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


Transforming a College Football Team into a Team of Leaders

Not too long ago, Bronco Mendenhall turned around the Brigham Young University (BYU) football program. Many know this transformation began in December 2004, when Mendenhall became the head football coach.

What many don’t know is how he did it. So, let me take you through his program’s makeover from beginning to end.

More Than Just X’s and O’s

Instead of being the all-knowing coach who uses the “it’s-my-way-or-the-highway” approach, Mendenhall decided to turn to Paul Gustavson, a former BYU football player and world-class business consultant, for advice and assistance.[1]

During the first phone call, Mendenhall told Gustavson: “This is my first time as a head football coach. I want to be a great head football coach. You’re somebody I was told I can learn from.”

Gustavson immediately convinced Mendenhall that he could transform his Division 1 college football team into a team of leaders as opposed to just a group of individual football players following him.

By doing so, Mendenhall and his coaching staff would not have to make all of the key team decisions on or off the field.  And BYU would have a competitive advantage over all other college football teams.

So, they quickly went to work. They relied on key elements outlined in the book recently written by Gustavson and me, A Team of Leaders, Empowering Every Member to Take Ownership, Demonstrate Initiative, and Deliver Results(AMACOM Books, March 2014).

Huddling with a Team of Leaders

With Gustavson’s guidance, Mendenhall used the Five Stage Team Development Model described in A Team of Leaders.

The head football coach employed it as a framework for visualizing how the team and its sub-teams (such as, position groups: offensive line and defensive line; or program groups: organized around providing community service) would steadily take on more and more responsibility in various key areas of the organization.

Mendenhall united the entire team around BYU’s unique mission. He emphasized tradition, spirit and honor. He also took a hard look at his systems. Where necessary, he redesigned them and assured they were aligned.

For example, Mendenhall purchased a new video editing system for putting together game film to be studied by the players. He completely redesigned their weight room, locker room, and other areas inhabited by the team, to make it more consistent with the new direction.

Mendenhall also placed a heavy emphasis on knowledge management. He ensured that his players focused both on their studies as well as on learning their team roles and responsibilities. He even redesigned all of the team’s blank walls, using visual management principles[2] to connect the players to BYU’s mission, and their short-term goals.

“If you’re a player walking through here every day … you want to be part of the history of BYU,” a former BYU football player said. “Visually, it shows that you can.”

Here is an example of one of those powerful displays the former BYU player is referring to:

Stewart Liff - A Team of Leaders

As time went by, the players bought into the concept of a team of leaders and became more empowered than ever before. Many of them stepped up and assumed leadership roles. This progress freed up Mendenhall and his coaching staff to focus on other important areas.

Soon, the entire team came together as one. As a team of leaders.

Since Mendenhall arrived at BYU, the results have marked the wisdom of this approach.

Mendenhall’s teams of leaders have since had a combined record of 82 victories and 34 losses. His teams have been to a bowl game every single year, winning six out of the nine games.

Moreover, Mendenhall’s players’ academic achievements have consistently been at or near the top of all Division 1 college football programs throughout the nation.

And that is how Mendenhall has made his mark at BYU as one of its greatest head football coaches.

Are you seeking solutions to the challenge of transforming your struggling group of individual “players” (or employees) into a successful team of leaders?

There are usable and effective strategies right at your finger tips. To get a deeper knowledge about how you can make this transformation happen and help get your business on the path to success, 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] In writing this blog, we relied in part on Running into the Wind: Bronco Mendenhall–5 Strategies for Building a Successful Team, by Paul Gustavson and Alyson Von Feldt, (Shadow Mountain Publishing; August 27, 2012)

2 For further information on visual management, see the book, Seeing is Believing, by Stewart Liff and Pamela A. Posey, DBA (AMACOM Books, October 2004)