Harnessing the Power of Teams

Jim Clemmer

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"Teams help ordinary people achieve extraordinary results. "

A certain man had several sons who were always quarreling with one another, and, try as he might, he could not get them to live together in harmony. So he determined to convince them of their folly by the following means. Bidding them fetch a bundle of sticks, he invited each in turn to break it across his knee. All tried and all failed: and then he undid the bundle, and handed them the sticks one by one, when they had no difficulty at all in breaking them, “There, my boys, " he said, “united you will be more than a match for your enemies: but if you quarrel and separate, your weakness will put you at the mercy of those who attack you. " Union is strength.


As this Aesop's fable illustrates, even weaker people are powerful when united in a strong team. It's one of the most effective ways to mobilize and energize people. Teams are a key way to get people participating and involved. That leads to higher levels of ownership, commitment — and energy. Numerous studies of North American change and improvement efforts in organizations have shown that major gains in quality, service, or productivity are driven by huge increases in participation and involvement levels throughout those successful organizations.

Effective team leaders develop a group from what it is into the team that it could be. That takes a focus and skill set that is new and different for most team members and leaders. Since the beginning of the industrial age group leadership has been based on the military model of command and control. We managed groups by pushing and forcing them. At best we got compliance and conformity. At worst we set up huge “we/they" gaps that lead to union/management conflict and lots of other problems. Group ownership, shared goals, creativity, and participation were minimal. In the bad old days, the boss’ idea of participation was like the kid who rode the sled down hill and “shared" it with his teammates to take it back up again.

Today's highly effective teams have a broad ownership and participation in the team's tasks and how everyone works together to achieve them. Team members and leaders share responsibility for the effectiveness of the team. One of the best indicators of the strength of a team is the “We to Me" ratio. How often do team members and leaders use “we" and “ours" instead of “I", “me" and “mine" in their conversations?

Despite all the team talk of the last few years, few groups are real teams. Too often they're unfocused and uncoordinated in their efforts. We developed the following set of questions from our consulting and team development work. This team assessment and planning framework helps newly formed teams come together and get productive quickly or it assists existing teams to refocus and renew themselves.

  • Why do we exist (our purpose)?

  • Where are we going (our vision)?

  • How will we work together (our values)?

  • Whom do we serve (internal or external customers or partners)?

  • What is expected of us?

  • What are our performance gaps (difference between the expectations and our performance)?

  • What are our goals and priorities?

  • What's our improvement plan?

  • What skills do we need to develop?

  • What support is available?

  • How will we track our performance?

  • How/when will we review, assess, celebrate, and refocus?

    Teams develop answers and related action plans around each question. This approach has proven to be much more effective than artificial team situations, outdoor adventures, or theoretical discussions of group dynamics. Bringing a team together with a shared focus and taking action to make it happen is a powerful way to mobilize and energize.

    Excerpted from Jim's fourth bestseller, Growing the Distance: Timeless Principles for Personal, Career, and Family Success. View the book's unique format and content, Introduction and Chapter One, and feedback showing why nearly 100,000 copies are now in print at http://www.growingthedistance.com. Jim's new companion book to Growing the Distance is The Leader's Digest: Timeless Principles for Team and Organization Success. Jim Clemmer is an internationally acclaimed keynote speaker, workshop/retreat leader, and management team developer on leadership, change, customer focus, culture, teams, and personal growth. His web site is http://www.clemmer.net/articles.

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