The Power of Triads for CEOs

We often think of success as requiring a lot of time, money, sweat, and tears. Sometimes it does, but I believe in doing everything possible to help businesses be successful with what they already have and with as much ease as possible, and that’s why I believe in #triads.

I recently wrote about the benefits of triads and many reached out to let me know they were interested in understanding better how to implement them at work.

Before I go into the details of how CEO’s can utilize triads, I wanted to elaborate on the power of triads.


While the well-known idiom indicates that two heads are better in one, in reality three are better than two. There is something about a dyadic relationship, one-to-one, that can create an element of competition. When there are only two people, each person often feels compelled to establish their expertise and authority. This is less likely to occur in a triad. Researchers have found that “triads are the smallest structure which tends to constrain emotions, reduce individuality, and generate behavioral convergences or uniformity.” (source)

In my work, I have found that triads are the best way to brainstorm solutions and generate effective change. I often cite a specific example from my TedX talk on how I use triads in my work as a Vistage Master Chair.

It’s 2010 and I have a client; he’s a New York CEO. He has sought out my coaching services to help his business grow. In one of our first sessions, he asks for my opinion regarding his website. I look at it and immediately think “this sucks”—it’s not intuitive to navigate, there’s no SEO, the graphics are basic—but I know he’s spent time and money on it and he wants to hear it’s great. I struggle to respect his sensitivities while still providing helpful feedback.

I come up with, “I think it needs more work and pizazz.”

The response: arms folded, grunting. I have no doubt that he doesn’t like what he’s heard.

“You are wrong. You don’t understand. You don’t know.”

He’s paid for my expertise, specifically to tell him how to improve his business, but he doesn’t want to hear it. He has every reason to be open to professional and sincere feedback from a friendly source, but he’s not.

I’m studying triads at the time and decide to introduce the concept to my CEO groups. He agrees to participate. In his first triad meeting with two other CEOs he asks the same question, “What do you guys think of my new website?”

In unison, the two other CEOs say, “It sucks!”

This time he listens. He moves into action and changes the website.

Over the past decade, I have found triads to be the key component in shifting attitudes and mindsets and allowing people to respond positively to necessary feedback.

NYC CEO of Def Method, Joe Leo talks about the benefits of triads here. Mitchell Berger, Chairman of Howard-Sloan Search, also shares his experience and what he considers the value of meeting in triads.


I use triads among CEOs in my Vistage Worldwide, Inc. Groups but I definitely believe that triads can be implemented in all types of industries and work environments. Here’s how:

WHO? Triads must consist of employees or leaders at the same level; there can be no hierarchy. As soon as someone with seniority enters the mix, it stops being about an exchange among equals and turns into executing what the boss says to do.

Actionable Takeaway: Take a look at fiefdoms and where people are in conflict and consider putting them into a triad.

HOW? Present the concept of triads to your staff. Talk about the benefits, citing the examples I’ve presented here. Emphasize that triads allow for peer-coaching. The idea is to shift work culture from I’m Great! to We’re Great!

WHEN? It may best to implement a triad when there is a project that needs to be executed and the outcome is dependent on engaging successfully.

Case Study: I worked with a CEO who needed to implement a medical electronics records system. He used the opportunity to create a triad, bringing together the heads Finance, IT, and Operations.  They had a history of competition among the departments but making the outcome of this essential project dependent on the triad allowed for an incredible shift in cooperation and led to real success.

WHAT? The CEO or responsible manager should determine who composes the triad but the expectation is that the triad determines the logistics and are responsible for making the meetings happen.


  • Does it have to be 3 people? You can make it work with four, but I’ve found it doesn’t have the same effective dynamic as 3.  Three is the number that guarantees that there isn’t as much pressure as a one-to-one while not leaving space to tune out.
  • What’s the duration of the triad? If it is project, it can be for the duration of the project. It can also be more organic. If the members of the triad find it beneficial, it makes sense to allow them to continue for as long as they want.
  • Can the CEO or manager resolve conflicts between triad members? No! Watch out for this. For a triad to be successful it is essential that the leader/CEO doesn’t get involved in resolving conflict. The triad has to be empowered to work it out themselves.

Let me know: Are you using triads? What do you think are the benefits of triads? What questions do you have about triads?