A Team of Leaders

If you ask ten executives in a room what their definition of good leadership is, most likely they will all give you a different answer. Some would say that leadership is about taking charge, following the lead; it's about giving orders and for subordinates to not think, just do. Others will say that its about leading by example, but that 'example' might be what is not best for the business and then some; a small minority, will say that it is all about people.

Then, some will say that it's about service to those who follow you (your employees) and those who pay your bills (your customers). It's what Jim Collins calls 'Level 5' leaders. Its about leading from the back and making others feel good. It about EQ and not IQ. It's more about humility and showing vulnerability, rather than, what's in it for me. With so many different leadership styles heading companies today, it's no wonder that we have mixed results when it comes to the success and more importantly, the longevity of companies.

A recent survey showed that as much as $550 billion is lost per year in the US thanks to the low productivity of employees. The sad truth is that many employees feel completely disengaged from their workplace. They don’t feel motivated to do any more than the bare minimum required of them by their bosses. I had to hear myself the other day that our Operation department is only busy when I walk around. This is not the news you want to hear as a leader, but feedback like this is invaluable as it makes you focus on what needs to be improved.

If building a successful company is your goal, the bare minimum won’t cut it. You need employees who love and take responsibility for their work, and who seek their own approaches to making the company better – without you having to reward them with bonuses. Workplace teams are supposed to harness employees’ talents to tackle challenges. But the reality often falls short.

Now imagine having a team where everyone steps up and performs all of the leadership tasks. Imagine a team that is constantly sharing knowledge and pushing the envelope - one that does long term planning and produces outstanding performance. In other words, says Paul Gustavson, you need a team of leaders.

I loved the book as it explains some quick and easy ways to encourage your employees to be more self-sufficient, as well as to stir up new inspiration and ideas at the office.

The three most powerful points I took from the book were;

  1. That your team should constantly be learning new things;

  2. Your work environment should be a place that encourages excellent work.

  3. Your whole company needs to be united by good purposes.

At the core of the team dilemma is a little-known truth: It’s not the people who need to change but the design of the team that needs an overhaul.

By improving the core design components - the systems, the processes, knowledge management, and visual management - you’ll get far better results, says Gustavson. Unmotivated teams will be transformed into energised groups of employees who take responsibility for long-term outcomes.

The 5 stages of shared leadership.

Imagine you’re at the office and it’s midday. After 4 hours of typing and staring at a computer screen, how do you feel? In all likelihood, you’re bored stiff, says Gustavson . You probably have moments when you’d like to forsake your computer and incite your co-workers to join you in revolutionising the office. You’d like to be part of a team, not a hierarchy. You want to be a member of a team of leaders.

But, as in most offices, your boss has all the decision-making power. What do you do? Well, your workplace may simply be in what Gustavson calls, the first of five stages in the team development model. Stage one is that hierarchical model we’re used to; there’s one leader and a team of subordinates following orders.

So how do you move past that stage?

Let's take recruiting as an example, says Gustavson. Imagine an organisation that’s agreed to strive toward developing a team of leaders. There will no longer be one executive adjudicating on all work-related issues. Rather, every member of the team would have an equal say. This is the stage during which change really begins.

Leadership needs to be designed into your business.

Design actually has a major influence on many aspects of an organisation. To get a better sense of this, consider the following questions: How many members does your team have? How should you implement interview procedures? How do you define a company’s mission? Fundamentally, these are all questions of design. So, then, what’s the ultimate goal of design? Simple: uniting people with a shared sense of purpose.

We all want our jobs to be meaningful, to have a positive impact on the world: knowing that our work has meaning, gives us more energy and more fulfilment. For example, says Gustavson - when asked what they do, you want your employees answering purposefully, like “I improve the usability of a website!” instead of “I just fix bugs.” When they don’t feel connected to a higher purpose or believe their work has meaning, they’ll start channelling energy away from work.

In addition to each individual’s sense of higher purpose, the team of leaders will thrive as a whole when united under a clearly communicated mission, such as “We produce a product that better enriches people lives.” But a truly ingenious way of giving your team drive is to implement a team value creation model. This is an approach where your team operates as a mini-business, by providing team members with the incentive to access more information and a higher level of inside knowledge.

Being your own mini-business boss, you might have insights into data - sales conversion reports, say - that allows you to track your team’s performance and engage them with it. This increased employee engagement will not only boost their satisfaction; it’ll boost customer satisfaction, too. How?

Customers usually benefit when an organisation functions at a high level. When employees are more productive and better able to respond and update quickly, customers will want in on the action, says Gustavson.

