By David Burkus
There’s an unpopular phenomenon in group dynamics called in-group out-group. I call it unpopular not because it isn’t well-known (it is) but because it seems like everyone who knows about it is against it. Even the original researchers behind in-group out-group (and it’s complement Leader-Member Exchange theory) offer that organizations shouldn’t work this way. They believe Leader’s need to facilitate dialogue across the entire organizations and remove in-group tendencies.
Not Bob Frisch.
Frisch’s new book, Who’s in the Room, argues that this in-group, which he calls the kitchen cabinet, is not going away any time soon…and that it shouldn’t. Frisch believes that real problem isn’t the kitchen cabinet; it’s the myth that the kitchen cabinet doesn’t exist. This is a starkly contrarian view, one that I had a hard time acclimating too as I read Who’s in the Room. However, gradually Frisch began to sell me on the idea that top-level leaders need both a large senior management team and a kitchen cabinet of trusted advisors. Senior Management Teams, he offer, tend to have a yes-man culture where everything presented in meetings must be positive and in line with what the leader wants. Kitchen cabinets, on the other hand, have actually been given the informality to provide contrarian views and objections to the leader – which better prepares them to lead.
To be sure, both Frisch and our organizational scholars seem to agree that a senior management team should probably have that level or informality. However, Frisch argues that no team building off-site is going to accomplish that. As such, Who’s in the Room offers real-world strategies for making the best of how organizations just seem to work.