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Manager Guide



This page contains information a manager needs in supporting an empowered team. It does not cover everything you need to be a true leader. Many writers talk about leadership as if it is the same at all levels of an organization. But the skills of leading a larger organization, a team, and individuals are three overlapping yet distinct sets. Obviously, this site is focused on the leadership skills needed for small groups. To be a great team leader, you will also need skills from the other sets. In particular, you may get ahead of your peers if you learn about employment law, budgeting, persuasion, and other fundamental management skills as well as more dynamic leadership practices.

A key element in helping teams become top performers is letting go and trusting. Studies show that most of the time, the result of an efficient decision-making process used by a group of people closest to the work is more cost-effective than a decision made by one individual. Giving over some of your power to the team can be nerve-wracking, and manager egos play a major role in many team failures. If you want the benefits of a high-performing team, though, you have to do it. Empowerment is perhaps the most essential element a manager can contribute toward team excellence.

If you are not convinced of those benefits to the company, your organization, and the team, then you should not waste the team’s time in going through this program. True teams are not the best solution for all work groups, although they work in far more situations than managers tend to believe (see “Definition of a Team”). Regardless, talking about the need for teamwork without sharing responsibility and authority will reduce your credibility with your employees.

Even in the likelihood that empowerment can be effective in your setting, you have the right to wonder, “What’s in it for me?” Here is a partial list:

  • Reflected glory—The team’s successes will be seen as your successes.
  • Less stress—High-performing teams hit their objectives and do so with fewer conflicts, eliminating two major sources of manager stress.
  • A better work-life balance—True teams are more productive per scheduled working hour, making it possible for them (and therefore you) to work fewer hours even with more challenging objectives.
  • More interesting work—With the team needing less direct supervision from you, and possibly doing some of your administrative tasks, you will have more time to do the things you have wanted to do “if I ever got the time.”

How to Use this Page

If you have not yet read the “Team Readings” page, please stop and do that. Many parts of this section will not make sense otherwise, and besides, you need to know what the team is up to, whether you are leading their training or not. “Empowerment” does not mean “detachment.” By the same token, encourage your team members to read this section so they better understand your role.

This page is a mini-encyclopedia of topics related to supporting empowered teams. Read it once straight through—some of the information you will need right away, and the rest may give you ideas for the future. But do not worry about “learning” the contents, since the organization of the section (and the site’s index) will help you find information for a specific situation as needed.

In addition to action boxes like those elsewhere in the site, throughout this section you will find ones called “Decision Points.” These are not just review questions. They are actions you need to eventually make a decision on and implement to help your team succeed. In your first read-through, note the ones you think you should do right away and start on them as soon as you finish reading. The rest can wait until a relevant situation arises. This first one needs to be done soon, however.

Decision Point

Can you commit to reading this chapter before the team training is scheduled to start?

If not, at least read “Turn Over Administration” and perform the action requested. Otherwise you may force the team to backtrack in its planning work.

Managing the Mesa


Reviewing past studies, two leading teamwork scientists[1] said that how you set up a team has four times more impact on its performance than daily coaching has. They also said there are four periods when a leader can have a major influence on the team’s performance:

  • Pre-start—Before the team first meets, “when the leader can structure the group and arrange for resources and contextual supports that facilitate competent teamwork.”
  • Start—At the start of work, “at which point the leader can bound the group, help members become oriented to one another and to their collective work, and foster collective motivation to perform that work well.”
  • Midpoint—At the midpoint, when “the leader can help members reflect on and improve the appropriateness of its performance strategy.”
  • End—After the project is done, “when the leader can help members learn from their collective experiences and thereby strengthen the group’s overall complement of knowledge and skill.”

Most of what you need to do for the team at the Pre-start and Start points are covered by this site. Typical teams do this work at the Midpoint after much wasted time and goodwill. (If you have not already done so, stop and read “The Team Mesa.”) For that reason, this section skips “Approaching the Mesa” and adds detail relevant to your role by breaking “Climbing the Mesa” into two parts, “Starting the Climb,” and “Nearing the Top.”

Starting the Climb

You will be giving a lot of technical guidance to help the team find its direction as it starts this program, but at times you will have to provide emotional support, too. Most members will be hopeful or at least willing to see where the team development effort goes, but the team will be learning how to work out its differences. You should:

  • Provide quick responses to questions.
  • Provide resources that the team requests as quickly as possible.
  • Be flexible—consider suggestions, and accept a level of uncertainty, that you normally would reject.
  • Focus as much time and energy as you can spare into learning and practicing the tasks under “Motivating the Team.”
  • Provide a lot of guidance. A study conducted in two manufacturing plants found “the teams that were most advanced in self-management after 15 months were among those whose supervisors had held a tight rein initially.”[2]
  • Resist the temptation to solve problems for the team, to “save the day.” It is okay to make suggestions. But the best approach is to ask, “What do you think?” Keep asking questions of members until they find solutions on their own.
  • Listen, and be liberal in letting people take time to talk to mentors, company counselors, ombuds officers, etc.
  • Help individuals who are struggling learn how to manage themselves, through training in conflict management, time management, and active listening.
  • Follow your Administrative Tasks Checklist—do not give away tasks too soon or too late. By the same token, if the team is struggling because it was not ready for a task you handed off, it is okay to take it back until the team is ready to try again. Make it clear that is what you are doing.
  • Emphasize your roles as the liaison to other teams and managers and as a possible mediator (see “Mediation”).
  • Be open to changes in objectives: As a group of team researchers put it, “It is far better to revise standards down or up than to overwhelm a struggling team or fail to challenge a brilliant team.”[3] Based on this, you do not have to wait for the team to propose changes, since they may be afraid of how that looks; feel free to suggest alternatives.
  • Focus most of your communications with the team, and its members individually, on:
    • Praising successes—praise till you get sick of it, then keep doing it!
    • Asking what you can do to help, and following through on your previous offers.
    • Encouraging members to keep discussing issues, both individually and as a team, no matter how futile it seems.
    • Reminding members of their values or Code of Conduct.
  • Root out non-team players. You must be careful, because even good team players may be having difficulty at this stage. As long as you feel people are genuinely trying to help the team succeed, leave them in and provide people skills training or mentoring. But if that does not work, remove anyone who is working against team success.

Nearing the Top

As you see the team’s operations start to smooth out:

  • Things start getting easier, and though you still will need to give a lot of emotional support, you will be cutting way back on providing technical guidance.
  • Start giving over as much strategic, financial, and performance planning to the team as possible. For example, let the team set its own objectives for meeting the goals you provide it.
  • Interact with the team in the way(s) it asks you to—and insist that everyone else in the company do so as well. In particular, if the team has someone responsible for an issue, do not speak for or go around that person even if you disagree with their choices.

Example: If another manager expresses concerns about the state of a team project, ask if that manager has spoken to the team’s project manager. If not, ask the manager to do so first, saying that after that you will be happy to get involved if the answers are not satisfactory.

  • Pull yourself out of routine daily interactions with team members. When someone seeks permission to do something related to tasks already handed over to the team, refer the person to the team.
  • Encourage the team to develop a new identity, using a fun name, a slogan, a logo, tee-shirts, etc.
  • Revise your reward policies to give the team members more power to recognize themselves (see “Compensation Schemes”).
  • Monitor team training to make sure all members are getting the skills they need. In particular, make sure the informal team leaders that tend to arise in this period are mentoring members who need their teaming skills.
  • If the team is self-directed, drop your role as the team’s liaison with other managers and teams. Arrange for a team representative to sit in on appropriate meetings in your place or with you, and try to give that person an equal voice when appropriate.
  • Have different team members serve in your role when you are gone. Even better, have the team set up a rotation schedule for a new “Acting Manager” role (see “Other Roles” on the “Team Training” page).
  • Continue to root out poor team performers. If you are listening carefully, team members will let you know who is not working out. Note that it is possible for a strong individual worker to be harmful to a team, in which case you may need to retrain or reassign the worker even though you appreciate his or her output.
  • However, at this stage, the situation can reverse to where the team protects poor performers. In particular, if productivity begins to go back down or take peculiar dips, keep an eye on your good performers. They may be taking unreasonable amounts of time out from their regular work to help poor performers.
  • Ensure the team is remaining responsive to internal customers—sometimes teams will become too focused on themselves at this stage.

