Back to the Future for Great Groups
Warren Bennis, a futurist and pioneer in the field of leadership studies, died in 2014, aged 89. One of the many books he left behind (co-authored by Patricia Ward Biederman) was Organizing Genius: The Secrets of Creative Collaboration (1997). Drawing on seven case studies – the Walt Disney studio, Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), the easy-to-use computer of Apple, the Bill Clinton presidential campaign of 1992, Lockheed’s top-secret fighter-plane-producing Skunk Works, the arts school of Black Mountain College, and the atomic bomb-creating Manhattan Project – the book teases out the essential ingredients of groups that have been notably creative. The findings, we suggest, are just as relevant as they were 20 or 50 or 100 or so years ago. And they’ll continue to be relevant. Accordingly, it’s a matter of back to the future.
They key points are:
• Greatness starts with superb people. If you’re reading this, you’re probably one of them. Seize your opportunities.
• Great Groups and great leaders create each other. The best of leaders, we’ve found, serve their team members instead of bossing them around. Because of that, the team members are willing to work with the designated leader and act for the good of the organisation as a whole.
• Every Great Group has a strong leader. The actions and enthusiasm of the leader encourage trust. Opportunities for dialogue are created. When confronted by hard decisions, they are made.
• The leaders of Great Groups love talent and know where to find it. They scout for people with knowledge, skills and attitudes. If gaps have to be filled in their teams, they are quick to fill them.
• Great groups are full of talented people who can work together. The members take pride in what others are doing as well as their own achievements. They love being members of a successful team. Through supportive relationships, they have the strength to take the bad times with the good.
• Great Groups think they are on a mission from God. They are committed to making the world a better place. They believe that their great work is a part of the greater scheme of things.
• Every Great Group is an island – but an island with a bridge to the mainland. Focus is kept on the project at hand and associated priorities. When appropriate, the significance of networking is appreciated and acted upon.
• Great Groups see themselves as winning underdogs. They are hungry for success. They don’t become over-confident. They love being in positions where they continue to learn and improve.
• Great Groups always have an enemy. Well, that’s ‘enemy’ in inverted commas. They thrive on competition as well as collaboration. They love a challenge.
• People in Great Groups have blinders on. Yes, they focus. They minimise distractions.
• Great Groups are optimistic, not realistic. That’s where the enthusiasm comes at the start. Realism comes later. In terms that Ta’seel likes to use, they start as ‘pockets of enthusiasm’, then become ‘pockets of enthusiasm and excellence’, and finally – as perceived by other individuals and groups – become ‘pockets of exemplarism’.
• In Great Groups the right person has the right job. There’s an appreciation that any project requires different roles among the team members. They’re agreed, understood, accepted and undertaken. Later, a new project might require a reallocation of roles. This, again, is appreciated and acted upon.
• The leaders of Great Groups give them what they need and free them from the rest. Necessary resources – e.g. money, equipment, time – are not withheld. The freeing process often means that the leader, by acting as a barrier, protects the team from disruptive outside influences. The team is allowed to get on with its work without worrying about bureaucratic trivia. The leader looks after that.
• Great Groups deliver. There’s an insatiable desire to get the job done. Success comes from achievement.
• Great work is its own reward. The feeling of completing a project – especially if on time and within budget – is sublime. Any other rewards, although appreciated, are secondary.
On the basis of those essential ingredients, Ta’seel is more than happy to look back to the future. The closer we get to ticking off the points, the closer we feel to achieving Great Group status. It’s probably the same for you. How do they work for the teams you are part of?