Summary of A Team of Leaders by Paul Gustavson and Stewart Liff

BookSummaryClub Blog Summary of A Team of Leaders by Paul Gustavson and Stewart Liff

Do you know how much money is lost each year in the US due to low productivity? Approximately $550 billion. Considering how many employees we know who are bored during their day, it’s hardly surprising. With a lack of inspiration and motivation in the workplace, employees tend to do the bare minimum required by their managers. With an employee mindset like this, a company cannot reach its true potential let alone succeed.

In order to be successful, a company needs its employees who enjoy their work and take responsibility for it. Employees need to feel motivated to do more, to contribute to problem-solving and want to take initiative and find their own approaches to doing things. Your employees should therefore be, essentially, a team of leaders. So, how can you make this happen?

In this summary readers will discover:

  • The five stages of team development
  • Giving each leader a purpose and then getting aligned
  • Organizational knowledge
  • Why a supportive workspace is important

Key lesson one: the five stages of team development

The way a manager deals with employees is what drives morale and performance. If the boss has all the deciding power, chances are the employees are lacking any incentive to do anything above and beyond the minimum needed. And you can’t exactly blame them. If all they have to do is whatever they are told, who would not be bored? On the flip side, there is also intense pressure on the manager to make the right decisions all the time whilst still dealing with difficult employees.

There is room to move away from this hierarchy though and adopt a team approach. Having a team of leaders will change the company’s entire structure and introduce motivation and incentive in huge amounts. You just have to consider moving to the next stage of team development. There are five stages of team development altogether and this hierarchical structure of a single leader and a group of underlings is the first stage. 

Moving to the second stage is a huge organizational shift. It is adopting a mindset of not having individual leaders but a team of leaders. So at this stage, all group members would have an equal say in decisions. 

The third stage begins when new leaders start to have their own teams. They start creating their teams by recruiting new members. Leaders also begin taking responsibility for this new team. 

In the fourth stage, more team members are equipped to take on leadership roles. They show initiative and begin to take on tasks on their own not waiting for assignments from management.

At the fifth stage, the team of leaders has been firmly established. Knowledge is spread throughout the team and the manager can focus on higher-level activities whilst still being able to advise the team. With a team of leaders, each team member has responsibility and decision-making abilities. This results in everyone being more involved, engaged and motivated in their work.

Making the transition to a team of leaders is not easy and takes time, planning, expertise and the appropriate tools. The advantages of this approach, however, far outweigh the work that is needed to get it done. 

Key lesson two: Giving each leader a purpose and then getting aligned

When designing your team, you have to aim to unite everyone with a shared sense of purpose. You have to let them know that their work has meaning. This will immediately give them added energy and more fulfilment as they work. Giving employees a sense of purpose is all about perspective. Imagine an employee who fixes any issues that ay aerie on a website. The answer to what they do can be filled with energy if they say something like “I improve the usability of the site!” as opposed to just stating that they fix bugs on the site. 

Having an entire team working towards a common purpose can therefore be an environment in which the team can thrive. You can work to develop and install a Team Value Creation Tool that allows members to understand and appreciate the significance of their contributions. 

To put this in an example, picture a company that wants to focus on the improvement of the quality of its products. However, the focus remains on maximizing productivity. This is reinforced in meetings when the amount of work is questioned but not the quality. Management even offers to reward the teams which performed best. But, once again, this is based on productivity, not quality. In this unaligned situation, management wants to focus on one thing but their actions lead to focus being elsewhere. Inevitably, this will lead to distrust amongst the employees towards management. Why? Well,  because management didn’t really care about quality in the first place and demonstrated that by rewarding employees for quantity instead. 

To avoid situations like this, you have to create alignment. Management should have aligned all teams towards making higher quality products. This would lead to teams and management questioning the quality in meetings and not quantity. Everyone would be working towards the same goal.

Key lesson three: Organizational Knowledge

Every team has organizational knowledge. This refers to the sum of knowledge of all members of the organization. It can be broken down into three distinct types. Key knowledge, codifiable knowledge and tacit knowledge. 

Key knowledge refers to the knowledge which is used to create value for the customer.  Codifiable knowledge is the facts and routines in the company and tacit knowledge is the beliefs or expertise of the company. 

To explain how these three types of organizational knowledge fit together, consider someone working at a call centre. They have key knowledge to deal with customers but when they are unable to come to work, what happens? Will other team members be able to access the codifiable knowledge that can allow them to help customers? Their tacit knowledge is not going to reassure the customer as they require facts, not expertise. A system like this cannot work effectively.

Therefore, all team members need equal access to organizational knowledge. To ensure that this happens, you have to facilitate learning. This could be provided in the form of structured or unstructured learning methods. Structured methods like manuals or videos will share codifiable knowledge with all team members whereas unstructured methods like storytelling and personnel rotation can exchange tacit knowledge. In implementing these learning methods, knowledge is able to be spread amongst all team members making everyone capable and willing to help when needed.

Key lesson four: Why a supportive workspace is important

If you have ever been surrounded by cubicles and harsh fluorescent lights, you know that this type of work environment is uninspiring. A workspace should reflect the type of organization you want to have. If you want leaders, their workplace should be one that motivates them. It needs to also honour the company’s mission and your customer’s feelings. It needs visual management.

Visual management is more than simple interior decorating. It instead allows companies to create an environment that will inspire a team of leaders. Instead of working in separate rooms or closed off cubicles, consider creating an open, yet close-knit layout. This will facilitate interaction between team members. You could even put up charts or whiteboards to clearly display the problems they are currently working on and what solutions they have come up with. This will allow team members to see where they are at and inspire new ideas easily. The progress of projects can also be illustrated. This will give team members a sense of pride in their achievements and let them know that they are contributing meaningfully to the company’s vision. This is a great way to reinforce team alignment as well.

Visual management does not just work for employees either. You can cleverly use space in the workplace to send messages to your customers. Think about things like your company’s mission outline or even customer feedback – this will allow customers to feel like they’re getting a peek behind the scenes. Their feedback is respected and you let them feel welcomed by supplying them with tidbits of information around the workplace. 

The key takeaway from A Team of Leaders is:

The common hierarchical structure of leadership will not work if you wish to have a successful company. Team members in this structure are often uninspired and feel like they should just do as they are told. There is no room for growth or development which results in their productivity and energy levels being extremely low. Companies must instead move towards developing a team of leaders instead. With this structure, everyone will be able to contribute to decision-making equally. This makes them feel trusted, valued and gives them more incentive to work effectively. By developing a team of leaders, you can set your organisation up for success and ensure that your employees are happy and motivated in everything that they do.

How can I implement the lessons learned in A Team of Leaders:

If you want to develop your team and move towards a team of leaders, ensure that their work environment will inspire leadership. Think about visual management and how you can facilitate easy communication between team members. Also, ensure that their shared purpose is visible to them at all times to motivate them and allow them to remember how meaningful their work truly is.

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