Why a Great Leaders Use Teams of Leaders

A Team of Leaders Success Profile Story

For you, the concept of having a team of leaders is new. But Irv Rothman disagrees.

Irv is currently the president and CEO of HP Financial Services. Not too long ago, he served as the president and CEO of Compaq Financial Services Corp. Before that, he was the group president of AT&T Capital Corp.

Screenshot 2014-10-06 12.55.47Today, he leads 1500 employees. Those employees are broken down into small, manageable teams.

Not Your ‘of the Month’ Club

Having teams is not some program of the month for Irv. It’s the way he does business.

He believes that people work best when they work within teams. When they manage themselves. When they think and act like they are owners.

Most of his teams are organized around customers, not territories. Within the teams, people have multiple responsibilities. They are cross trained so the team members are able to step up, perform leadership tasks, and help customers.

The teams make their own decisions based on how they will use their resources. How they will achieve their goals, and so on.

This has proven to be a winning formula in every organization that Irv has led.

Sounds crazy, no? Really, it’s not.

A Time to Turn Things Around

It all started in 1986. That’s when Irv first learned about teams of leaders. At the time, he was struggling to start AT&T Capital. Back then he quickly realized that the traditional way of doing business wasn’t producing the results he was seeking.

Irv soon met my partner Paul.

Paul explained to Irv the power of building a team of leaders. He assured him that this approach can help him turn things around.

The concept made sense to Irv then. Nearly 30 years later, he continues to use it. What’s more, he has the results to back him up.

A Winning Formula

Irv and many other enlightened leaders have learned that they can’t try to control their employees. They can’t expect them to be engaged and committed. Nor, in that scenario, can they expect them to deliver great customer service. It simply doesn’t work.

People need to feel they are part of something special. That they have the chance to make a difference. They need to have the ability to learn and grow.

Unfortunately, they rarely get the opportunity to achieve such accomplishments in a traditional work design.

Organizations who implement teams of leaders understand the best way to compete and win in the marketplace. It’s by unleashing the brainpower, creativity and energy of their employees. To let them drive positive results to the bottom line.

That is truly a winning formula.

Do you want to join Irv in his success at getting the most out of people?

What level of A Team of Leaders in YOUR Team? CLICK HERE to find out!

Get a deeper knowledge today about how you can put into play a better way to get your business on the path to success. Request a meeting with Paul and Stew.

About Paul Gustafson and Stewart Liff

Paul Gustavson is an organizational design consultant and founder of Organization Planning & Design, Inc. (OPD). He is the co-author of “Running into the Wind”. He can be reached anytime on Twitter and  LinkedIn

Stewart Liff is an HR and visual management expert, and president of Stewart Liff & Associates. He is the author of the new book “98 Opportunities for Improving Management in Government” and co-author of “Seeing is Believing”. He can be reached anytime on Twitter, LinkedIn, or via email.

How Government Can Benefit from a Team of Leaders

If you have been following our blog up to now, then you know that A Team of Leaders can work in any business founded in the private sector. Well, we’re also here to tell you that the public sector can benefit from this way of thinking, too.

Federal Employee Job Perspective

A case in point: The U.S. Office of Personnel Management’s annual Employee Viewpoint Survey questions federal employees on a variety of workplace items, issues and departments. It’s most recent one resulted in federal employees ranking the following areas quite high:

  • 96.5%: When needed, I am willing to put in extra work.
  • 91.4%: I am constantly looking for ways to do a better job.
  • 91.2%: The work I do is important.
  • 83.8%: I like the work I do.

As you can see, these positive scores generally centered on the nature of government work and the employees’ desire to do whatever it takes to improve things.

Conversely, let’s take a look at the areas that federal employees rated the lowest :

  • 29.4%: In my work unit, steps are taken to deal with a poor performer who cannot or will not improve.
  • 21.6%: Pay raises depend on how well employees perform their jobs.
  • 3.8%: In my work unit, differences in performance are recognized in a meaningful way.
  • 3.5%: Promotions in my work unit are based on merit.

It’s apparent to us that these low ratings relate to something their supervisors did or did not do.

Reasons for Federal Employee Dissatisfaction

In other words, from the perspective of this sample of federal employees, the things that cause them the most dissatisfaction are the actions or inactions of their supervisors. That means if their supervisors were to manage more effectively, the employees, theoretically, will be more satisfied with their working conditions.

