Adversity has a sure way of bringing about progress and advancement. The UK SAS regiment recruits its members exclusively from the UK military and takes candidates through such a dire selection process, that only 15% succeed and transfer to the regiment. The result is that the SAS regiment is arguably the best in world.
The Jewish State of Israel has 95% of its landmass termed as arid or semi-arid; it has no natural resources and is surrounded by hostile Arab neighbors. The result; it has extensive inventions in agro-technology that have transformed its arid areas into fertile sources of food for both Israel and the rest of the world. Israel, one of the most innovative and entrepreneurial country in the world, has more companies listed in the NASDAQ than Korea, Japan, Singapore, India and all of Europe combined.
There are lessons to be learned from both Israel and the UK SAS regiment that can be used by any CIO who wishes to create and lead super teams that display stellar performances. Let us delve into some.
The power of common purpose and vision is so paramount to any institution that no team can survive without it. Israel exists to guarantee the survival of Jews, simple and clear. This basic tenet has attracted emigrating Jews from all over the world for the last 60 years to a point where it is both personal to each Jew while adequate to create the glue that keeps the Jewish nation going forward into the future. Do you have such a clear and simple vision and purpose for your team?
It is no small matter that a vision has to move both hearts and minds of team members; to achieve this you have to connect your team’s work to an exciting and meaningful outcome. A result that is worthwhile to them individually and as a team. Examples that come to mind include the invention of a technology or process, being the first to introduce a product or service in the market or being the best in a particular field in a region and so forth.
In certain instances common purpose and vision can be borne from adversity, when the team goes through a crisis and is forced to either rise to the occasion or disband and scatter. A good example is the Pixar team in the early 90s when they were about to lose critical funding for their first animation feature Toy Story, which would have resulted in mass layoffs. By asking for a two-week reprieve, they broke down barriers that existed previously and galvanized into a super team facing a common threat to everything they had done over the years. The result was outstanding, laying ground for future creative successes.
All teams need leadership and the best teams are well led. This doesn’t mean that the leader takes a draconian stance. Rather there is need to empower all team members to be leaders in their own right. By letting them inspire, support, challenge and hold each other accountable. A good extreme example of this approach is found in a comparison done between the Apollo 13 and the Columbia Space Shuttle mission crises. While the Apollo 13 mission was saved in the end, the Columbia mission was a disaster and killed all on board. Why? Because during the Apollo 13 era of 1970 cross functional teams at NASA had sufficient interaction and creative space to express their ideas and argue over them, thus the best solutions were arrived at without bureaucratic blockages. But, in the Columbia Crisis era of 2003 things had shifted to the other extreme at NASA, with a hierarchical chain of command, and no room for the voice of mid-level engineers to be heard by NASA managers. This is despite the fact that the issue that caused the crash had been diagnosed and noted way before even the flight took off. Management countered the practitioners a number of times and simply said that the risk was acceptable.
In leading a super team the leader has the imperative duty of knowing when to control, when to coach, when to consult and when to collaborate rather than have a dominant immovable style of leadership.
Next month we build up on other elements critical in creating and leading a super team.
Article written for CIO East Africa September 2013