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.

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)