Overall, only 43% reported that their leaders generate high levels of motivation and commitment. Meanwhile, only 52% thought there was a results-oriented culture. All in all, these numbers are pretty staggering. It seems only two in five employees are truly motivated; only one out of two feel the government’s culture values performance.

The natural conclusion to draw from these glaring statistics and troubling trends is this: The way supervisors in the government sector deal with their employees is what drives morale and, more importantly, performance. And right now, that doesn’t seem so good.

One way to address this issue is to improve the way that these officials supervise.

Improvements to Roles in Government Supervision

Of course, that would require an enormous amount of training. In many cases, it requires retraining the government’s hundreds of thousands of supervisors. It also requires removing those supervisors who aren’t effective. Such as those either unwilling or unable to develop the requisite skill sets.

Since the federal government has been struggling with this issue for decades, without much success, perhaps training is not the only answer. Maybe it is time to take a different, more modern, approach.

A Team of Leaders: Empowering Every Member to Take Ownership, Demonstrate Initiative, and Deliver Results offers a new and exciting way forward.

The idea behind the concept described and explained in this book is that organizations with the traditional top-down, supervisor-to-employee work structure struggle because of the inherent nature of such a design.

From the supervisor’s perspective, there is pressure to perform. There are frequent demands on their time. There are problem employees to address and unions to deal with.

Moreover, they are required to make all of the key decisions. The weight of the world seemingly rests on their shoulders.

From the employees’ point of view, they face stringent performance demands. They often feel like they are cogs in the wheel and replaceable. They are expected to do what they are told. They have little autonomy, authority or room to be creative. Their satisfaction often depends on less-than-effective supervisors. This results in most of them not being fully engaged.

A New Federal Culture

A Team of Leaders proposes a different design and a far more effective and fresh work structure.

Summarily, it argues that the most effective work design is a team wherein everyone has the training and skills to be a leader within the team.

Under such an approach, leadership is shared. The supervisor ultimately becomes a coach who serves as an advisor to the team. Knowledge is spread throughout the team, which does all of the planning, performance management and accountability. They also deal with problem employees.

When you properly use teams of leaders, everyone is highly engaged, involved and motivated. The focus is on outstanding performance.

By design, this approach can eliminate many of the problems and complaints outlined in the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey.

Many organizations in a variety of sectors have already adopted this approach. As a result, they are flourishing. Perhaps it is time for your agency to consider such an approach.

About Paul Gustafson and Stewart Liff

Paul Gustavson is an organizational design consultant and founder of Organization Planning & Design, Inc. (OPD). He is the co-author of “Running into the Wind”. He can be reached anytime on Twitter and  LinkedIn

Stewart Liff is an HR and visual management expert, and president of Stewart Liff & Associates. He is the author of the new book “98 Opportunities for Improving Management in Government” and co-author of “Seeing is Believing”. He can be reached anytime on Twitter, LinkedIn, or via email.

Sustaining Organizational Health by Building Teams of Leaders in the Government

The spotlight is shining brightly of late on the hidden value of organizational health and how to capture it. Even all the way to Washington, D.C.

Before delving into this very public discovery, let’s digest a commanding reference that uncovers a strong incentive for ailing entities to maintain sustained organizational health. According to a recent article[1] in McKinsey Quarterly:

“Sustained organizational health is among the most powerful assets a company can build. Healthy companies generate total returns to shareholders three times higher than those of unhealthy ones.”

Apparently that’s not so when it comes to the U.S. Veterans Health Administration (VHA).

An Unhealthy Environment

Consider the recent scandal that came to a head late last month when President Barack Obama ordered a White House investigation in regard to U.S. Armed Forces veterans dying while waiting for care at the VHA facility in Phoenix and others across the country.

The investigation identified “significant and chronic system failures” and a “corrosive culture” inside the VHA, as widely reported by major news media outlets.

The timeline, starting in late April 2014 leading up to President Obama’s ordered investigation, is as follows:

  • April 30: CNN reported that at least 40 U.S. Armed Forces veterans died while waiting for care at the VHA facilities in Phoenix.
  • June 5: VHA internal investigations had identified a total of 35 veterans who had died while waiting for care in the Phoenix VHA system.
  • May 16: The VHA’s top health official retired early at the request of the Secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA).
  • May 30: That same Secretary resigned from office amid the fallout from the controversy.
  • Early June: Several other VA medical centers around the nation have been identified with the same problems as the Phoenix facility. The investigations widened.
  • June 9: An internal VA audit found that more than 120,000 veterans were left waiting or never got care. Pressures were placed on schedulers to use unofficial lists or engage in inappropriate practices to make waiting times appear more favorable.
  • June 11: The Federal Bureau of Investigation opened a criminal investigation of the VA.

