team” is its most powerful and instructive message. But the central thesis is buttressed by detailed case-studies and observations about management in action.

The findings of Who’s In the Room are based on dozens of interviews that Frisch conducted with CEOs at a large number of global organisations, including General Motors, Morgan Stanley, MasterCard, and even the Red Cross.

Frisch’s world view is a little disquieting. It rings true and it has a pragmatic quality that one cannot really argue against. But for those who want greater accountability among their corporate leaders, it is a minefield. For external regulators, the formal structures are what matters, whereas for the author these are less than critical. So, if we buy Frisch’s arguments, it means taking even greater leaps of faith with our top executives.

The implicit message is: trust us, give us freedom to act, and we will make the right decisions. The conventional wisdom is that this usually works. But when it doesn’t – take the Lehman Brothers, the Royal Bank of Scotland, or News International, among hundreds of fallen titans – it can backfire horribly.

Nevertheless, anyone who has ever spent time fidgeting through a dysfunctional discussion with the entire “executive team” – a meeting in which the redundant issues come up and the pressing ones never get aired – will appreciate this elegant but value-packed work.