Management Articles


Leadership Keys to Harnessing the Power of Teams

By: Jim Clemmer

Jim Clemmer is an international keynote speaker, workshop leader, author, and president of The CLEMMER Group, a North American network of organization, team, and personal improvement consultants based in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. His other bestsellers include Firing on All Cylinders: The Service/Quality System for High-Powered Corporate Performance, and his most recent book, Growing the Distance: Timeless Principles for Personal, Career, and Family Success. His web site is

"In a study by the Center for Creative Leadership of top American and European executives whose careers derailed, the inability to build and lead a team was one of the most common reasons for failure. Team skills, which had been of little consequence in a similar study in the early 1980s, had emerged as a key mark of leadership ten years later. By the 1990s, teamwork became the most frequently valued managerial competence in studies of organizations around the world."
Daniel Goleman, Working with Emotional Intelligence
A scout leader was trying to lift a fallen tree from the path. His pack gathered around to watch him struggle. "Are you using all your strength?" one of the scouts asked.

"Yes!" was the exhausted and exasperated response.

"No. You are not using all your strength," the scout replied. "You haven't asked us to help you."

Good managers have always fostered teamwork. But highly effective leaders are now showing the performance power of building a team-based organization. When effectively organized and led, teams:
  • Multiply an organization's flexibility and response times

  • Flatten vertical hierarchies and smash functional chimneys

  • Provide a vehicle for wide scale participation in organization change and improvement efforts

  • Turn involvement and empowerment rhetoric into reality

  • Expand jobs and elevate the sense of purpose and meaning they provide

  • Foster a spirit of community, cooperation, and belonging

  • Build the commitment of those people who will ultimately make or break any organization change or improvement effort

  • Harness the improvement energy and ideas of everyone throughout the organization

  • Become the key unit of organizational learning through sharing collective experiences and multiplying intellectual power

  • Replace command and control discipline with far more powerful and lasting self and peer discipline

  • Improve communications and deepen understanding of change and improvement decisions being made

  • Produce better problem solving and more thorough decision making

Where teams have been effectively organized and led, the list of team outcomes have led to dramatic improvements in productivity, customer service, quality, process management, innovation, cost effectiveness, job satisfaction, morale, and financial performance.

Leading Teams: We Have Got to Take it Personally
"If you would create something you must be something."
    Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, 18th century German poet
Most managers grew up in a command and control era. In those days, a "strong leader" was a decisive problem solver who was a tough disciplinarian. He (most were men) "took control" and "made things happen." Teamwork was when everyone rallied and pulled together to meet the leader's goals and follow his direction.

It's tough to change those deeply ingrained values and approaches. In our workshops and consulting, some days it feels like we see a never-ending stream of "old school" managers (some of the worst can be newer and younger managers) who are struggling to transform themselves into effective team developers and leaders.

It can be done. It is being done. Our team's effectiveness depends largely upon our effectiveness as a leader. Our team leadership effectiveness hinges on:
  • My level of self-confidence. Sharing power and developing others to do what I used to do is almost impossible if I am insecure. If I draw much of my self worth from how well others "listen up and follow my orders," I am going to have a tough time empowering and developing a strong team.

  • A new view of my job. A strong team leader knows that his or her job is not to be the main problem solver. That just ensures more upward delegation and an ever-weakening team. Rather, strong team leaders make sure teams well equipped and supported to solve them are solving the right problems.

  • Servant-leadership. Our job is to direct and guide our teams. But we're also there to serve them. They are our "customers" (although "partners" is generally more appropriate). So what's my performance gap? How do I know? What's my personal improvement plan for closing my biggest gaps?

  • Strong team leadership skills. A Fortune poll found that "a team player and team leader" was the most important skill CEOs felt an MBA should have. This is also the single biggest factor in our confidence levels with teams. There's a strong relationship between our skills at facilitating a team discussion, handling conflict, encouraging and capitalizing on diversity, keeping a meeting on track, building a team's effectiveness, etc., and our enthusiasm for teams.

  • A strong, effective management team. As a manager, we need to ensure that our team is a good example of team effectiveness. That provides a model and authentic team leadership for everyone else.

© Copyright 2001 The CLEMMER Group

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