5 Levers to Raise the Importance of the Group

There is a tendency to prize a few standout individuals while ignoring how much they draw on their surrounding systems of support,” wrote HBR journalist Michael J. Mauboussin in October 2009.  His words were pulled from an article advocating the importance of looking at the whole organization instead of individual influences/influencers.

His contrarian perspective is compelling.  The individualistic “me first. I’m going after what I want” perspective was a major factor in the downfall of our economy.  What are the impacts to an organization when its people are gunning for advancement by working to out-do a peer or show-off their talents? Sure competition can be healthy and important.  I won’t argue that.  Selfish, self-centered ambitious employees, however, threaten the health of people and the organization.  They deplete the organization and people of vitality.

Also, some leaders in today’s traditional corporate cultures will not make changes to the “systems of support” for individual pursuits.  I’d like to say they’d slowly become irrelevant. I don’t think that’s realistic or true for sometime.

But leadership styles are evolving in response to the changing demographics and characteristics of the generational cohorts, social technology (and technology) advancements, and local, national and global politics and economies.

The 21st Century Leader will work to remove influences that deplete the organization, people AND groups of people.  Today’s wise leaders and those in the future will design businesses that bring people together.  They will focus on the power and results of the group.  And the group’s successes will reflect positively on the people – collectively.

So what levers will futurist leaders pull to spotlight the importance of the group’s efforts?

Cubicle walls come tumbling down. @TalentAnarchy wrote in their ebook The Talent Anarchist's ManifestoCubicles suck. They are where creativity goes to die.  Healthy cultures thrive in open environments.” So do teams.  Open spaces pull people together.  The environment encourages people to collaborate, to share ideas, to connect as a community.

Flatten the hierarchy. Multi-layers of managers tend to create bureaucracy.  Decisions stall. Ideas grow stale. Getting new products and services to market is more essential in our global, 24-hours-a-day economy.  With fewer layers of managers who have learned to let employees do their work and come together in groups the pace of progress picks up.

Building emerging leader competency.  It’s natural that when people come together one or two people begin to emerge as the informal leader. The 21st Century Leader will have spent time developing employees to overcome the awkwardness often associated with emergent leadership in groups. It will help groups gel and perform faster.

Mature self-organizing teams. Self-organizing teams come together out of necessity.  Employees know the skill sets of others.  Using this knowledge when a project is started, employees will organize a team to successful implement it.  21st Century Leaders will create financial incentives, train on group dynamics, and allow “work as a laboratory” to occur.  The latter concept is a creative way to say a culture of creativity, entrepreneurship, and curiosity enables employees to try out ideas and learn from mistakes and breakthroughs.  It’s part of the creation process.

Reinforce that a great life is most important.  Google co-founder Larry Page said about the company’s culture, “We don’t just want you to have a great job.  We want you to have a great life.  We provide you with everything you need to be productive happy on and off the clock.”  Perhaps not all companies will go as far as Google, but the belief behind the relationship with employees will be foremost in leaders of the 21st century.  Such leaders have learned that when employees know that their employer supports their pursuit of a quality life, richer possibilities open up.  These possibilities lead to competitive advantages.  They attract top talent. They keep employees engaged.

Communities of employees coming together to create, improve, sustain solutions that meet customer needs is an important outcome of leadership in the 21st century.  This may seem daunting to some. The beauty of it, though, is it is rooted in our human nature.  We want to connect with people.  We are social. We want to make a difference. We can do this best working in groups.

Read Michael J. Mauboussin's article referenced at the beginning of this post.

What other levers are important for futurist leaders to pull to bring people together in groups?