September 28, 2016

Winning The Hearts And Minds Of Your Employees - Part Three

Stewart Liff

Stewart Liff
President-CEO/Stewart Liff & Associates, Inc.

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In my last article, I discussed two broad strategies for creating an environment where employees can flourish: 1) managing better within the traditional work design, or 2) redesigning the way your work is performed so that it will lead to more involved and engaged employees. Since the primary focus of the last article was on improving the way you manage under a traditional work design, this article will focus on redesigning work using a more modern approach.

Why Change your Work Design?

As I stated in my last article, a traditional work design is one in which there is an all-powerful boss who supervises her subordinates. It operates as a small pyramid, wherein the interaction is primarily on a one on one basis between the boss and her followers.

The problem with this design is that everything rests on the supervisor’s shoulders. She is under an enormous amount of pressure to answer to upper management, deliver results, manage a diverse group of subordinates from different generations, perhaps deal with one or more unions, respond to customers and stakeholders…and you get the picture.

The employees don’t have it so good either because they are rarely involved in any of the key decisions, basically told to check their brains at the door and do what they are told, are often coping with increasingly difficult performance expectations, and generally feel like they are replaceable spokes on a large wheel.

The net result of this design is that in the United States, only 32% employees are engaged at work[1] and worldwide that number is a shocking 13%.[2]Because this design is so supervisor-centric, you can certainly improve employee engagement by enhancing the skills of your supervisors, as discussed in my previous article. However, since U.S. organizations already spend over $22 billion a year on supervisory development, there is only so much more room for growth in this area.

A different and I think better approach is to dramatically change the work design by flipping the supervisor to subordinate relationship on its head and creating teams of leaders. 

What are Teams of Leaders?

Teams of leaders are self-managed teams of employees who manage all of the operations within their team without the need of a supervisor/team leader to run the team. 

Under this design, which we call a mature Stage Five Team of Leaders, each member of the team is involved in every aspect of the day to day management of the team such as goal setting, performance management, leave administration, accountability, etc. To get to this point, everyone must be developed so that he can step up and provide leadership to the team.

As the team assumes more and more of the team leader’s tasks (note: supervision is basically a series of tasks that can be absorbed within a team), the leader is freed up to focus on higher level work such as strategic planning, benchmarking, cross-functional teams, etc., which provides the overall organization with precious resources that were previously devoted to controlling the employees.

How will Teams of Leaders help you win the Hearts and Minds of your Employees?

When employees are involved in every aspect of their team’s operations, they naturally feel much more involved and engaged and look forward to coming to work. They take greater interest in things because they 1) look at work differently, 2) see the importance of what they do and why, 3) comprehend how things fit together, 4) find meaning in their work, and begin to look for new ways to improve things. In a sense, they feel as though they are co-owners of the team, which provides them with a completely different perspective.

More importantly, instead of having just the supervisor focusing on group performance, everyone becomes involved in trying to take the team’s performance to a different level, which is where the true payoff comes from. Simply put, teams of leaders harness the collective brainpower and energy of all team members, instead of the mere 32% that are typically engaged.

Imagine working on a team where there is no boss telling you what to do; where you have no co-workers, just committed teammates who work together for the team’s greater good; where everyone is motivated to succeed because it is fun, interesting and the right thing too; where all team members are looking for new and innovative ways to separate the team from the crowd, and where everyone can step up and provide leadership where required. When people feel this way they think differently and act differently, even though they are the exact same individuals that operated under the traditional design.

The difference is the design, which is not an easy thing to pull off.

How do you Build Teams of Leaders?

Six key components are required to build teams of leaders. They are:

  • The Five Stage Team Development Model – this model (examples of Stage One and Five are shown above) helps you envision how your team will evolve as an overall team and the way it will handle key tasks. Teams do not magically evolve from Stage One through the various stages until they reach Stage Five. It takes upper management support, detailed planning, frequent communication, hard work, and a commitment to see things through, especially when the inevitable problems start to occur.
  • Systems Design – All of the teams’ systems must be designed, aligned and implemented so they will support teams of leaders. A good principle to follow is that organizations/teams are perfectly designed to get the results that they get so if you want to change your resutls, you should consider changing your design
  • Process Design – The same thing goes for your team’s key processes (e.g. onboarding, offboarding, performance management, etc.)
  • Value Creation Model (VCM) – A VCM lets everyone know how much value both the team and each member are contributing to the organization. This tool helps everyone think like a co-owner of the team and will assist the team in identifying gaps and finding efficiencies.
  • Knowledge Management – Since employee knowledge is a team’s greatest competitive advantage, developing a comprehensive knowledge management plan is absolutely crucial.
  • Visual Management – I briefly touched upon this method in the last article. Simply put, visual management, which can be used with or without teams, involves designing your space using systems design, HRM and fine arts principles to reinforce the first five components I just listed, connect your employees to the mission, celebrate your mission, history and the good work of your employees, share information, hold your folks accountable and shape the outside world’s view of your team/organization. I will discuss this concept in much greater depth in my next article.


Building teams of leaders is not for every organization. But for those looking to capture the hearts and minds of their employees and take their performance to another level, this may be the perfect solution for you.


Stewart Liff is an HRM, performance management, visual management and team development expert, and President of Stewart Liff & Associates, Inc. He is the author of Managing Government Employees and co-author of A Team of Leadersand Seeing is Believing.



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