It starts with one: changing individuals changes organisations

It has always been an interesting problem to solve – Do organizations change Top-down or Bottom’s up? What should be the focus of the Leadership is it to creating tight coupled framework for change or loosen up the change with a broader guideline and coach their 1st line managers as change agents.

An interesting book which deals with these problems by Hal Gregersen and Stewart Black – It starts with one: changing individuals changes organizations. 

When I wrote the article on “Innovating at the Top” I was inclined to think that the changes are driven by putting in the structure and systems in place, and CEOs of the large global organization see themselves as championing the Innovation.

On the other hand this book provides an interesting perspective as it focuses on developing champions right at the point of action who can help develop individuals. The book insists on increased focus on understanding the need for change, how the individuals shall be groomed for change, and finally how the targeted individuals will perceive it. The book concludes on three inconvenient truths due to which the change initiatives fail-

1.     Failure to see the need for change

2.     Failure to move in the direction of change

3.     Failure to finish the change initiative

The book stresses on creating avenues and experiential learning environments so that people can appreciate the need for change and creating the champions at the grass roots who can act as motivators for the people to move in the right direction and complete it.

The two books “Innovating at the Top” and “It starts with one” provide a unique perspective to perceiving the Innovation and Change, as one of them focuses on the structure and processes from the CEO’s view point, while the other deals with issues faced to make the change a success.

The Three ladders to Building World Class teams

“(Draft 2 of the article). Pse send your comments as I improvise on this” 

It has been an interesting professional journey all these years and I was privileged to be part of building several teams. During the journey I always wondered, “are there common steps to building successful world class teams?”. Is creating world class team = creating world class products?. After careful analysis I have finally abstracted the team building to 3 ladders which needs to be climbed to become successful teams.


Ladder 1 = Laying foundation stone for the Team

The first ladder starts from the time the initial team is put together. The teams are typically composed of people with different experience levels and skillsets. Such diverse team leads to conflicts between individuals as they question and sometimes challenge several aspects of the team, such as, capabilities of peers, processes in the team, and the approach to problem solving.

This is one of the critical phases of the team formation and the leader needs to very careful to tailor his responses to individuals and to the team such that it can lead to a strong foundation of the team. Some of the approaches those are under-taken by the successful leaders during this phase are-

a.       SPEND TIME with the team

b.       LISTEN to Team members and be RECEPTIVE to their Ideas

c.       Instill larger VISION in the team

d.       Accommodate Individual Ideas and tie them to the VISION

e.       Resolve Individual conflicts by Coaching

f.         Encourage team towards building skills and confidence to achieve the VISION

As part of this ladder the leader should divide the VISION into Phases and the completion of Phase-1 should be considered as crossing the ladder. It is expected that as part of achieving the milestone the team members worked towards it together, individual conflicts are reduced and the basic skillsets and processes in the team are established.


Ladder 2 = Establishing Processes for Sustained performance

The 2nd ladder of the team starts as the team ventures beyond the Phase-1 of the VISION and work towards building processes for sustained performance. It is important to understand that though the team can achieve success some-times without processes but to achieve sustained performance basic processes should be formalized.

This phase requires leaders to working with each individual to help them develop their long term goals, coach them on the paths to achieve it, and align their goals to the larger VISION of the team. Remember the success stories can only be repeated if individual members enjoy walking on the path.

Leadership Mantra at this stage would be

a.       Help Team members charter their LONG TERM career path and align it to the VISION by coaching

b.       Create baseline PROCESSES

c.       Sow the seeds for INNOVATION and creating Technology LEADERSHIP

d.       Create benchmarks for the WORLD CLASS TEAMS/ PRODUCTS

During this phase the leader has to evolve processes for sustained performance, while sowing seeds for the excellence by creating and demonstrating the benchmarks for world class teams and products.

Ladder 3 = Building momentum to becoming World Class Team


Now you have got the team together, the processes have been defined and individual charters are created. Isn’t that sufficient? Answer is no! During this phase the team needs to learn to match and beat the benchmarks from the competitors and develop a “habit” of establishing newer benchmarks. This requires careful change in the mindset of the team, individuals to out-smart the best in the industry.

Leadership Mantra at this stage would be –

a.       Establish the global benchmarks

b.       Charter the plan to meet and beat competition

c.       Develop mechanisms of Innovation and Change for remaining ahead of the competition

d.       Participate in the standards bodies and collaborate with research institutions to come up with newer solutions

During this stage it would be important that the leader builds mechanisms so that Innovation is promoted and the environment is created which fosters creativity and excellence. This should be combined with setting bigger goals for the team.