Alignment, not Competition.

We now know that every leader in your team should have his/her own purpose. However, it’s also vital that these purposes allow team members to work with, not against, each other. In other words, you must achieve alignment among your team members, not competition. Alignment is how your team and its elements work together.

To get a better idea of what alignment looks like, let’s consider an unaligned team, Gustavson suggests. An organisation says that they’re shifting focus to improving the quality of their products. But little attention is given to improving quality, and the focus remains on maximising productivity. At management meetings, the focus is on the quantity of work, not the quality. And at the end of the year, bonuses are awarded to the teams that performed best, including one who scored, out of all the company’s teams, second-lowest in quality but highest in productivity.

This unaligned situation only confirmed the employees’ suspicions that management didn’t really care about quality. The company’s senior executives eventually realised their mistake, but they had lost the employees’ trust and it took many years to make up for it. So, how to avoid this? By creating alignment, says Gustavson.

Take the above example. The management should’ve aligned the teams toward making higher quality products: That means considering which principles would guide the teams’ focus toward improving quality, which strategies would improve quality, which specific projects or technologies were needed to optimise quality and which rewards would entice teams to produce at a higher quality. If everyone had striven for quality, all design and behavioural incentives would’ve been in accordance in the team.

And that would’ve meant that everyone was working toward the same goal: shared success.

Knowledge is Power.

You’ve probably heard that old saying “knowledge is power.” It’s more than just a cliché. In fact, it’s incredibly relevant when it comes to how your team functions, says Gustavson. Every organisation has organisational knowledge, that is, the sum of the knowledge belonging to each member within it.

Organisational knowledge can also be broken down into key knowledge, which tells us how to create value for the customer; reportable knowledge, referring to facts and routines in the company; and cultural knowledge, or beliefs and expertise.

Imagine you work in a call centre with two other people, whom we’ll call Anton and Berta. Anton and Berta have key knowledge, but what happens when Anton and Berta are sick, and you receive a call from a customer named Tom, whose credit card has been stolen?

Somewhere in your company handbook there’ll be a section on credit cards: codifiable knowledge that might help Tom. But nobody told you where to find it. And, if you’re unable to contact Anton and get his advice, your tacit knowledge – that you’re 99 percent sure Tom’s money is safe – is insufficient, and probably won’t make Tom feel any better, and he definitely won’t think too highly of your company.

Clearly, there’s something wrong with this model.

So instead of each team member hoarding a specific kind of knowledge, the goal should be for tacit, codifiable and key knowledge to be equally accessible to each team member in your company.

How can you ensure this? The best way is to facilitate learning.

Structured learning methods, like manuals, customer research and videos, help everyone access codifiable knowledge. On the other hand, unstructured learning methods, like storytelling, role-playing or personnel rotation, increase the exchange of tacit knowledge because experiences get shared.

The environment you work in will be a key driver to your success.

Have you ever had the unfortunate experience of working in a labyrinth of office cubicles under the harsh glare of fluorescent lighting? Many of us have, and it’s not the way it should be, says Gustavson. A working space should double as a leader’s place, an environment that honours both your company’s mission and your customers’ feelings. To create a space that fosters a team of leaders, we’ll need something a little more powerful than interior decorating. It’s called visual management. So where do we begin?

The first thing to consider is how to optimise the workplace so that ideas and inspirations can be exchanged. Rather than having separate rooms for each team member, why not create an open, yet close-knit layout. It could also help to have charts on the walls displaying current problems and possible solutions.

Additionally, whiteboards illustrating the progress of individual projects will make team members feel appreciated and meaningful. In this way, visual management can boost the alignment of a team, too.

A clever use of space will also allow you to send powerful messages to your customers. Displays outlining your mission can send positive signals: “This is how we perform and we like it!” And, even just a hand written sign displaying customer feedback makes every customer feel that they’re both welcomed and respected.


What I took from it.

For me this book is more about creating an environment where a team a leaders can flourish rather than how to create a team of leaders. Very useful though and a book that I will keep referring back to.

Your organisation is just five steps away from becoming a team of leaders. Thought through team design, sharing of knowledge and strong visual management will smooth your transition to an aligned and enthusiastic team, united under a shared purpose.

Remember why you do what you do! If you’ve ever felt demotivated, just take a step back and reflect on how your individual contribution matters, not just to your team, but to the greater good that your company serves. Even if it doesn’t feel like it, your activities are meaningful, appreciated and important. Channelling these thoughts will keep you energised, happy and on track.

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