ChrisbkesA demanding performance challenge tends to create a Team. In any situation requiring a combination of multiple skills, experiences and judgments, a team inevitably gets better results than a collection of individuals. Teams provide the kind of responsiveness, speed, on-line customization and quality that is beyond the reach of individual performance.
– Katzenbach/ Smith

“All organizations are perfectly designed to get the results they get.” – Arthur Jones

Just as organizations are ‘perfectly designed’ to get certain results, one sub-unit, the team, is designed to get consistent, predictable results – good or bad. In 1993, Jon Katzenbach and Douglas K. Smith wrote The Wisdom of Teams.  At the time, it was perhaps the most well-researched summary of the key factors for team effectiveness.  These authors contrasted a ‘work group’ of people who happened to work together with an effective team.  The key factors that distinguished a work group from an effective team were:

  1. Common, compelling purpose

Team members had both a clear understanding of why they were there and also an emotional connection to that purpose.  In work sessions, we often test this by having individuals first develop a personal mission or purpose statement, and then evaluate the overlap between what they are personally passionate about and the team’s purpose. One of the reasons employee engagement is recognized as a key organizational issue, is the near epidemic of disengaged team members.

  1. Clear goals

George Bernard Shaw said: “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” In the absence of clarity, people come up with their own best guess about what they should be working on.  I believe goal misalignment is one of the greatest causes of conflict in organizations.  It is remarkable what a clear set of goals can do for the dynamics of a team in conflict.  It redirects the energy from each other, to something outside of themselves.  We have found that the way a goal is articulated is instrumental. Good guidance includes:

  • Alignment with organizational priorities.
  • Specificity – you cannot manage what you can’t describe.
  • Measureable – defines what success looks like.
  • Accountability – clearly define who owns the success.
  • Resources – who or what else can assist in the goal achievement?
  • Timelines – creates a tension to achieve.
  1. Common working approach

Effective teams standardize how work is done and understand each other’s roles.  These efficient work processes result in a consistent higher level of work outcomes.

  1. Complementary skills
  2. Commitment to each other’s success

Katzenbach and Smith indicated that the defining characteristic between a work group and a high performing team is this last element.  Many years ago, I was doing a presentation to a joint group of one of the big 3 automakers and the UAW.  When presented with this idea, one of the union leaders stated, “It’s like we have to love each other.”  Recently, my Wyoming Cowboy football team nearly pulled off an upset of the Nebraska Cornhuskers.  The surprise of the game was how the Wyoming defense played. Last year, they were near the bottom in NCAA defensive statistics.  One of the linemen was asked, what the difference was this year, and he replied, “This year, we are playing for each other.”


Leadership Value-driven Purpose People Processes Systems High Performance Culture