Who's in the Room: How Great Leaders Structure and Manage the Teams Around Them [NOOK Book]


Is your company run by a team with no name?

At the top of every organization chart lies a myth—that a Senior Management Team makes a company's critical decisions. The reality is that critical decisions are typically made by the boss and a small group of confidants—a "team with no name"—outside of formal processes. Meanwhile, other members of the management team wonder why they weren't in the room or even consulted ahead of time. The dysfunction that results from this gap between...

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Who's in the Room: How Great Leaders Structure and Manage the Teams Around Them

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Is your company run by a team with no name?

At the top of every organization chart lies a myth—that a Senior Management Team makes a company's critical decisions. The reality is that critical decisions are typically made by the boss and a small group of confidants—a "team with no name"—outside of formal processes. Meanwhile, other members of the management team wonder why they weren't in the room or even consulted ahead of time. The dysfunction that results from this gap between myth and reality has led to years of unproductive team building exercises. The problems, Frisch shows, are ones of process and structure, not psychology.

In Who's in the Room? Bob Frisch provides a unique perspective to this widely misunderstood issue. Flying in the face of decades of organizational psychology, he argues that the solution lies not in addressing behaviors, but in unseating the senior management team as the epicenter of decision making. Using a broad portfolio of teams—large and small, permanent and temporary, formal and informal—great leaders match each decision to the appropriate team in a fluid, flexible approach that you won't find described in management textbooks.

Who's in the Room? is based on interviews with CEOs at organizations ranging from MasterCard to Ticketmaster to The Red Cross.

  • Understand and embrace the way decision-making actually happens in their organizations
  • Use these "teams with no names" to best advantage
  • Engage the Senior Management Team in the three critical tasks for which it is ideally suited 

Organizations will get better decisions and superior results by unleashing the full potential of their Senior Management Teams. And bosses will see a dramatic drop-off in people coming into their offices asking, "Why wasn't I in the room?"

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Great guide for any leader to use in mapping out his orher advisory teams”
—800 CEO Read

“Authoritative and pragmatic look at how to make the rightcalls”
—Julian Birkinshaw, Management Today

“Offers real-world strategies for making the best of howorganizations seem to work”
—The Leader Lab

“How to structure organizational teams in a way that isboth more realistic and more productive is at the heart ofFrisch’s book”
—CIO Magazine

“What you really want from a book on organizationaldecision making and leadership”
—New York Journal of Books

“You’ll know his advice is working when you see adramatic drop-off in people coming into your office andasking, "Why wasn’t I in the room?"
—Matthew May, Amex OPEN Forum

Who’s in the Room? falls in the greatcategory…due to the book's ability to jar your perspective ofhow teams do and should operate.”
—Michael Wade, Execupundit

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781118170083
  • Publisher: Wiley
  • Publication date: 12/6/2011
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 208
  • Sales rank: 1,222,981
  • File size: 593 KB

Meet the Author

Bob Frisch, managing partner of The Strategic Offsites Group, has worked with organizations ranging from Fortune 500 companies to German mittelstand family businesses to the U.S. Department of State. Bob's work has been featured in the Harvard Business Review, the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg Businessweek, and Fortune.
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Table of Contents

Introduction: Who’s in the Room? 1


1 Most Companies Are Run by Teams with No Names 7

The Myth of the Top Team Illusion and Reality

The Problem That Isn’t There, But Won’t Go Away

2 Team Building Won’t Solve the Problem 21

When the Shrinks Go Marching In

After the Shrinks Have Gone

3 Don’t Blame the Boss 29

In Search of the Ideal Leader

Inside the Box

Do the ‘‘Rights’’ Thing

4 Four Fundamental Conflicts at the Heart of Senior Management Teams 41

Mission Control Versus Knights of the Round Table: Functional Specialists or Reflections of the CEO?

The Team Versus the Legislature: The Representative from Finance, the Senator from Operations

The House Versus the Senate: Are Some More Equal Than Others?