Enjoying the View

  • Now you can move into a helping role with the team. You will be giving relatively little direction at this point, and you no longer have to provide much emotional support, either. There are other types of support you will need to provide, however. Your job at this stage is to set the team’s general direction and boundaries, and then make sure the team has what it needs to accomplish its goals.
  • Guard against jealousy from all directions—first of all, from yourself. The simple truth is, some managers start to be afraid of being eclipsed by their own teams. Do not worry about that; your colleagues will know you took the steps that made the team successful. You will also need to watch out for other employees in your division, other teams, and other managers trying to sabotage your team’s success because it “makes them look bad.”
  • Discuss training needs with the team in the same way you discuss them with other managers.
  • Encourage cross-training with other teams, in both teaming and functional skills.
  • Reward well-intentioned mistakes—or the efforts behind them—to encourage innovation.
  • If the team is self-directed, work to give the team the same authorities and information you have. They will be ready for it at this point.
  • Institute ways for the members to provide input on each other’s performance evaluations (see the “Performance Evaluations” section).

Avoiding a Fall

If you see a dip in productivity or return of pre-climb problems:

  • Look for signs of boredom or people taking teamwork for granted, and review “Boredom” in the “Troubleshooting” section.
  • Continue to monitor the team’s responsiveness to other individuals and organizations—you do not want the team to become too self-focused.
  • Watch out for signs of “groupthink.”
  • Help the team take time to “grieve” for those leaving, and monitor to ensure it gives newcomers opportunities for input on the Team Charter and Mission Plan. At every opportunity, stress that the team is an idea larger than the individuals who happen to comprise it at any given time.
  • The team is likely to need more than its usual amount of direction from you in this stage. That does not mean it is “failing” or “backsliding”; it is going through a normal phase that, paradoxically, is a sign of maturity.
  • Expect the team to occasionally slip back down the cliff, so to speak. As long as you take appropriate steps and do not overreact, it will return to the mesa top, until and unless the team is no longer needed.

In short, do not let yourself get frustrated by setbacks—they are normal. If you let the team see you letting the changes bother you, your discouragement will add to theirs.

Decision Point

Write a short memo to yourself covering the following:

  • What metrics will you use to track the team’s progress through its development?
  • What behaviors will you implement in yourself each time you note a change of stage?

Team Management Tools

Invert the Pyramid


The change in role for a manager of a true team can be summed up in this phrase: from boss to supplier. Instead of managing human resources, you provide the resources those humans need to get their jobs done. When the team has matured, you will be leading from behind—not giving orders, but pointing them in the right direction, giving them their boundaries, and getting out of the way. You may have heard this called the “inverted pyramid.” This means you must learn to put the team’s priorities ahead of your own, which is not always easy to do.

Bear in mind that you can, and to a degree should, begin using these tactics as soon as the training begins. But the descriptions refer to your relationship a year later. Move in this direction slowly.

Turn Over Administration

A key to team success is empowerment—that is, giving the team as much control over its activities as possible. Of course, this is also a major advantage for you: every task the team can take over for you means that much more time you can spend on the higher-level parts of your job. Though it may not sound right that a team’s productivity can go up when you give it more tasks, both science and workplace experience show it can. The reasons are not yet clearly understood by researchers. I believe it has to do with more efficient outcomes from having the people most affected by the decision make the decision.

Take a look at the Administrative Tasks Checklist in the Forms section near the end of the site. It is a list of all of the tasks you or other people probably handle for the team now. Use it as a tool for determining which of these tasks you want the team to take over. The form lets you designate, task by task, whether you would like to see the team:

  • Take it over immediately;
  • Take it over within six months;
  • Take it over within two years;
  • Never take it over, meaning you or someone else will keep doing it; or
  • Determine with you whether it needs to be done at all, and if so, who should do it.

In general, the more complex a task and more training required to do it, the later it should be turned over to the team. That said, try to eventually turn as many of these tasks over as possible. The majority of studies have shown that fully empowered teams are much more effective than standard work groups.[4] But to succeed, they must have the information, authority, training, and other resources needed to accomplish those tasks.


Before the team begins its training:

  1. Make a copy of the “Administrative Tasks Checklist.”
  2. Complete the list, conferring with your upper managers and Human Resources Department as needed.
  3. If you are not conducting the team training, provide a copy to the trainer and be ready to discuss it with the team if the trainer asks.
  4. Put reminders in your calendar or personal task list for each administrative task you plan on turning over six months or more in the future.
  5. Create reminders for six months and one year from now for you to review the checklist.
  6. Post the checklist somewhere obvious in your office, both as a reminder for you and to show the team it is important to you.

Team Goals and Objectives

Empower the team to determine how to achieve what you ask it to achieve. You have primary responsibility for determining what it does based on the requirements of your supervisors and customers. But over time give the team members the responsibility and authority to determine how to accomplish that. At first, provide the team with the work goals you need it to accomplish in order to meet your division or company goals. Once it has climbed the Team Mesa, getting the benefits of empowerment requires you to let the team set its own goals for meeting the requirements supplied to you.

When you review team-created goals, try to limit yourself to these questions:

  • Is the goal consistent with the company’s goals?
  • Is the goal consistent with my goals for the team—even if it is not exactly what I asked for?
  • Is the goal achievable, but only with significant effort? In other words, does it strike a good balance between “challenging” and “stressful?”

When you review objectives and tasks (the steps to achieving the team’s goals), try to limit yourself to these questions:

  • Does the timetable meet the requirements of the team’s stakeholders?
  • Does the team have the resources, human and otherwise, to meet its objectives? If not, it is your job to get them, if possible, and ask tough questions of the team if not.

Once you agree to the team’s goals and objectives, do not add new ones or change the old ones without involving the team in the decision. A study of 32 high-profile teams found one of two significant “blind spots”[5] among team managers is that “the leader dilutes the team’s efforts with too many priorities. Leaders who take on too many objectives and priorities for the team, who unquestioningly accept whatever tasks are given them, (and) whose career aspirations are such that they will overload the team and dilute its effort rather than protect the teams’ standards and potential for significant achievement are the targets of this complaint.”[6]

Keep in mind the team will also be setting goals for attaining internal changes as part of the team training, captured in a Mission Plan. Those require a light touch from you from the very start, as per the next section.

Team Decisions

For most managers, the hardest part of overseeing a team is letting it make and implement decisions, especially decisions the manager used to make or does not think will work. But this is probably the key tool for empowerment.

If the team makes a decision you do not agree with, ask yourself why. Clearly you have to veto a team decision if it:

  • Violates the law, ethics, or a company policy, or creates a risk of legal action against the company.
  • Is beyond available resources (i.e., you don’t have the money available)—If this is the reason, you may not have provided the team all the information it needed to make a good decision.
  • Will have a significant impact on customer service—In this case, tell the team your concern and give members a chance to amend their decision to address it.

If a team decision does not meet one of these criteria, but you still have a problem with it, evaluate the idea with these points in mind:

  • Allow the team to make mistakes—That is how a person or a small group learns best. An employee once made a mistake that cost the company $30,000. A vice president wanted to fire the employee, but the president said, “Why? I just paid $30,000 for his education.”
  • Provide guidance, not orders—If you have special experience or an area of expertise related to an issue, provide detailed feedback on the team’s decision backed up with facts, and ask the members to consider your concerns. But trust members to do that, rather than ordering them to make changes. If they ignore you and it turns out to be a mistake, they will pay you more heed next time; if they ignore you and it works out, they will respect you for letting them try it their way.
  • Defer to the team in its area of expertise—If you do not have a special reason for questioning a decision, recognize that a decision reached by that many people closer to the daily work than you will likely be as good or better than any option you would choose.
  • Remember that neither “We tried that before” nor “We don’t do it that way” are reasons not to try something again—Circumstances, personnel, etc., can change such that something that failed before can succeed, with modifications based on what went wrong before or the current business conditions. If you keep doing things the way you always have, you cannot improve.