There you have it: The epitome of an unhealthy organization. That’s a far cry from the days when Stewart Liff held many high-level positions throughout his federal career.

During one of his last assignments, he managed the VA’s Los Angeles Regional Office, which employed more than 400 people. As a result of his efforts, which included the implementation of Team Development, Visual Performance Management and Human Resources Management, that office improved its:

> grant rate by 50%

>customer satisfaction rate by 37%

> number of veterans rehabilitated by 600%

The office in LA ended up getting the OPM Director’s PILLAR (Performance Incentives Leadership Linked to Achieving Results) Award. Now that’s a healthy outcome.

So, the real question becomes: How do you create and sustain organizational health in the government?

A Healthier Approach

McKinnsey determined that there are four distinct organizational approaches, or management practices, which healthy organizations use:[2]

  • Leader Driven
  • Market Focused
  • Execution Edge
  • Talent and Knowledge Core

However, there is another, more exciting and self-sustaining approach that uses characteristics of all the above practices.

It’s accomplished by building teams of leaders within government agencies.

Such an approach starts with the generally accepted premise that high-performing teams out-perform groups of individuals. By building teams of leaders, without an official team leader to oversee the team, you elevate the teams to the highest possible level.

The reason for this occurrence is because everyone within the team provides leadership. Each member is responsible and accountable for the team’s performance, understands the value he or she contributes, and is well developed. Collectively, this results in an unprecedented degree of employee engagement and commitment.

Meanwhile, the official team leader is now free to focus on other higher-level work. Why? Well, the team can now handle the tasks that were previously performed by the team leader.

In order to reach the pinnacle of teams of leaders, the teams use best practices in all four of the areas previously described by McKinnsey:

  • Leader Driven—open and trusting
  • Market Driven—customer focus, competitor insights
  • Execution Edge—knowledge sharing, employee involvement, bottom up innovation
  • Talent and Knowledge Core—rewards and recognition, personal ownership attained

More succinctly, by building teams of leaders, you adopt many of the best practices

that are used in all four organizational approaches. That is why A Team of Leaders approach is so powerful.

A New Way Forward

A team of leaders is what we refer to as a Stage Five Team in the application of the Five-Stage Team Development Model.

To get to that level, teams that desire to become teams of leaders evolve through careful planning from a traditional Stage One Team. This is accomplished through a series of distinct phases until they eventually become a Stage Five Team of Leaders.

Below is an illustration showing the changing roles of an evolving team. The red dot represents the role of the supervisor; the blue dot the team members; and the green dot the members once they assume leadership responsibilities.

A Team of Leaders The supervisor’s leadership role slowly shifts until he or she becomes an advisor. Meanwhile, the members evolve from being followers to becoming leaders. That is the ultimate objective as the team produces its best results at Stage Five.

This design is being used in many industries with great success. It produces outstanding results. For example, organizations we’ve worked with that have adopted this approach have saved hundreds of millions of dollars. They have become high-performing football teams (read about BYU here). They have even received performance awards from the Vice President of the United States.

How to Build Teams of Leaders

Transforming a traditional team into a Stage Five Team is hard work. It requires time, energy, commitment, support and planning. Basically, you need to nurture the team’s development.

Below are the key elements of a successful redesign effort. Note that each element must fit together so there is balance and focus.

  • The Five-Stage Team Development Model: You use it as a framework to guide your thinking as the teams evolve.
  • You Get What You Design For: You create the proper design by analyzing your environment, processes and culture.
  • Team Processes: Your teams need processes that support teams of leaders, such as core processes, on-boarding, off-boarding, etc.
  • Value Creation Model: Your teams’ members need to know how much value they create.
  • Knowledge Management: You must manage the knowledge required to build teams of leaders.
  • Visual Management: Your teams’ physical plant should reinforce all other design elements.

Building teams of leaders is not easy. But, the return on investment will be more than worth your time and energy. And it will help keep your organization healthy, unlike the VHA and VA before its scandal was exposed.