The Majority Versus the Majority: The Impossibility of Deciding

Maybe the Problem Is That There Is No Problem

5 Case Study: How One CEO Transformed His Top Team 57

The Past as Prologue

Moving from a Single Top Team to Multiple Teams

The Team That Sits Together Works Together

Tailoring the Structure to Suit Your Needs as a Leader

6 Best Practices: Design an Organization That Delivers the Outcomes You Need 73

The Three Centers of Gravity

Flexing in Five Dimensions

The Portfolio and the Payoff


7 Engage the Senior Management Team in Three

Critical Conversations No Other Team Can Have 93

8 Align the Senior Management Team Around a Common View of the World 99

The Starting Point: Aligning Around Trends

Clustering Trends into Drivers of Change

Understanding Capabilities and Assets

Walking the Boundaries of the Company: TestingWalls and Fences

Defining and Selecting Opportunities

9 Prioritize and Integrate Initiatives to Hit the Strategic Bull’s-Eye 119

Asking the Nearly Impossible: Prioritizing Initiatives

The Real Source of the Difficulty

Changing the Conversation

It’s All Relative

Hitting the Bull’s-Eye: Making Initiatives Work Together

10 Move from ‘‘Should We Do This?’’ to ‘‘How Do We Do This?’’ 145

It All Depends: Why Initiatives Fail

Putting on the Brakes: The Value of Parochialism

The American Red Cross: Managing Dependencies at the Speed of Disaster

Going from ‘‘Should’’ to ‘‘How’’ Fixing What’s Actually Broken

11 Tailor Your Portfolio of Teams for Top Performance Now 167

Thinking It Through

Putting the New Approach into Motion

Repurposing the SMT

Who’s in the Room?

Acknowledgments 179

The Author 183

Index 185

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Interviews & Essays

Author Q&A - Bob Frisch/Who's in the Room

1. Is this concept "taboo" in some organizations? If so, how do you even start to address it?
The existence of a small group of trusted advisors surrounding a leader at critical decision points, and that group's exclusion of some members of the Senior Management Team does have some "taboo" qualities to it. It's well known, rarely discussed publicly, and even more rarely challenged.

It's common to see organizations attempt to address the side effects of this gap between the myth and reality of decision making. That's what's at the heart of most senior level team building activities. But it is exceedingly rare to see a leader or a team member address the "taboo" topic at the core - that the Senior Management Team isn't, in fact, the place where most of the important decisions in a company actually get made.

2. When did you decide that a book needed to be written about this issue?
I've spent most of my professional career facilitating strategy discussions for executive teams. When it comes time for the periodic strategy offsite, invariably a block of time - typically ½ day - is set aside for a team building activity. I'm often asked to sit in while the executive team works with a psychologist, coach or organization consultant.

While those sessions can be helpful in terms of lubricating the interpersonal dynamics of a group, they invariably failed to generate any lasting results in terms of strengthening the functioning of the executive team as a body.

After literally decades of seeing this happen, and hundreds of conversations with executives who felt 'out of the loop' when key decisions were made, I decided to survey the literature on executive teams and conduct a series of interviews with both CEOs and their Senior Management Team members in order to see if a more effective solution could be found to improving executive team effectiveness.

3. As you mentioned, there are a large numbers of books that talk about making teams perform better. What makes your book distinctive?
I suppose it starts with my background. Almost everyone working in this area of executive teams - psychologist, coach, organization development expert - is what I call a 'behavioralist'. They focus on the behaviors of individuals and of groups.

As Managing Partner of a firm focused exclusively on designing and facilitating strategy offsites, my colleagues and I spend all our time helping leaders and their teams align around crucial decisions. While the typical strategy consulting partner may attend a few such meetings in the course of a year, it's pretty much all I do. So I've spent literally thousands of days with scores of management teams in 15 countries on 5 continents as they struggle with their most critical issues.

While all the books and all the experts will point to the behaviors and relationships of those executives as the key to an effective team, I'm afraid my direct experience with these teams leads me to take a strikingly contrarian viewpoint.

It's time to stop looking at personalities, and start to focus on the structures and processes that underlie decision making. To break the "taboo" and get to the core of the topic, and thereby unleash the power of the leadership team.

4. What's a high-profile example of a senior team/kitchen cabinet conflict, and how could it have been avoided?
Conflicts between leaders and members of their senior teams are common, but rarely made public.

RIM, the maker of BlackBerry, has very publicly blown their dominance of the mobile communications market. There's an example of not only a senior team/kitchen cabinet conflict, but of an unusual organization - dual CEOs who don't seem agree on a strategic future for their organization.