Setting Priorities

  • Support the team’s priorities as long as they fit the Mission Plan and normal work is getting done to stakeholders’ satisfaction.
  • When you want the team to do something new, “propose and negotiate” rather than giving an order.[7]
  • If you come up with additional tasks, recognize the effect that assigning those could have on the team’s ability to achieve what you have already asked of it.
  • Assign extra tasks through the team if at all possible, rather than through individuals. Tell the team what you need done and trust the members to take care of it.
  • If you have to ask an individual to take on a task outside of the team, first ask if the individual can fit it into his or her team-related tasks. The team will die quickly if members keep dropping its work because of your orders. You do not want someone saying something like this quotation from a worker: “When push comes to shove, I’ve gotta do what my boss wants, regardless of what the team needs. ’Cause that’s what I get paid for.”[8]
  • Continue to give up power, more and more as the team matures.
  • Do not change the team’s purpose or work goals unless you absolutely have to. If you do, try to tie it to the previous purpose/objective—a 45º turn is much easier to make than a 180.

Decision Point

There are a lot of specific steps in this section, all of which can only be used when you are presented with the situation described. What steps can you take right now to prepare? What is your plan for reminding yourself of how to respond to the team in these situations?

Communicate with the Team

Method and Content

To ensure your needs are met, work with your team to make clear how you want it (as a group) to communicate with you. Some managers only want to know about progress with objectives; others want to know about any agreements reached; still others want to know what the team is thinking about its various issues. Any of these is appropriate, but you need to communicate your expectations to the team. If you have not, your failure to get the information you need is your fault.

Decision Point

  1. Decide the following:
    1. What kind of information would you like to receive from the team?
    2. How often would you like to receive it?
    3. What form would you like it in (e-mail, memo, verbal report, etc.)?
  2. Negotiate with the team any points you are not sure about.
  3. Ask the team to include your answers in a Team Charter procedure or a Communications Plan (see “Stakeholder Complaints“).

Responding to Communications

  • Acknowledge each initial contact from a team member or stakeholder on a new subject; at least confirm you received it.
  • Respond to team communications within a half day of seeing them, even if only to say you are busy but will respond by a certain time. If you have to postpone, create a task for yourself in your task management system to ensure you respond as promised.
  • Read team reports with at least one working day to spare before the team’s next regular meeting. Do not be afraid to mark constructive comments or questions and send them back (it shows you are paying attention).
  • If the team asks you to do something, acknowledge the request right away. Then:
    • Determine if you can empower the team to fulfill the request on its own (while you provide any resources it will need).
      Note: Make sure this is okay with the team. It may be choosing to “delegate” the action upward. In that case, supporting the team means taking on the task.
    • If not, make the request a high priority for yourself. Remember that the success of all those people depends upon your addressing the team’s needs quickly. If you do not, you will waste money as well as an opportunity to earn trust.

Critical Conflict-Prevention Rules

  • Never make a decision that someone might not like without consulting them first. This reduces the recipient’s sense of being powerless or victimized.
  • Never communicate in writing information that could cause negative emotions in the recipient. Visit them if possible, and if not, pick up the phone or use a Web cam. Without the context of voice tone and body language, people tend to assume the worst about the other person’s emotional state. Also, we are prone to work harder at controlling our reactions when our own nonverbal cues are witnessed.

Open Site Management

If you do not give members all the information they need to accomplish their goals, you cannot fairly blame them if they do not succeed. As one business ethicist noted, “what we often find are organizations which say to employees, ‘you are now empowered,’ but… are reluctant to give people access to the information they need to act in an empowered manner. One of the fundamental strengths of an effective work team is that people have an opportunity to look at the same business information as their managers.” He notes that teams usually reach similar conclusions to those reached by their managers if given the same information.[9]

In other words, empowerment requires you to give the team the same information you would want when making a decision yourself. If the team asks for information you really cannot give it, due to confidentiality issues or orders from above, find out how it wants to use the information, then give it all the relevant facts you can. Options include:

  • Summaries of the information.
  • Examples with any confidential information removed.
  • Industry averages.
  • Rules of thumb.

Decision Point

What information are you going to begin sharing with your team that you previously kept to yourself?

Monitor Progress


As you move away from daily involvement in the team’s efforts, it will become harder to tell how well it is doing. But there plenty of ways to monitor its progress.

Plans and Objectives

The easiest method of monitoring team progress is to track achievement of the team’s work, project, and Mission Plan objectives. But bear in mind a couple of points:

  • In the first year, the team will be learning how to set milestones properly, and thus may miss the marks it sets for itself.
  • New information or changed circumstances can make objectives unworkable. Help the team recognize when that happens and change its objectives in response (see “Change” in the “Troubleshooting” section).

Also, as you know, it is possible to complete work on time in ways that harm the team or individuals.[10] Since this reduces the team’s effectiveness, you cannot ignore signs that even though objectives are getting met:

  • Antagonism is developing that will hurt the ability of team members to work together effectively in the future.
  • The team effort is frustrating individual members’ growth or morale.
  • People are “burning out” as they try to juggle team and individual workloads.

When you see such signs, refer to the relevant sections in this section or the “Troubleshooting” section and take immediate action.

Objective Data

As with every other activity in the workplace, hard numbers make identifying problems easier. Tracking objective data the team agrees is important also removes a source of conflict. You will not have to convince members that a change is needed. They can see it in the numbers.

Working with your team, create performance standards like those under “Make it Measurable.” You will also need a:

  • Process or system for measuring each.
  • System for analyzing that data, even if only a spreadsheet.
  • Plan for reporting the data regularly (at least monthly) to all team members and affected stakeholders.

Also track “people measures” such as:

  • Unplanned absences.
  • Voluntary turnover rate (the percentage of people who leave by choice in a given time period).
  • Employee satisfaction, motivation, and engagement per anonymous surveys.

Bear in mind that your team’s measures will not improve in a smooth straight line. Daily fluctuations and occasional plateaus are normal. Focus on overall trends.

Informal Indicators

Here are some informal means mentioned by scientists and business writers for assessing team status:

  • Sense of identity—How do members refer to themselves as a team, verbally and through such signs as fun names and supportive jokes?
  • Communication style—How do members talk to each other: is it relaxed and frequent, or factual and only when necessary?
  • Energy—What is the apparent level of interest in work, passion about the team, etc.?
  • Work events—Has the team had one or more “ah-ha!” moments or crises it has successfully pushed through?
  • Work interactions—How well do team members get along on the job but outside of team functions (during the regular workday, in company meetings, and so on)?
  • Interactions outside the office—Do different sets of members, and occasionally the team as a whole, sit together at lunch, go out to lunch or dinner, and throw parties for each other?
    Warning: If only the same small groups of members get together, factions may be forming that can undermine teamwork.
  • Output—Are they meeting company standards for productivity, quality, timeliness, etc.?
  • Self-correction—How well does the team monitor and improve its performance without you getting involved?
  • Personal growth—What is the overall improvement in the attitude and performance of individual members?
  • Stakeholder satisfaction—Are the team’s other stakeholders pleased with the team’s work and communications?

Open Door

Do not consider contacts from team members “interruptions.” These are critical opportunities for you to show leadership. Advertise that people can come talk to you, individually and in confidence, about team or other problems. When they do, drop what you are doing, or if you cannot, set an appointment for as soon as possible thereafter.

But make clear in public and in that moment that you will not take over the situation immediately unless required to by law or company policy. Instead:

  • Ask the person, “What do you want to do about this problem?”
  • Walk the person through potential solutions, which should focus on actions either the person or the team can take.
  • Find out why the person did not feel comfortable taking the issue to the team, and try to work out the words for the person to use in doing so (for a detailed example, see “Conflicts” in the “Troubleshooting” section).

Do not assume anything: The fault could lie with other members, or with the one talking to you, or more probably a little of both. That said, it is acceptable for you to raise the issue with the others if necessary, especially early in their Team Mesa climb. Also address the reasons the team member did not feel comfortable doing so, while protecting their identify if they want. The key is to resist your desire to fix the problem, because otherwise the team will never learn how to—or stop asking you.

Decision Point

  • What methods are you going to put into place to track the team’s progress?
  • How and when will you implement them? Create a plan.