It’s time to dig deeper into what it takes to make this transformation happen and help get your business on the path to success. It’s right at your fingertips. Go now to download a free chapter from our book A Team of Leaders: Empowering Every Member to Take Ownership, Demonstrate Initiative, and Deliver Results.

Paul Gustavson is an organizational design consultant and founder of Organization Planning & Design, Inc. (OPD). He is also the co-author of Running into the Wind.

Stewart Liff is an HR and visual management expert, as well as president of Stewart Liff & Associates. He is also the author of Managing Government Employees andco-author of Seeing is Believing.

[1] Aaron De Smet, Bill Schaninger, and Matthew Smith, The hidden value of organizational health—and how to capture it, McKinsey Quarterly, April 2014

[1] Ibid


Building a Team of Leaders to Increase Employee Commitment

Nearly 30 years ago, Richard E. Walton wrote in the article From Control to Commitment in the Workplace as published in the Harvard Business Review:

Especially in a high-wage country like the United States, market success depends on a superior level of performance, a level that, in turn, requires the deep commitment, not merely the obedience—if you could obtain it—of workers. And as painful experience shows, this commitment cannot flourish in a workplace dominated by the familiar model of control.”

Despite Walton’s long-ago words of wisdom, companies today continue to only use either a strategy of control or one of eliciting commitment to build employee commitment. And they do so already knowing that when employee commitment isn’t built, they will pay an enormous price.

Here are a couple of startling stats to show the danger of such a lack of dedication by employees. In the  2012 SHRM Employee Job Satisfaction and Engagement Survey, only one out of two employees in the U.S. reported that they were completely plugged in at work. Meanwhile, the Gallup’s State of the American Workplace: 2010-2012 report found that disengaged employees cost the U.S. as much as $550 billion per year.

Those are very telling statistics in regard to the sorry state of how committed employees really are nowadays in the workplace. But do realize that there’s a better way. A way to get them plugged in and one that will help reduce such wasteful billions.

Why Do Companies Struggle with Employee Commitment?

These days, although there is clearly a growing recognition that in order to compete in the 21st century, companies must have employees who are engaged and committed. In our new book A Team of Leaders, we present our belief that companies struggle with employee commitment because of two primary reasons:

1) Many organizations continue to choose a strategy based on controlling employees.

2) Those that choose a strategy of eliciting employee commitment are doing a poor job of implementing that strategy.

We believe that the first strategy, which involves all-knowing supervisors controlling their subordinates and telling them what to do, is generally doomed to fail. So, we will focus this article on the second strategy, which can be wildly successful. Yet it’s not an easy maneuver to pull off.

The reason why it’s so difficult is because you are trying to change an entire organization’s or team’s culture from top to bottom. This can’t be done by fiat, and it can’t be accomplished by making employee commitment the flavor of the month. Many companies have tried to do just that. Then they have often wondered why it did not have the desired effect.

The answer is simple: Organizations are perfectly designed to get the results that they get. So, unless you change your organization’s design, you are not going to get the results you desire, or even need.

And that is precisely why employee commitment programs don’t work. They merely scratch the surface of your organization or team in a vacuum. They don’t properly affect or influence all of the support systems and processes that must be aligned and in balance. Without that, there’s no true change to your business culture or positive impact to your bottom line.

On the other hand, if you build teams of leaders, you can truly change your culture and produce great results.

Teams of leaders are comprised of employees who all step up and provide leadership. They are responsible for planning and achieving the team’s goals. They are cross trained and well developed. They are highly committed and engaged.

They are built through a careful planning and implementation approach. This approach ensures that all of the systems and processes work together in a holistic manner to produce the right culture and results.

In other words, teams of leaders need to be perfectly designed to get the results that you want.

Are you struggling with employment commitment issues? What strategies have you used to build employee commitment? To get a deeper knowledge about these challenges and the right answers to these questions, go now to download a FREE Chapter from our book A Team of Leaders: Empowering Every Member to Take Ownership, Demonstrate Initiative, and Deliver Results.

About Paul and Stew

Paul Gustavson is an organizational design consultant and founder of Organization Planning & Design, Inc. (OPD). He is the co-author of “Running into the Wind”. He can be reached anytime on Twitter and  LinkedIn

Stewart Liff is an HR and visual management expert, and president of Stewart Liff & Associates. He is the author of “Managing Government Employees” and co-author of “Seeing is Believing”. He can be reached anytime on Twitter, LinkedIn, or via email.

