Feature Article: The Limited Requirements of Teamwork

Russ Volckmann

The quote from Kevin Sharer, CEO of Amgen, the world’s largest biotech company, serves two purposes in support of the perspective, map and coaching approach I am laying out in these e-journals. First, it underscores the combined individual and collective perspective that is essential to assuring effective executive leadership in today’s business world. Second, it suggests that teamwork at the executive level is of vital importance. I will address each of these in order.

The integral perspective that underlies this series of articles rests on the notion of a holon or Holarchy (see prior issues and A Leadership Opportunity: An Integral Approach). I find this approach to be exciting and helpful because it does not embroil us in vacuous competition between individual/collective paradigms that we find so often in the leadership and management literature.

CEOs and other leaders who continue to be attached to the heroic leader model and do not attend to the demands for collective leadership are setting themselves up for a moment of success and ultimate failure. The myth of the individual heroic leader has served us well in the past-and shall continue to serve us well in the future to the extent that we can join it with a recognition that leadership in modern business is a collective act, as well. Ironically, the individuals I find most attached to this heroic model may be found among the ranks of coaches, as well as executives.

C.K. Prahalad, University of Michigan management guru, has left to start up a company in San Diego. His learning from this experience to date is documented by Fast Company (August 2001). The relevant learning for this discussion is “It is not one person. It’s not the team. It’s both.” Prahalad uses the metaphor of a pack of wolves: solidarity is first (like a team) but when they hunt they change roles. He states: “One unique person makes a difference, but you need teamwork to make it happen.”

It seems natural that a desirable way to think about collective leadership is as teamwork. There are two points I would like to underline about the idea of executive teamwork. The first is that teamwork is most effective when it is inspired collaboration drawing on the strengths of all of the members of the team. A Dixieland band, the Chicago Bulls of the Michael Jordan era, you pick your own metaphor of what this looks like. The inspiration each of these examples manifest is equally important in an executive team. How do they get it? That is the subject of inquiry with each unique team in each unique context. The literature on team work might help, but most important is the conversation among the team members. Then they can go to Carnegie Hall together. You know, practice, practice, practice!

The second point draws upon the work of consultant Jon R. Katzenbach (The Wisdom of Teams and Teams at the Top). His salient point is that there are six situations that are particularly important for executives to work as a team. The rest of the time it is more efficient and effective for them to use other approaches (individually led task groups, etc.). Here is the list with the caveat that it is a basis upon which to have a team conversation.

  1. Resolution of key strategic issues.
  2. Redesign of faulty management process.
  3. Changing the organization structure.
  4. Entry into a new market.
  5. Establishment of higher standards of performance.
  6. Formulation of a communication strategy for a major change.

What are the requirements for the executive team to be inspired and use teamwork appropriately? What a wonderful coaching question.

In the next issue the feature article will be on what is involved for the individual leader to be an innovative team player.

> Russ Volckmann