Progress Reviews

Two to four times a year, have a formal meeting with the team at which you go over the team’s progress towards its work and Mission Plan goals. Have the members present a “State of the Team” talk relaying progress toward the goals and objectives. They also should address any performance standards (see “Make it Measurable“). If they create a formal presentation, share it with upper managers and other stakeholders to build support for the team’s efforts.


  1. Set a tentative schedule for the reviews for the next year.
  2. Communicate it to the team.
  3. Create a reminder to yourself in your calendar, for one month prior to the review dates, to site the meeting.

Status Checks

At least once a year, if the team does not do this for itself, use the Teamwork Status Questionnaire to check progress and look for problems (see “Consider a Pre-Test” for the procedure).

Support the Team

Motivating Members

The most powerful motivator in a study of 1,500 workers in various settings was “personalized, immediate recognition from managers.”[11] Specifically:

  • “The manager personally congratulates employees who do a good job.
  • “The manager writes personal notes about good performance.
  • “The organization uses performance as the basis for promotion.
  • “The manager publicly recognizes employees for good performance.
  • “The manager holds morale-building meetings to celebrate success.”

Celebrate every small victory, even if only in small ways. In a world where few feel their efforts are fully appreciated, the smallest gestures can have a great motivating effect. Here are two examples:

  • A worker went into his boss’s office to report a minor success. The boss felt the worker deserved some reward, but the only thing he could find in his desk was a candy bar. So he tossed it across the desk and said, “Good job.” A few days later another worker came in with a similar achievement. After receiving only verbal praise, he said, “Where’s my candy bar?” The boss got the idea, and filled a desk drawer with candy. It became a prized reward in the group.
  • A secretary was responsible for recording employee attendance from weekly paper time cards. She faced the same problem all timekeepers faced, which was getting 40 colleagues to turn in their time cards on time. One day, only one had arrived by the deadline. She happened to have a sheet of gold stars she had bought for her school-aged daughter. Feeling exasperated, she put one on that person’s blank card for the following week before putting it in the person’s “In” box outside their door. Several people who noticed it asked why that person had gotten a star. That week more cards were on time. She gave them gold stars. Within a few weeks, everybody was turning their cards in on time.

However, be careful to give praise in a way that does not cause other problems:

  • Though individual successes should be noted, focus your attention on team victories.
  • Keep track to make sure you are recognizing everybody on a team. Recognition does not have to be equal, allowing for obvious differences in performance, but everyone should be recognized in some way. If you cannot find a reason to recognize someone, why do you continue to employ that person?
  • To maintain balance, limit public praise given to a strong performer. Do the rest in private, which lets you reward the individual effectively without creating a sense of favoritism.
  • Be aware of cultural A diversity expert told the story of a worker who was brought before a large group and publicly praised. The next day she resigned. Her culture did not believe in accepting praise, and she felt too humiliated to face her colleagues.[12]

Motivating the Team

Translating this to teams, bear in mind there are many ways to support motivation and build team identity without spending a lot of money:

  • Show confidence in the team by:
    • Giving it a significant new challenge when it is ready.
    • Asking its opinions on problems.
    • Asking it to help develop another team in the company.
    • Giving it more freedom—for example, to set members’ work hours, work at home, meet off-site, spend a portion of its own budget, etc.
  • Make sure it has the resources required to achieve your expectations. In other words, give the team all of the resources you would want if you were personally doing the team’s tasks, including:
    • Human
    • Financial
    • Equipment
    • Material
    • Information
    • Training
  • Encourage the team to solve its own problems and conflicts.
  • Make the trivial decisions rather than wasting the team’s time with them. As a team member once told his manager, “You know, we don’t have to decide everything as a group. We’re afraid you are going to set up a brainstorming meeting the next time one of us wants to buy a new pencil!”[13]
  • Celebrate team mistakes as opportunities for learning.
  • Constantly encourage the team to do things on its own, more and more as it matures. One study[14] found that compared to average team managers, a great team manager encourages:
    • “Self-reinforcement”—Encourages the team members to praise each other and feel good about good work.
    • “Self-observation/evaluation”—Encourages members to be self-aware of their performance standards and to judge their own performance.
  • Involve the team early and often on all decisions that might affect members.
  • Know your team—attend some meetings and participate in the occasional social event with them.
  • Adhere to a clear set of criteria when you dish out the following, to protect against the appearance of playing favorites:
    • praise and criticism;
    • both fun and tedious assignments; and
    • rewards and punishments.
  • Learn the team’s values, and model them whenever you deal with the team.
  • Support risk-taking behavior by modeling the behavior: Take risks, if you have to, to achieve requests the team makes of you.
  • When tasks must be done on tight deadlines, offer to take some of them on—become a “gap-filler within the workings of the team.”[15]
  • Encourage disagreements with you—If a team member disagrees with you, follow this procedure to maintain the member’s feelings of empowerment and trust for you:
    1. Really listen, rather than rehearsing your responses as the person talks.
    2. Restate what you thought you heard.
    3. Ask for corrections or clarifications.
    4. Ask for a suggested solution.
    5. Whenever possible, give in.
    6. When you cannot give in, explain why.
    7. Thank the person for having the courage to disagree with you openly.
    8. Be careful in future actions you take with the person to make sure he or she does not feel you are retaliating for the disagreement.
  • Be a cheerleader—Keep your colleagues and superiors informed about the team’s progress.
    Note: Whenever possible, do so publicly by using, for example:

    • Company newsletters.
    • Open meetings.
    • Management meetings, especially ones that have openly distributed minutes.
    • Bulletin boards in high-traffic areas.
    • On-site celebrations.
  • Keep your sense of humor—Site after site on teams notes the importance of using humor and fun to reduce stress, diffuse conflicts, and deal with failures.

For more ideas, see “Appreciation” in the “Troubleshooting” section.

Decision Point

  • Which of these steps can you put in place now?
  • For steps that can only be taken when you are presented with the situation described, what is your plan for reminding yourself how to respond?

Train the New Manager


When you leave your current position, you are not going to want all your hard work with the team to be wasted because your replacement cannot handle empowered team management. To quote one researcher on teams: “When a group is already established, it is extremely difficult for a new leader to shift the group’s activities or direction.”[16] So what happens if that new leader is not comfortable with team empowerment? More often than not, he or she becomes frustrated and either directly, or through harmful behaviors, kills the team.

The best way to prevent this is to be in on the hiring of your replacement. If you are not allowed to serve on the hiring committee, try to influence the job description and interview questions. You know the skills and behaviors needed to support an empowered team; the description and questions should place an emphasis on these.


Whether you are around for the transition or must do this in writing:

  • Provide the link to The SuddenTeams Program.
  • Go over the Team Charter and Mission Plan.
  • Take the time to go over the material in this section and what you have learned on your own, or leave written suggestions for working with the team.
  • Recommend that the team be the first source for answers to his or her questions. (This could be the most important thing you say in the transition.)
  • If you are remaining in the company, offer to serve as a mentor and encourage the new manager to contact you for support.

Policy Support


This quotation from the “Team Training” section bears repeating: “Policies and procedures are supposed to serve the team, not the other way around.”[17] It is all too common for team members and their manager to do all the right things, but still see the team fail because the larger organization was not flexible enough. One researcher who performed in-depth case studies of three team failures wrote, “the focus on teams as the target of change rather than acknowledging that the whole organization must adapt to the team technology created a kind of double bind for teams.”[18] Further on she wrote that organizational factors were the dominant ones in determining team success—not team member characteristics like personality or ability. Using the word “functional” to refer to divisions by function within the company, she wrote, “Factors like a functional culture, performance systems that emphasize individual performance, the functional manager’s role, and the way teams are assembled had a profound effect on the teams we observed.” Teams hemmed in by policy made themselves “into the kinds of teams that their organizations would tolerate. Unfortunately, these were not the kind of teams that produced the desired results.”

So you as the manager need not only to be flexible yourself regarding policy, but perhaps be willing to run interference. If the team proposes something that bends company policy or practice, take on the task of getting an exception for them. Ask Human Resources and upper managers to treat the team’s idea as a pilot project or like a charter school (schools given a license to ignore some school district policies as long as they achieve certain results). If you can win that kind of flexibility for the team, you will have set them up for success.