Blog – A Team of Leaders

Stew Liff and I are pleased to announce that our new book, A Team of Leaders: Empowering Every Member to Take Ownership, Demonstrate Initiative, and Deliver Results, (AMACOM Books, March 26, 2014), was just named one of the 30 best business books of 2014 by Soundview Executive Book Summaries.

Below is some information on that book and its approach.

A Team of Leaders Blog 


In SHRM’s 2012 Employee Satisfaction and Engagement Survey, only half of the employees reported that they were truly engaged at work.[1] What a waste of available resources!

At the same time, ASTD has found that U.S. organizations devoted over $156,000,000,000 to learning and development in 2011,[2] with the largest amount being spent on supervisory development.

These statistics are of great concern and lead us to what we feel is the true cause: the way work is designed. In other words, as long as work is structured so that the supervisor is the boss and everyone else is a follower, many employees will feel disengages and disconnected, while supervisors will feel overwhelmed. More importantly, group and individual performance will suffer.

Why? Because in the above design, the supervisor has to almost be Superman. That he has to deliver top-notch performance, make all of the important decisions, work with all of the employees, deal with challenging people, perhaps interact with unions, etc. Meanwhile, the employees have to do what they are told, often feel like Charlie Chaplin on the assembly line in the movie “Modern Times,” and have little authority, autonomy or the opportunity to be creative. As a result, half feel disengaged and many feel dissatisfied.

A Way Forward

We subscribe to the old saying that, “Organizations are perfectly designed to get the results that they get.” We also believe the above design has played a large role in producing the results we just described. At the same time, there is a corollary to the saying which is, “If you want to change your results, you need to change your design.” That is exactly what we are proposing.

In short, if you want to have your employees involved, engaged and well developed, while enabling the supervisor to be freed up to focus on other, higher-level work, you should create a team of leaders.

Such an approach has been used in many industries with a great deal of success at all levels. That is because such a design successfully counters the design flaws inherent in the traditional structure. That is because there is no longer one superhuman boss who oversees a bunch of subordinates. Instead, everyone becomes as a leader and is involved in all phases of the operation including setting goals, planning, implementation, employee development, scheduling and even dealing with problem team members. The former supervisor moves on to become an advisor to the team and spends most of her time in other areas.

How to Form a Team of Leaders

To successfully transition from a traditional structure to a team of leaders is not easy, as it requires a lot of time, energy, planning, commitment and upper level support. However, if done successfully, it is well worthwhile.

Listed below are the key elements of a successful redesign and implementation effort. Note that every element must fit together so there is balance and focus.

  • The Five-Stage Team Development Model – this is used as a framework for thinking to help guide the team’s transition from a traditional approach (AKA Stage One) to a team of leaders (Stage Five.)
  • You get what you design for – to create the right design, you must first analyze your environment, processes and culture.
  • Team processes – teams need to have processes that support a team of leaders
  • A Value Creation Model – Team members must understand the value they contribute to the team.
  • Knowledge Management – This is the team’s competitive advantage and must be carefully managed.
  • Visual Management – The team’s physical plant should be redesigned to reinforce every other design element that has been put in place.

The Five-Stage Team Development Model

Teams do not quickly evolve from a Stage One to a Stage Five team. They transition through several stages that require a great deal of nurturing and support. Below is a depiction of the changing roles within the team as it evolves. The red dot represents the role of the supervisor, the blue dot is the team members and the green dot shows the team members as they take on leadership responsibilities.

     Stage 1       Stage 2        Stage 3      Stage 4        Stage 5

This is how the team evolves, but it doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It happens by designing, aligning and integrating the other five elements discusses above. Future blogs will discuss how each element works, relates to each other and helps produce a team of leaders.


[2] ASTD, $156 Billion Spent on Training and Development, http://www.astd.org/Publications/Blogs/ASTD-Blog/2012/12/156-Billion-Spent-on-Training-and-Development, retrieved February 27, 2014

A Team of Leaders


Stew Liff and I are releasing our new book, A Team of Leaders, this month.  If you’d like to order a copy, please follow one of the links below. AMACOM’s press release follows:

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.

A Team of Leaders shows readers how to design systems that nurture the leadership potential of every employee–the key to creating high-performance teams. The book’s proven principles and techniques include:

Filled with real-world examples, this fresh approach transforms passive groups of disparate people into effective teams of leaders–workplace teams that work!

Click here to learn more about the book, or to purchase the book using Amazon.