The New Yorker recently wrote about Indra Nooyi, the CEO bringing Pepsi into an era of nutritious and healthy eating. Many powerful people on her leadership team got where they are by creating, manufacturing, marketing, selling and distributing soft drinks and salted snacks. I'd bet Indra faced significant dissonance between what she and her closest advisors see as Pepsi's strategic future and the opinions of some on her team. One analyst said "They have to realize that at their core they are a sugary, fatty cola company, and people like that." Put in some softer language and I'd bet some of Indra's direct reports believed the same thing.

Unlike RIM, however, Indra seems to be keeping the leadership team intact and unified.

What should be different at RIM, or is happening beneath the surface at Pepsi? Each situation is different, and the prescription usually lies in the unique dynamics of each team. But Who's In the Room? contains some general principles that should be kept in mind. In this case, the most important one is to work with the Senior Management Team to forge a common view of the future. Not happening at RIM. Appears to be the case at Pepsi, to Indra's great credit.

5. You've written articles for Harvard Business Review, but this is your first book. What was the writing process like?
It was actually pretty similar. The book obviously took longer, since there is so much more content, but we tried to keep the same high standard expected of an HBR article throughout the entire book. One major difference, and the great thing about a book, is that there's space to explore concepts in a fair amount of detail. An author can provide more examples, explanations and anecdotes than the limited length of a magazine article allows. It's like moving from a small apartment where every object needs to be considered relative to the space available, to a rambling house where there are attics, basements and closets to stuff away more objects.

But the biggest difference actually comes after the manuscript is completed. Once HBR decides to publish a piece, the hundreds of thousands who subscribe worldwide will be sent the article whether they want it or not. It's part of the magazine. But a book is different - people have to make the effort to acquire a book, or download a sample chapter to their Kindle. So the process of publicizing and marketing a book - of simply raising awareness to the target audience - becomes a real focus, especially for a first-time author.

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 24, 2012

    Fascinating and insightful

    Bob captures the true essence of behind the scenes decision making in both public and private organizations. And, he does it in a manner that holds your interest and provokes reflections on your own experiences with strong plausible explanations. His writing style and intellectual analogies effectively bring the subject in clear view. His insight and experience, as one I have known for many years, reflects skills, experience, knowledge and personal character that I have grown to admire in Bob over his professional career. All come together in a very interesting read that will change your understanding of the decision making process. Truly a value adding worthwhile read.

    Michael Cooper, Managing Partner, Kincannon & Reed

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 4, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    If you manage a team at all you need to read this book. Clearly

    If you manage a team at all you need to read this book. Clearly targeted toward CEOs and their senior management teams, I think any team leader can learn a lot from Bob's book. He cuts through management theory and lays out a practical path for leaders and teams to get the most from each other. It is eye opening, frank, and illuminating. A must read for veterans of the boardroom and fledgling MBAs alike.

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  • Posted January 24, 2012

    Bookful of Golden Nuggets on Decision Making

    The central premise of "Who's in the Room?" is that the most important decisions rarely get made in accordance with the organization chart -- and, that's not just okay, it's a good thing! While a bit counter-intuitive, I found author Bob Frisch's recent article on this subject in the Harvard Business Review so insightful that I immediately ordered the book. He rolls out a very persuasive argument that the CEO (or any decisionmaker) will get to a better decision if he or she relies on advice from an unofficial "kitchen cabinet," rather than the formal executive team (or committee) shown on the org chart.

    The kitchen cabinet can (and does) vary based on the decision being made, is trusted, is a smaller and more efficient group, and can operate outside the daily politics and baggage of the formal team structure. This frees up the formal team to tackle the issues that require and benefit most from cross-organizational input (eg, establishing a worldview, setting priorities, allocating resources and managing dependencies).

    The book is chockful of anecdotes that illustrate how decisions can be made effectively in organizations when the right people are in the room. Anyone who has ever spent time sitting through a dysfunctional discussion with the entire executive team (in which the wrong issues come up and the right ones never get aired), will appreciate the stories from the field and the lessons in decision-making that can be learned from this book. Highly recommend. A surprisingly interesting and fun read.

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