The sections below focus on the critical areas of performance evaluations and compensation. Be prepared, however, to push back on any company policies the team wishes to test or that you feel are hindering team growth and performance.

Performance Evaluations


The best people to tell you how your employees are performing as team members are their fellow team members. They spend far more hours in direct contact, and often are more familiar with the quality of their colleagues’ work output, than you as a manager can be. Consider developing a method that all members use to evaluate each other twice a year—or, better, let the team develop or purchase one. As the team matures, the desire to please each other and positive peer pressure should be enough to enforce proper team behaviors. But until then, if the team has (for example) a “no sarcasm” rule and an employee remains sarcastic, the team does not have much power to enforce it. This method will be a mechanism to give it some influence. In the latter stages of the team’s development, the process can become a reward mechanism—the people who do well will shine even brighter through this means. Many teams on the Team Mesa top go a step further to doing their own company performance evaluations. Regardless of these other steps, there are some things you can do related to performance evaluations and compensation that will have a major impact on team success.

Note as you read the rest of this section that team input is not meant to replace managerial and stakeholder input. Rather, it takes the primary responsibility of evaluation off of people a step removed from daily operations and over time shifts it to those in the best position to observe.

Individual Evaluations

There is debate among teamwork researchers about how to factor teamwork into evaluations. But this may be a situation in which everybody is right: different organizations require different approaches. In most countries, individuals expect and deserve to be rewarded for their individual achievements. But you also need to encourage a sense that “as the team goes, so goes the individual.” In other words, team achievements as a whole need to become part of your appraisal system if you want those achievements to matter to everyone.

In most cases, you also want the individual’s performance as a “team player” to play a role in evaluations. One way to do that is to include the team’s values as part of individuals’ performance evaluations, because all other team-related performance will derive from following those values. You can use a combination of your observations and team members’ feedback to determine scoring on those values. If you would like the team to take over individual evaluations eventually (yes, there are business teams that do this), this method lays the groundwork.

Ideally, evaluation scores would be evenly divided among team achievements, individual performance as team members (teamwork skills), and performance on individual tasks. However, where to put the emphasis in your team’s evaluations depends on the nature of the work and the company culture. In one study[19], machinists whose performance had been based on their individual output levels, which in turn was linked to compensation, strongly resisted self-directed teams because the new system tied compensation mostly to team performance. The stronger performers did not like the idea of their evaluations being affected by poor performers. The researchers wrote: “In one of the factories we visited, one team had organized its work space so that all machinists faced each other, not for social reasons, we were told, but to keep an eye on each other.” For teams like that, a scheme in which half of an individual’s performance score remained tied to individual output, one quarter was tied to team achievements as a whole, and the other quarter to individual teamwork skills might have provided a win-win situation for their managers.

On the other extreme, the only team that succeeded out of four in one study[20] did not recognize individual performance at all! It simply split up performance rewards for team performance. In that organization’s environment, adding subjective judgments about the relative contributions of the team members would have caused mistrust among the members, or between the members and a team leader evaluating them.

The best recommendation I can make based on the research is that you eventually give weight to the various factors using the following ranges. Which combination and specific weights you choose must be based on the culture of your company, and can of course evolve over time:

  • Team performance (1/3 to 1/2)
  • Performance as team member (1/4 to 1/3)
  • Performance as individual (1/4 to 1/2)

To support teamwork, at least half of the evaluation should be based on the first one or two items. For example, if your system awards points on 10 evaluation items, 3–5 of those items should relate to team performance, such as “Team meets productivity goals”; 2–3 to the individual’s teamwork, like “Coordinates his/her work with teammates”; and 2–3 to individual performance.

Decision Point

Create a planning document covering:

  • The ideal weights for your unit and company.
  • A timeline for getting there.
  • A list of steps to get you there, including getting support from HR and upper managers.



As implied earlier, mature teams may reach the point where they can perform their own member appraisals. If you do some reading on “360º performance appraisals,” you will come up with a variety of methods.[21] But here is an example that calls for each member to be appraised by two people, one appointed by the team and one by the individual, as part of a company’s annual performance appraisal effort:

  1. At the start of the appraisal year, the team appoints two people from the team to complete the company appraisal forms on all members when the time comes, and splits the members between them alphabetically.
    Example: Appraiser 1 takes members whose last names start with A through M, and Appraiser 2 the rest, shifting people if one appraiser gets several more than the other. They also write the appraisals on each other.
  2. Each team member chooses someone else from the team to serve as a second, personal appraiser.
  3. The team receives training from Human Resources on proper, legal performance evaluations in general and in the company’s system (see next section).
  4. Midway through the year:
    1. Each team member completes appraisal forms on every other member.
    2. The assigned appraisers get input from manager(s) and customers and gather objective (measurable) performance data.
    3. Each member’s appraiser pair develops a draft appraisal using the information from the previous steps and shares it with the member.
      Note: This gives each member time to correct behaviors that may hurt their final appraisal, which also helps the team because those behaviors do not continue to hurt its performance for another six months.
    4. The team holds an open discussion afterward, with the manager present, on how the reviews went (a “Lessons Learned” session) and adds any changes into its appraisal procedure.
  5. At the end of the evaluation period, the team repeats Step 4 with two additions:
    1. Input from each member on the draft appraisal is considered as the appraisers complete the final versions.
    2. (Optional) The two appraisers conduct all additional steps typically carried out by supervisors in the company.

In another scheme, the team sets five measurable objectives for itself, and each member gets an additional two objectives strictly related to teamwork. One is chosen by the person, and the other is selected for the person by the team. So each person is rated on the achievement of seven objectives. For their two personal objectives, a 360° evaluation is performed.


Regardless of the method used, team members must receive the same level of training on how to do legally defensible appraisals as do their supervisors. According to one management expert,[22] “Some recent court decisions indicate the characteristics of a successful and legally defensible performance appraisal system (include):

  • “Specific instructions and training are given to supervisors on how to complete the appraisals.
  • “Job content is used to develop the basis of the appraisal.
  • “Appraisals are based on objective performance criteria, not on subjective personality traits.
  • “The results of the completed appraisal are reviewed with the appraised employee. The employee is given the opportunity to comment and submit written comments if appropriate.”

Note the item about job content. Ideally, a good, detailed job description is written for each position in cooperation with the team and stakeholders. That is used as the basis for job ads, candidate evaluations, training plans, performance reviews, and if needed, performance improvement plans and terminations.

Decision Point

  1. Consider:
    1. Which of the techniques above could you put into place for the current appraisal year?
    2. Which could you start preparing to put into place for next year?
  2. Create a plan for implementing your answers.

Compensation Schemes


Team members must be given incentives to work together if they are to overcome the usual “me first” approach. Initially, giving them information and the power to change their working conditions may be incentive enough. Over the longer term, money should be involved. Since the team will be saving or generating new money for the company, team members will think it only fair that they share part of the newfound wealth. As one researcher noted, “Talking about teamwork and cooperation and then not having a group-based component to the pay system… signals what the organization believes is actually important—individual behavior and performance.”[23] Using the larger part of the amount your company makes available for bonuses and profit-sharing to compensate the team as a whole, rather than as individuals, will place the focus on team achievement.

Four elements of standard compensation schemes work against teaming:

  • Focus on individual achievement.
  • Employee preference for individual recognition (discussed below).
  • Numerous promotional levels, because a focus on job level may take away from teaming efforts.
  • Seniority pay, which diminishes the opportunities for rewarding teaming and other skills.

Employees in the United States and similar cultures tend to prefer individual recognition schemes[24] and thus may resent this approach initially. A researcher quoted a worker as saying, “I’m a team player, but I want rewards to be individual.”[25] But there is considerable evidence that individual recognition systems “absorb vast amounts of management time and resources, and they make everybody unhappy” due to perceived unfairness in how individual rewards are doled out.[26] Plus, part of the preference may simply be habit—it is what they are accustomed to. As with performance evaluations, a good compromise might be to leave the majority of the compensation emphasis on individual performance at first, but tie a major share of that to the individual’s performance as a team member. Of course, if you tie the individual’s base and/or reward compensation to performance evaluations, and those evaluations are tied to team performance and teamwork as discussed earlier, the same result will be achieved. Over time you can shift to a more balanced approach.

