Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Top 10 Tools Leaders Use to Create Teamwork

LincolnHeadpe03885jpg President Lincoln once summoned a newspaper reporter to the White House. As the reporter entered the Oval Office, Lincoln was petting his golden Labrador retriever.

The president stood up to shake the reporter’s hand.” Thank you for coming. Please, have a seat."

As they both sat down, the president continued, “I've been reading some of your reports about the Civil War. I don't think you have your facts right."

"Well Mr. President, my sources tell me the facts and I print them."

Just then, the president's dog got up and sauntered across the room. Lincoln sprang to his feet, pointed at the dog’s tail, and bellowed, "Son, if I told you that the tail on my dog was a leg, how many legs would my dog have?"

The startled reporter blurted, "Mr. President, if you told me that tail was a leg, your dog would have five legs."

"No," replied the president, "My dog would still have only four legs. Just because I told you the tail was leg doesn't make it a leg… AND just because a source tells you something about the Civil War doesn't make it true."

Just because someone tells you that you have a team doesn't make it a team. A team is a group of people working together towards a common goal. President Lincoln is reminding us that if you're not working together towards a common goal you don't have a team. You may have a single leader work group, but you do not have a team. Professors Kozlowski and Ilgen from Michigan State University state that the first fundamental question that needs to be asked before putting a team together is whether you actually need a group of people to come together to achieve a common goal. (1) If the answer is yes, here is what the research says are the top 10 tools to reaching your team goal.


1. Set a clear goal. The goal must also lead to specific objectives and create a sense of urgency. The more urgent, relevant and meaningful the goal, the more motivated the team.

2. Select the right team members. The reason a team is created in the first place is that the knowledge to accomplish the goal is not in one person’s head. An analysis of 6,000 team members and leaders by Frank LaFasto and Carl Larson found that the selection criteria for team members should include working knowledge and teamwork attributes. (2) The working knowledge attributes are the specific skills and experiences needed to solve problems and carry out the project tasks. The teamwork attributes included openness, supportiveness, action oriented, and a positive personal style.

3. Create metrics. Measurements eliminate arguments. Metrics provide a dashboard for team members and senior management to steer individual and collective performance. They also increase role clarity and accountability.

4. Encourage contact. Familiarity breeds compatibility. Frequent and informal social interactions among team members improves teamwork according to an analysis of 17,000 patents. (3) In addition, team members should maintain their connections with internal and external stakeholders.

5. Define norms. Norms are the rules, often unwritten, that dictate how team members behave. They are "the way we do things around here." Successful teams define which areas need clarity and then create specific norms for each of these areas. I recently facilitated a leadership retreat where I helped managers create well-defined norms for better communication, effective recognition programs, and motivating meetings. Which norms do you need to create?

6. Emphasize a learning culture. Teams that train together achieve more according to an analysis of 169 teams by MIT professor Deborah Ancona and her colleagues. (4) In addition to learning from each other, challenging the group with information from external experts reminds the team to search outside their own, narrow borders for new ideas, information, and experience.

7. Delegate decision-making. Responsibility without authority is lame. Too much leader interference is perceived as micromanaging and lowers team morale. The authority to decide how to reach the goal should be left to the team.

8. Develop an environment that supports execution. The most successful teams develop processes that encourage sharing external information, transparent decision-making, and scheduling tools that visibly communicate progress and flexible deadlines.

9. Reward team achievement. That which is appreciated appreciates. If you want teamwork, reward it. Brainstorm with the team the many ways to applaud both individual contributions to the team, as well as collective team accomplishments.

10. Involve the team in implementation. Handoffs are where the baton is dropped. If the project must be given to another group, involve a few of original team members during implementation phases to increase the probability that it is implemented well.

Cisco is at the forefront of collaboration and teamwork. (5) They have created a network of cross-functional and international councils and boards empowered to fund projects and launch new businesses. The company is also investing heavily in social networking applications. They promote an open-source culture by encouraging employee blogging, uploading of videos, and tagging of strengths in their Facebook-style internal directory.

Cisco is not calling a tail a leg. Their team focus has expedited innovation and produced a tenfold increase in new projects. How much of an increase do you think you'll see by adapting these top 10 tools to your team? Let me know. I'd love to hear from you. (For 4 great Leadership ideas, check out Harvard Business Blog @;col1 )

Keep eXpanding,


1. Steve Kozlowski and Daniel Ilgen; The Science of Team Success, ‘Scientific American Mind,’ June/July 2007, 54 -- 61.

2. Frank LaFasto and Carl Larson; “When Teams Work Best,” 2001, Sage Publications, Inc.

3. Lee Fleming; Perfecting Cross-Pollination, Harvard Business Review, September 2004, 22 – 23.

4. Deborah Ancona, Henrik Bresman, and Katrin Kaufer; MIT Sloan Management Review, Spring 2002, 33 – 39.

5. Ellen Mcgirt; Revolution in San Jose, ‘Fast Company,’ December 2008/January 2000, 88 -- 94 and 134 -- 135.


Jodi Walker said...

I enjoyed the Lincoln example and the importance of recognizing that just because someone says something doesn't make it true. Secondly, the importance of teams working together to achieve a common goal is so often overlooked. Without the vision and the common goal, companies often miss the mark and then wonder why. Your ten tips are right on.

Bob Gunn said...

Always enjoy reading your material, as it consistently provides factual pertinent leadership information that can be incorporated immediately. Your insight brings a new level of meaning to the word leadership. Thanks for providing me with the tools I need to improve on a day to day basis. Look forward to the next blog posting and to the next issue of Dave's Raves.
Bob Gunning

Dave Jensen, Leadership Expert said...

Thanks Jodi,

You are right of course. During these tough times when we feel we are bobbing around the sea of uncertain, why not look to the team for some stability.

Dave Jensen

Dave Jensen, Leadership Expert said...

Thanks Bob,

I appreciate your kind words. My whole focus on this blog is to review what really works in leadership. That way, you don't waste your time, money, & effort trying techniques that have little chance of paying off.
Dave Jensen

Debashish Bramha said...

It's just wonderful, old is gold.
Management science is indebted to politics also great leadership is all about sharing relationship (team management),and responsibility that you take on your shoulder.
Thanks for such a wonderful post.
With Warm Regards,
Debashish Bramha.

Dave Jensen, Leadership Expert said...

Hi Debashish,

Thanks for your input. Leadership has 2 fundamental dimensions: 1. Task = what we do AND 2. Relationships = who we do the tasks with. You're right when you say team is a big part of the the relationship.


Eshan said...

Excellent stuff!!! Leadership developing skills will help make your team's leadership essentials, which will ensure you are more than likely to have a vivid career path ahead of you. Thanks for sharing with us