1. Keep the group small.

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A small executive team consisting of between five and seven members is ideal for most companies because it's just enough to allow for healthy conflicts and disagreements, while maintaining cohesion and focus, says Debra Nunes, vice president of the Hay Group, a Philadelphia-based consulting firm that, in conjunction with Harvard University and Dartmouth College, recently released a four-year study on what makes executive teams successful.

Sean Keohane, president of Irvine, Calif.-based SMC Networks, which provides connectivity and Internet access solutions, abides by that rule. He has several vice presidents and a finance director on his executive team, which meets every Thursday morning for about 90 minutes to keep everyone up-to-date on market trends and let them better prepare for the following week's responsibilities.

Keohane says it's vital to make sure the objectives of every meeting have been clearly set from the start to avoid topics that could be discussed during future meetings. "You've got to focus on the basic principles and objectives of the company," Keohane says. "You take your politics and leave them on the doorstep."

Keohane adds that he would not think twice about replacing an executive member of his team if the person doesn't fit the group's needs, even if a long friendship is at stake.

"I'm a very apolitical person, and the selection process for an executive team is that they're there to benefit everybody," Keohane says. "If not, that person tends to become a cancer, and that has a negative effect."

2. Check egos at the door

3. It's all about timing

4. Seek input at all levels

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