Whatever compensation system you adopt, make sure the team members understand it, and more importantly, understand what they must do to receive their rewards. This seems obvious, but is too-often overlooked.

Once a system is in place, resist changing it quickly other than to make minor improvements. Morale will be severely damaged if people spend months or years working to achieve certain standards and the related pay, only to have the standards change dramatically. In the book and movie Catch-22, the number of missions required of a World War II flier before he could go home kept going up as people approached the previous requirement. This destroyed morale to the point of driving characters insane. However, do not rest on your laurels after you get your new system in place. Reassess your plan yearly.

The rest of this section focuses on different ways to support teamwork with money, in most cases using funds provided by better team performance.

Reward Types

Incentive Rewards

Incentive rewards drive productivity through promised rewards for performance. (The word “rewards” may refer to either a raise of base pay or a bonus.) A key element is certainty: the team members should know beforehand that they can get a reward and what that reward is. Most researchers agree that incentive rewards should be at least 3% of base pay, and possibly more depending on the organization’s raise history. Anything less has little motivational effect. Incentive schemes that support teams vary somewhat according to the type of team:

  • Raises for new teaming skills or knowledge, and/or work skills learned as a result of the team’s efforts (Best for management and production [“line”] teams).
  • Bonuses for efforts—as opposed to results—tied to achievement of milestones (Advisory teams like quality circles, project teams).
  • Bonuses for successful suggestions (Advisory).
  • Bonuses for results, tied to achievement of objectives at the team, division, and/or company level (Management, production).
  • Profit-sharing—Returning a portion of the company’s or division’s profits to the employees (All).
  • Gainsharing—If team activities result in measurable cost savings or revenue gains, giving some of the extra money to the teams (All).

Each of these types are discussed in detail further down except profit sharing, about which there is plenty of information in the popular business literature.

Recognition Rewards

Recognition rewards come after the achievement and are not promised beforehand. That is, they are surprises to the recipients. These include company wide awards (with or without money attached), and take the form of such things as:

  • Equal cash amounts to each team member (including the team leader, if any).
  • Social events ranging from dinners to group vacations.
  • Additional training or equipment upgrades not covered by the regular budget.
  • Gifts or gift certificates.
  • Perks such as reserved parking spaces.
  • Providing the team a lump sum to split up or otherwise use as it chooses.
  • Merely recognizing and thanking people for good actions, in private and public.
Combinations of Rewards

Incentive and recognition rewards are not mutually exclusive; a combination of them may work best. One researcher[27] used as a model the compensation system used in professional baseball:

  • “Base salary—usually determined by ‘going market rates’ for the average player in each specialty… influenced by the player’s past performance…;
  • “Individual one-shot bonuses—for an outstanding performance such as a ‘no-hit’ game by a pitcher;
  • “Seasonal bonuses agreed (upon) in advance by contract… which links the size of the total pay package to the player’s performance statistics…; and
  • “Team bonuses that are shared (usually equally) by the players—for overall group performance such as finishing a season high in the league… The players decide as a group how to divide up these extra earnings.”
Example Programs
  • “Tag You Win”—Established by Operations Management International, the program allowed anyone to reward anyone else for exceptional work. The recipient got a framed certificate at a team or division meeting, plus “Quality Bucks” that could be redeemed for gift certificates, movie tickets, etc.[28]
  • A Ralston Purina division handed out around the company note pads that said “Thanks” in big letters across the top, and “…for going the extra mile” on the bottom. Researchers wrote, “The pads were such a hit that the region exhausted inventory each of the past two years.” Once those managers used them, others began doing so. Many employees reported holding onto notes they received to use as spirit lifters.

For more ideas, see “Appreciation” in the “Troubleshooting” section.

Rewards for Skills or Knowledge


Reward pay can be partially tied to skills or knowledge that an individual or team learns. After comparing two otherwise similar manufacturing facilities within a major corporation, two researchers[29] found that skill-based pay correlated with 58% greater productivity, 16% lower labor cost per part, and an 82% improvement in quality.

  • Establish in advance the methods you will use to measure skill attainment, to ensure that pay increases are granted fairly. Possibilities include:
    • Knowledge or performance tests.
    • Individual productivity standards.
    • Completion of certification programs.
    • In mature teams, other team members’ ratings.
  • Job descriptions may need to be expanded to provide a wider range of skills for advancement. This also will prevent people from trying to earn extra pay for skills that do not contribute to team success.
  • Be sure to include administrative and interpersonal skills to foster team growth.
  • Maintain a balance between technical and people skills, and between on-paper and on-the-job measurements.
  • Measure previously learned skills periodically to prevent backsliding.
  • Keep job descriptions broad enough that it takes three to five years for a person to gain them all at a particular job level.
  • Tie the pay and skills closely. One approach is to pay an extra x amount of money per hour for up to a maximum of y skills learned and still being used on the job.
Example Programs
  • At General Motors’ Fitzgerald Battery Plant, employees were paid “for what they are capable of doing rather than the task they are doing at a particular moment… An employee must demonstrate competence at all jobs on two different teams in order to advance to the highest pay level. This typically takes about two years.”[30]
  • A forms-printing company established skill levels for pay as follows:
    1. “Entry level, can perform simplest task in each function.”
    2. “Is capable of two or three simple tasks.”
    3. “Can deal directly with customers; knows files.”
    4. “Can handle all but most exceptional situations.”
    5. “Can make independent decisions in 99% of situations that arise.”[31]
  • Eastman Chemical Company required that all members of a team achieve a basic set of technical, teaming, and business skills before any member could move forward in the program. Members then could move up in pay by mastering additional skills, taking on leadership roles on the team, and after that, by moving into certain specializations. In addition:
    • Teams had to maintain their basic skills every year.
    • Members had to show that they were using their new skills 10% of their working time.
    • Specializations had to be chosen with the needs of the team in mind.
  • The Orthopedic Division of Smith & Nephew (SNO) implemented a skill-based system for setting base pay. Workers could receive on-the-job training in 13 skill areas including technical and people skills. Seven were required for everyone, including listening and teamwork. Six others were optional. It took anywhere from six to 24 months to learn a new skill and demonstrate proficiency. With each skill came a pay raise of a set amount.[32]

Pay for Efforts or Results


Rewards can be tied to achieving pre-determined measurable results, and/or valid efforts to do so. Remember that due dates may change due to circumstances beyond the team’s control. If you use this system, base reward pay only on results mostly under the team’s control.


This approach is exclusive: unless your whole company is organized by projects, not everyone can be on the kinds of teams where effort pay works best (an advisory or project team) and results are easily measurable or separable from other factors. If you implement this method, be aware that it could therefore be a source of jealousy for people not on your team(s). One way around this is to implement a program by which the team recognizes others in the company that contribute to its success. For example, Great Plains Software let its teams create “Friends Lists,” whose members received formal thank-you notes signed by the entire team and a choice of gift certificates.

If the objectives to which incentives are tied are too easy, such that the bonuses become commonplace, those bonuses may come to be seen as entitlements instead of incentives.

When providing incentives for long-term efforts, consider having a series of bonuses, delaying the earlier ones to keep the team moving forward. A bonus paid right away could compound the usual “accomplishment let-down.” So, for example, Lotus Development Company provided a large bonus for hitting an initial rollout date in April of one year, but did not pay out until July. Meanwhile, the team kept working toward the full rollout date in November, the bonus for which was smaller but was paid immediately.

