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Team development
A leader of a team of teams is a gardener, not a chess master.

Working Toward Functioning As a Team of Teams

In this second part of this piece, what separates effective teams from ineffective ones, and the aspect of goals is discussed.

On Monday, the first part of this piece covered three principles of what separates effective teams from ineffective teams. Let’s look at two more:

4. Team-based leadership doesn’t reduce workers to people who execute tasks. It elevates workers to leaders, who grow a vision.

Frederick Winslow Taylor was an “X theory” manager. He believed people were basically lazy, and to increase efficiency, you needed to reduce their role and influence within an organization.

Team-based leadership cultivates entrepreneurial leaders, not simply people who are skilled at executing commands.

A healthy team environment is the opposite. Team members across the organization, from the lowest to the highest, all grasp the situation and overarching purpose. It’s based on “Y theory,” which believes that workers, when empowered to do what they are gifted to do, are intrinsically motivated.

Team-based leadership cultivates entrepreneurial leaders, not simply people who are skilled at executing commands.

McChrystal tells the story of war hero Horatio Nelson. Rather than insisting on a centralized, hierarchical leadership of the kind that most commanders employed, Nelson encouraged individual warship captains in his fleet, to act on their own initiative, once melee began in conflict. He crafted a culture that rewarded initiative and critical thinking, as opposed to simple execution of commands.

Because of this, Nelson was able to overcome a much superior force. He won not for his ability to make crucial decisions in the heat of battle, but because of his ability to create a winning culture, long before the battle began.

Takeaway: In your team, how often do you talk about overall church goals?

5. A leader of a team of teams is a gardener, not a chess master.

The basic fundamental shift is a move from the control of the information, or management based on the “need to know,” to transparency as an organizational value.

In a command and control environment, the leader is a chess master, the only one who sees the global picture. But chess masters move too slow for the 21st century and are incapable of gathering sufficient knowledge to see the whole picture. They must rely on others.

In a team of teams, everyone needs to see the entirety of the system, for the plan to work. In this environment, the leader is a gardener, whose primary purpose is not to move every piece, but to create the ecosystem in which other leaders can grow.

Takeaway: How irreplaceable are you? That’s a trick question. The goal isn’t to be irreplaceable, but to be replaceable. To gain more influence, train someone else to do your job. 

What happens when an organization functions as a team of teams.

My favorite chapter of the book is the illustration of what it looks like when done right.

Not coincidentally, it’s about NASA, a favorite story of mine and a key part of my book on creativity.

The author quotes NASA deputy administrator Robert Seamans: “The Apollo project is generally considered one of the greatest technological endeavors in the history of mankind. But in order to achieve this, a managerial effort, no less prodigious in the technological one, was required.”

At the time of President John F. Kennedy’s vision to go to the moon, articulated in the fall of 1962, NASA “was a constellation of teams conducting largely independent work farmed out by administrators.” These independent groups were very effective at exploratory work, but trouble erupted when disparate teams had to be integrated into a single project.

Anyone who is ever tried to get an entire organization to go in the same direction at the same time, can appreciate this problem.

NASA’s early attempts to integrate their research teams failed, and leadership had doubts about the feasibility of Kennedy’s vision. But they made a crucial change.

They switched the focus of the organization from research to development. And they changed the management style from a “need to know” approach to widely broadcasting information.

NASA brought in George Mueller to build the managerial foundation of the Apollo program.

Mueller’s vision for NASA was that of a single, interconnected mind – a company-wide nervous system. He threw out old org charts and required managers and engineers to communicate daily. Long before the internet, NASA created a culture of instantaneous communication and transparency of knowledge. Mueller created an environment in which what is right mattered, not who is right.

Instead of “need to know,” there were only two states: in and out. Those who were “in” had to understand and embrace the entire Apollo project. What Mueller created is now known as “systems management.” It believes that one cannot understand a part of the system, without having at least a rudimentary understanding of the entire system.

This leadership style emphasizes a common purpose, transparency of information, and an insistence that everyone sees not just their part, but the entire whole. As McChrystal writes, NASA proved that this can be achieved not just in small teams, but in large organizations, if the organizations are willing to commit to the disciplined, deliberate sharing of information.

As you can imagine, this takes work, which is why most organizations don’t do it, and why NASA itself eventually lost its ability to do it.

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