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Posted: August 13, 2014

Organizing your team for high performance

And nurturing leadership capability

Bob and Gregg Vanourek

The bottom line is, when people are crystal clear about the most important priorities of the organization, and team they work with, and prioritize their work around those top priorities, not only are they many times more productive, they discover they have the time they need to have a whole life.” -- Stephen R. Covey

High-performance organizations rely on both formal and informal structures to achieve extraordinary results. The formal structure is:

  • How they organize (centralized, decentralized; by geography, product, or functional area; etc.)
  • Who reports to whom
  • How many people a supervisor can manage (depends on complexity and variety of work)
  • How many layers of managers there are between the CEO (or equivalent) and front-line workers
  • Levels of dollar approval authority, and more

Most organizations reorganize fairly frequently, trying to find the optimal structure, only to reorganize again a few years later. It’s a major source of frustration. But the formal structure is not the most important element of how to organize.

High-performance organizations often employ temporary special action teams to attack problems and exploit opportunities. Such teams have many different names, such as Skunk Works (originally termed by Lockheed Martin’s Advanced Development Programs,), Tiger Teams, Rapid Action Teams and more.

These temporary teams can be very effective in helping organizations move quickly to attack problems and exploit opportunities without getting bogged down by the formal organizational structure.

These special action teams form for a defined period, ranging from a few days to months or longer. They normally have a small number of team members, such as five or seven. Their participants may work full- or part-time for the team. They liaise with others outside their team for input and support.

These special action teams accomplish their mission and then disband, only to see other special action teams formed and disbanded when their mission is complete.

Special action teams are wonderful incubators of leadership capability in which developing leaders practice new skills and get coaching along the way. Smart organizations make extensive use of special action teams.

Without clear operating guidelines, however, it is possible for these special teams to get off track, to work hard on some assignment only to discover that they are off the mark, have stepped on some bureaucratic toes, or ruffled some departmental feathers.

That’s why it is essential that these special action teams have short, clear, writtten charters that scope out their work, responsibilities, especially their authority, and more. Here is a template for a one-page written charter for special action teams (which can also be used by board or staff committees too):

Charter for Special Action Teams

1. Purpose: Brief qualitative statement of why the team exists.

2. Goals: Specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-bound (SMART) goals for the team to accomplish, ideally prioritized.

3. Members: Listed by name, title, division, etc.

4. Term Commitment: Time anticipated for team’s work (e.g., 90 days).

5. Leaders: Listed by name.

6. Term Limit: When team will likely disband.

7. Authority: What decisions can be made by this group (e.g., recommendations only; or all commitments over $X must be approved by the CEO; etc.).

8. Responsibilities: Specific duties the group is accountable for, potentially including boundaries on the work, or specific tasks to engage in or avoid.

9. Budget: Total amount, if any, allocated for this group that they can spend (e.g., $10,000).

10. Shared Values: May be the same as the general organization, or collaboratively crafted by the team members and compatible with the general organization’s values.

11. Communication: How the group will communicate progress and decisions (e.g., periodic liaison with X, Y, and Z; monthly briefings to CEO).

Click here for a free Written Charter Template, located on the Resources pages of our website.

Practical Applications:

  1. Regardless of your formal organizational structure, are you using special action teams to attack problems, exploit opportunities, and develop the leadership capabilities of your people?
  2. Do your special action teams use written charters?

Bob and Gregg Vanourek, father and son, current and former Colorado residents, are co-authors of "Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations," a 2013 International Book Awards winner. Bob is the former CEO of five companies and was recently designated as one of the Top 100 Thought Leaders in Trustworthy Business Behavior 2013. Gregg has co-authored three books and teaches entrepreneurship at the Stockholm School of Entrepreneurship. Web: Twitter: @TripleCrownLead

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