Example Programs
  • Rockwell Automation established company-wide goals for before-tax profits, sales growth, on-time shipments, and scrap reduction, with three measurable standards for each goal. The goals were applied at the group or site level. Achievement of the least-challenging standard by a work group added a bonus of 0.5% to each unit member’s base pay; the next higher standard added 1%; and the highest, 1.5%. Achievement of the highest standard on all goals could have resulted in a bonus capped at 6%. The company also added a connection to overall company performance by multiplying the percent figure times a factor based on the company’s operating return on sales [OROS]. If the company hit or missed its OROS goal, the payout could decrease by as much as 50% or increase up to 75%. All employees were told the company’s performance results; the increased understanding resulting from this open-site management was praised as one of the program’s biggest successes.
  • Great Plains paid out pre-announced bonus amounts to product development teams in two parts. Half was paid if and when the team hit the target deadline. The other half was paid only if quality targets also were met. Those targets were measured by customer satisfaction surveys, responses of pre-identified focus groups, and technical support calls as of 90 days after the release date. The bonuses were not large, but combined with other recognition programs, they helped reduce turnover rates.
  • On top of SNO’s skill-based pay program mentioned earlier, percentage increases were applied to the person’s base salary using division goals in the areas of customer focus, operations, financials, and innovation and learning. There were minimum, “target,” and maximum measures and related percentages. Hitting targets for all four areas added a total of 2.5% of base pay and hitting all of the maximums, 10%.[33]

Incentives for Suggestions


If you are having difficulty getting useful suggestions, consider paying for them. Offer a portion of any financial payoff to the submitter. Build accountability for suggestions by paying half of the incentive upon approval of the idea, and half upon implementation. To avoid charges of favoritism, consider a system in which a board of people not on the team meets on occasion to review suggestions, or allow the team to evaluate them itself.

How you handle rejected suggestions can be as important as how you handle accepted ones. Use rejections as an opportunity to teach, by providing detailed explanations of why a suggestion was not accepted.

Example Program

Utilicorp United created a program to encourage employee-created teams to come up with suggestions for improvements. It rewarded results with “Utilibucks”:

  • Submitters received 15 Utilibucks for ideas that saved or earned between $500 and $1,000 over twelve months.
  • The figure increased with the savings amounts ($150 for an impact of $5,001–$10,000, for example).
  • The Utilibucks were put into accounts the team member could use to buy merchandise from a catalog.
  • For W-2 purposes, the company added the tax amounts on the Utilibucks as part of the bonus, in effect paying the taxes, which added perceived value.
  • In three months, the program resulted in $16 million in savings.
  • The program later was changed to give only a small percentage of due rewards upon approval, and the rest upon implementation, with the suggestion-making team taking the lead in implementation. Also, the team could review effectiveness a year later and receive additional rewards for ongoing success of the improvement.



Similar to incentives for suggestions, the basic gainsharing method is to quantify the current or historical “normal” performance, then give the team a share of any cost savings or additional revenues above that norm. One suggestion is to average performance on the related measure(s) over the two to three years prior to teaming.

These may be direct cost savings; indirect ones to which financial figures can be tied, like reduced absentee rates; or revenue increases. Notice that gainsharing pays off to the team regardless of the impact on profit. This is by far the most powerful incentive for performance improvement. But obviously you need to be careful not to use it in ways that could harm the balance sheet. For example, one way to cut costs is to cut quality. If you tied gainsharing to cost cutting, you would need to require that quality measures not go down.

  • When implementing gainsharing, make doubly sure the standards you set tie into company goals, because the gainshared objectives will take a high priority for members.
  • Operations over which employees have little influence (because of high automation or dependence on other teams, for example) are not good candidates for gainsharing.
  • If major capital investments are planned, hold off on gainsharing. Otherwise it will be difficult to separate team performance effects from equipment upgrade effects.
  • Along those lines, do not implement gainsharing until after the team has “climbed the mesa.” Teams need to be running smoothly to get accurate baseline data for improvements.
  • If gainsharing rewards decline over the years, so will their motivational effect. On the other hand, declining rewards may cause the team to go after riskier goals in hopes of raising the rewards again, perhaps to the detriment of the team.
Example Program

Bayer Corporation allowed a team to create a “Productivity Plus” plan identifying measurable improvements it hoped to make in one of three areas: safety, financial results, or operational results. If the team was able to show bottom-line gains from the effort, it received a percentage of the dollar savings.

Individual Teamwork Rewards


Consider compensating individuals for their performance as team members, in addition to any rewards for individual work performance. By compensating for teamwork:

  • There is less of a focus on what others are or are not doing to help the team, both because an individual can get something out of it regardless, and because this facilitates the belief that people with poor teamwork will “get what’s coming to them.”
  • The incentive to adhere to team values and procedures is increased.
  • If the team fails, individuals still feel compensated for the extra time and effort, which will be critical to their willingness to try teaming again some day.

The best judges of how to allocate teamwork rewards may be the team members themselves. See the section on “Performance Evaluations” for more information.

Example Program

Lotus Software project leaders would sign contracts with team members describing in detailed language what constituted extraordinary performance. A few star performers by those criteria received substantial bonuses. A somewhat larger number who performed better than required, but not at the same level as the stars, received amounts about half of the top-level rewards. Another set, which performed well but not necessarily “above and beyond the call of duty,” received rewards about half the amount of the second-level rewards. In one team of 23, for example, three won the top reward, five the next level, and ten the third, so only the five poorest performers received no reward.

Special Considerations

  • Multilevel targets—With milestone, objective, or profit-based plans, consider multiple levels of achievement and rewards. For example, you might add 1% to base pay if the team gets within 90% of a given target; 3% for meeting the target, and 6% for achieving 110% of the target.
  • Advisory teams—Make sure any extra compensation for advisory team members does not outweigh that for their regular work, lest they give more importance to the advisory work (unless you want that to happen, of course).

Decision Point

  • How can the compensation ideas discussed in this section fit into your company’s salary and bonus scheme?
  • What system of incentives can you put in place using the money you have available right now?
  • What system of team compensation will you try to get in place in the company, at least as a pilot project involving your team?
  • Is there a way for you (the manager and/or team leader) to get some rewards for successfully implementing the team?

If not, talk with HR about ways within the company’s system for doing this. It may be as simple as using overall team performance as an objective on your performance appraisal. Or, ask your boss if you can get bonuses based on any team-wide rewards.


  1. Draft a plan for implementing your answers to the questions in the previous box.
  2. Set a meeting with a human resources representative to review the plan and seek waivers of company policy if needed.
  3. Implement your plan.
  4. Create a reminder to review the plan and its results, scheduled for one year after the implementation date.

Helping with Problems

Spotting and Addressing Problems


A critical role for the team manager, regardless of the team’s state of development, is to serve as a teamwork coach. Think of a basketball coach during a game. He or she cannot get on the court and do the work. But the coach can point out problems in execution, make adjustments, call some specific plays, and motivate players to top performance. One of your jobs as the manager is to monitor performance, as discussed above, and take action when the team does not seem to be aware of or dealing with problems.

All of the following issues are likely to occur at some point in a team’s development, especially when approaching or climbing the Team Mesa. But if they continue for weeks, or show up regularly after you thought the team had made the climb, they are signs of trouble:

  • Persistent interpersonal problems.
  • Decreased attendance at meetings.
  • Productivity
  • Decreasing number of objectives accomplished:
    • On time,
    • On budget, or
    • At the planned level of quality.
  • Communication issues:
    • Guarded communication about the team (i.e., when members are asked how the team is going, answers are cautious or vague).
    • Formal methods of communication (i.e., members are writing each other about topics they should easily be talking about).
    • Lack of disagreement—Too much solidarity may mean people do not feel comfortable speaking up, and/or a few members are dominating the others (in other words, “groupthink” has taken hold).
    • Failure of members to share information with each other when needed.
  • Consistent ignoring of team values, rules or procedures.
  • Ongoing confusion about who is supposed to be doing what.

Problems absolutely will happen, of course. Remember that the team will take cues from your reaction to those problems. Al Davis, managing partner of a professional American football team, once said: “A great leader doesn’t treat problems as special. He treats them as normal.”[34]

Intervention Procedure

Most team problems can be addressed by the team on its own. The sections below address a few the manager will probably have to take the lead on. When the team is having a significant problem it cannot seem to solve, take these steps:

  1. Define the problem by writing it down in no more than two sentences.
  2. Gather information by one or more of the following methods:
    • Collect objective data, such as work output.
    • Have a third party such as an HR rep observe a meeting and report back; make sure members are told no names will be mentioned.
    • Develop some nonjudgmental questions and interview team members individually, assuring them you will keep their answers confidential (or better, have a third party do the interviews).
    • Develop and administer an anonymous questionnaire.
  3. Analyze the information, with the help of the “Troubleshooting” section and the sections below, to identify the likely causes.
    Tip: It may be helpful to do this with a person not involved with the team, to add an outsider’s perspective.
  4. Try a relevant technique from the “Troubleshooting” section.
  5. After some time has passed, repeat Steps 2–3, and if the problem persists, Step 4 with a different technique.
  6. If the problem continues, ask HR or a consultant for help before things get too bad.

