One member’s Sustainability Committee rocked it because they’d been given the right cocktail of direction, boundaries, and encouragement.

They’d planned and executed a large number of small improvements—different light bulbs, air filters, yoga and a walking challenge, flavored water instead of soda—that everyone in the office was healthier and more energetic. A great feeling!

Nothing feels better than accomplishing something great with a small team of people you like. Great managers know how to create this experience in each team.

3 Big Ideas

  • Give the team direction, boundaries, and gentle course corrections
  • Let the customer stories inspire them
  • Once in a while, create a team to break all the rules


Susan Dineen, Bob DeVita, Michele Harris, Bryon Johnson, Bill Mitchell, Valerie Renk, Kristi Thering, Derrick Van Mell (facilitator)


5.2.2 Teamwork, “Managing permanent or temporary groups so they can do more than they’re capable of individually.” Click the link for the 3 Good Questions and the Approved Resources.

How to Rock Your Teams

Inspire with Meaning

We all want to know our work makes the world a better place, that it helps people in a real, even if small way. And the only way to keep teams inspired is to help them find and hear customer stories of success. Make sure their charter includes some form of regular customer contact.

Direction and Accountability

One member’s marketing team changed its charter from “supporting the other departments” to “supporting the goals of the organization.” This popped open a whole new attitude and energy. The work has to be important. The stakes became higher…and the results became much, much better.

Delegation is the ultimate test of management competence. It’s one thing to delegate a task or project, it’s a higher and better thing to delegate a goal. The senior managers have to be willing to let the team struggle and stumble a little—just as someone had done for them.

Boundaries and Budgets

It seems ironic, but the tighter the boundaries, the more the team will do. Any ambiguity is going to wind up in the CEO’s lap, causing distractions and delays and ruining the feeling of trust and independence teams can engender. The charter (see below) can include a list of “Thou Shalt Nots.”

A cross-functional team might discover that each department has its own culture and attitude about latitude in decision-making and action. It seems another contradiction but creating boundaries can help break down boundaries.

Course Corrections

Don’t make a senior manager in charge of a team unless it’s a team of other senior managers. Setting a formal report cycle can help. The senior managers can calibrate the frequency and detail of reporting depending on the experience of the team and the criticality of the team’s work. Like managing one on one, redirecting a team is often a matter of asking questions a parent asks of a teen: “What information are you basing that on?” “Who else has done something like this?” “What’s your intuition telling you?”

Sometimes a CEO has to step in and forcefully redirect the team so it doesn’t drive off the cliff. But then that team’s done, and you’ll need to start a new one.

Elements of a Team Charter

Try not to make teams permanent: give them a deadline and either disband them or rotate people through it. Negotiate a one-page page charter and make everyone sign it.

  • Purpose
  • Goals
  • Roles
  • Boundaries and budgets
  • Links to other groups
  • Expectations of each other
  • Decision-making process
  • We’ll know we’re successful when…

See Resources, below.

Once in a While, Let Them go Rogue

Chief Engineer “Kelly” Johnson of Lockheed Martin coined the term Skunk Works for the highly isolated, rabidly independent group that developed the first American jet fights in World War II. As Lockheed Martin likes to say, “Impossible missions always were, and continue to be, their particular area of expertise.”

Traditions have value, but they can also limit imagination and risk, so purposely creating a team with no boundaries is sometimes necessary to break through one’s own mental barriers. See Resources, below, for a great book on a “skunk works” in the crazy early days of the personal computer business.

Relevant Terms

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