Management Articles


Pathways and Pitfalls to Leading 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

"Skilled team leaders transform a group from what they are into what they could be."
The following Outstanding Teams Checklist outlines the key elements of top performing teams (and organizations). Use this to assess yourself and your team. Even better, get your team to do this assessment:

__ A high performance balance (analytical skills and disciplined management processes, technical skills and strong capabilities to use the latest technologies, and people leadership skills)
__ Strong self-determination with no tolerance for the Victimitis Virus or Pessimism Plague (one team agreed "you can visit Pity City, but you aren't allow to move there")
__ Passion and high energy for rapid and continuous learning, developing, and improving
__ A clear and compelling picture of the team's preferred future
__ A clearly articulated set of shared principles outlining how the team will work together
__ A strong sense of purpose and unity around why the team exists
__ Solid agreement on whom the team is serving within the customer-partner chain and across horizontal organization processes
__ Identification of, and an aggressive plan for improving, the team's customer-partner performance gaps
__ (If appropriate to the team's role) relentless exploring, searching, and creating new customers and markets
__ A process for innovation and team learning
__ A handful of performance goals and priorities directly linked to the organization's strategic imperatives
__ A concrete process and discipline for continuous team improvement linked to the organization's improvement effort
__ Process management skills, roles, and responsibilities
__ High levels of team leadership and team effectiveness skills
__ Powerful feedback loops and measurements
__ A culture of thanks, recognition, and celebration

  • If meetings are a chore, or have become a meeting of the bored, you may have a skill or application problem. Meetings should re-energize and refocus. With the proliferation of practical resource materials, seminars, and training now available there's little reason for poorly run meetings. Meetings are a prime example of how a modest investment in learning and skill development can pay incredible dividends in saved time and frustration. If your meetings were just ten percent better (25 - 40 percent improvements aren't uncommon after good meeting leadership training) how long would it take to repay learning and skill building time?

  • Effective teams meet frequently. At the senior management level, we've found a correlation between how frequently (and effectively) a team meets and the amount of vertical management departmentalism, territoriality, turfdom, etc. in that team.

    The senior management group of a company we worked with hadn't met since their last retreat two years ago. As we reviewed an internal survey they had just conducted, not surprisingly, one of their biggest organizational problems was poor communications. If senior management doesn't frequently get together and talk to each other, how can they expect the rest of the organization do anything but follow their lead?

  • Team learning and development is dependent upon team reflection (and ideally feedback from others who work with and for that team) on how effectively the team works together. This can get too introspective with everyone lying on conference room couches gazing at their navels. The reflection needs to be within the context of the work the team is doing.

  • If you're trying to move your team toward self-management, you need to lead as if you are driving a car on an icy road. Guide and intervene with a light touch. Sudden, jerky changes will send the team into a skid.

  • Build a series of small wins. That doesn't mean pumping up your team with a lot of hot air (you'll quickly send their phony meters over the red line). But look for ways to point out and celebrate the real performance progress the team is making.
Most high performing organizations use a wide variety of teams. But many managers underestimate what it takes to build a team-based organization.

© Copyright 2001 The CLEMMER Group

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