Decision Point

What actions can you take now to ensure you are actively monitoring the team for problems?


When conflicts arise within the team, resist the temptation to “fix the problem.” Learning how to work through conflicts constructively if they arise is part of the team’s growth. Encourage resolution of problems at the team or team-member levels, and refer the team to the “Conflicts” topic in the “Troubleshooting” section.

If someone comes to you about a conflict in the team or with team members:

  1. Ask if he or she has spoken to the person(s) involved:
    • If not:
      1. Ask why not.
      2. Work out a script for him or her to do so comfortably.
    • If so, and the team has a procedure for member conflicts:
      1. Ask if the person has used that procedure.
      2. If not, work out a script.
  2. If after you complete Step 1 the problem persists, offer to mediate a solution:
    • If the problem involves most of the team, schedule a meeting with you as the facilitator and choose one or more techniques from the “Conflicts” topic in the “Troubleshooting” section.
    • If it involves two or more factions within the team, refer to the “Interteam Conflicts” topic under “Troubleshooting.”
    • If it involves two or three individuals, use the “Mediation” procedure.
      Note: To be clear, you should make this offer only if:

      • The team is not addressing the problem, or for individual conflicts, has not taken on mediation tasks yet, or
      • As a sort of “appeals court” when the team’s procedure has not solved the problem.


At the opposite extreme from relationship conflicts is “groupthink,” in which team members conform their thinking too much, cutting off debates and refusing to consider alternate information. Researchers have identified this as a primary factor in poor decision-making in small groups, and in major historical failures from Britain’s pre-war attempt to placate Nazi Germany to the explosion of the Challenger space shuttle. Research indicates groupthink can happen at any stage of team development. When members are climbing the Team Mesa, for example, it might be used to reduce conflicts by pressuring people to “be a team player.”

A team is prone to groupthink when it:

  • Becomes “insulated from experts.”
  • “Performs limited search and appraisal of information.”
  • Operates “under directed leadership.”
  • Has “high stress… and little hope of finding a better solution… than that favored by the leader or influential members.”[35]

A healthy team will be using “teamthink” instead, signs of which are:

  • “Encouragement of divergent views,”
  • “Open expression of concerns/ideas,”
  • “Awareness of limitations/threats,”
  • “Recognition of (each) member’s uniqueness,”
  • “Discussion of collective doubts.”[36]

You as the manager must stay alert to the possibility of groupthink, because it is very difficult for the team to recognize it has the problem. Review the “Groupthink” page in the “Troubleshooting” section and watch for the symptoms.

Decision Point

  • What steps will you take to monitor your team for groupthink?
  • What steps will you take if you suspect groupthink is occurring?

Poor Performers

The site mentioned earlier a study that reported two managerial “blind spots,” one of which regarded failure to set clear priorities. However, the researchers wrote, “The most severe complaint about team leadership from team members involves leaders who are unwilling to confront and resolve issues associated with inadequate performance by team members. Leaders see themselves as far more active in these areas than do team members.”[37]

Employees usually do not know when the manager counsels poor performers, because confidentiality is required. But they certainly know when a person’s behaviors have been brought to a manager’s attention, yet have not changed. As you move into this teaming environment, it will be even more important to follow up on your coaching sessions with individuals to ensure they follow through on your guidance. Since each will be working far more closely with other people as a team member than the person did before, the person’s behavior—and therefore yours as the manager—will be under much closer scrutiny than before.

Decision Points

  • How do you know whether your team members think you handle poor performers well? If you do not have hard evidence such as a confidential survey of employees that asked the question, work with an HR representative to find out.
  • What specific steps will you take when one team member comes to you with a concern or complaint about another team member’s performance? What if two or more members do so?

Virtual Team Tips

Virtual and standard collocated teams are more alike than different. However, the lack of nonverbal cues in electronic communication has such an impact, researchers judge how virtual a team is based on the amount of that communication (see “Virtual Team Schedule”). Time zone, language, and cultural differences add to the normal challenges of teamwork. If for any reason your team members rarely see each other in person, this will require some changes to your style and behaviors from those you use with collocated teams:

  • Allow more time—The research on virtual teams (VTs) shows they take longer to produce the same quality and quantity of work as collocated teams. When scheduling work, add more buffer time.
  • Communicate more—Think of the informal communications you see around an office. A lot of team communication occurs in hallways, break rooms, and restaurants. These chance meetings are not possible through a computer, which means you will have to replace them to some degree. In one study of successful VTs, “One team leader reported being on the phone with his team for ten to 15 hours a week.”[38]
  • Coach more—People in the same location can easily ask for and share tricks and tips, and thus develop the trust that doing so will not hurt their reputations. In the process, they get a better picture of who to go to for help with specific topics. Though some of this will also happen in well-functioning VTs, be prepared to spend more time asking team members how you can help them, finding answers, and connecting them with experts on or outside of the team.
  • Inspire more—A study of 41 teams in nine countries found that an inspirational leadership style improved VT performance. The study said this kind of manager “makes everyone in the team enthusiastic about the team’s assignments,” has a sense of mission, encourages people to share ideas, and “excites us with his/her visions of what we may accomplish if we work together as a team.”[39]
  • Write more—If people on your team speak different native languages, use written methods for providing complex information and for problem-solving (such as “The Delphi Process“). These give non-native speakers the opportunity to look up words or get help from others in translating the communication.

If you have not already done so, also read “Select Virtual Tools” before performing the action below.


What behaviors do you need to add or change to be a better virtual team manager? Create a set of action items for yourself to learn, implement, and monitor your use of those behaviors.

New Roles for You

This site talks a lot about what you should and should not do for the team. A question left open is, what should you do for yourself, especially once the team members do not need daily supervision anymore? One point of resistance among managers to empowering teams is the fear that the managers will work themselves out of their jobs. But you can choose instead to look at the extra time you will eventually have on your hands as an opportunity to add value for the company in new ways:

  • Teaming skills coach—There will continue to be a need for this role with new members of the team, and possibly with other teams in the company. When new people join the team, you might be better able to spare the time to help them get up to speed than team members can. If other teams become empowered, you can coach them on their new teamwork skills.
  • Process expert—Map, review, and champion improvements to processes that cross team or division boundaries.
  • Quality champion—Become an expert and lead efforts in quality techniques such as Continuous Quality Improvement or Six Sigma.
  • Technical consultant—Go back to doing what you love about your industry. You can spend some of your extra time getting yourself caught up and becoming the company expert in those technical areas.
  • Special projects champion—Take on the company tasks that need to be done but no one else has had time to do.
  • Teaming champion—Help other managers learn about and create “true teaming.”
  • Customer champion—Lead efforts to better understand your division’s—or the company’s—customers and how to satisfy their needs.
  • Learner—Learn new skills for your own career development or to help the team or company.
  • Systems thinker—Conduct research to understand “the organization as a system and… the internal and external forces driving change.” Then develop methods to help “managers throughout the organization come to understand these trends and forces.”[40]

Decision Point

What new roles in your company would you take on today if you had the time? Use the above list and/or create others.

Top Ten Ways to Ensure Team Failure

This list quoted from consultant Glenn Parker[41] is a joking reminder to help you learn to be a manager of a true team. It is meant to be funny, but keep it in mind for the inevitable times when you feel like giving up on the process, to make sure you do not slip into these bad habits:

10) Don’t listen to any new idea or recommendation from a team. It’s probably not a good idea since it is new and comes from a team.

9) Don’t give teams any additional resources to help solve problems in their area. Teams are supposed to save money and make do with less.

8) Treat all problems as signs of failure and treat all failures as a reason to disband teams and downgrade team members.

7) Create a system that requires lots of reviews and signatures to get approvals for all changes, purchases and new procedures. You can’t be too careful these days.

6) Get the security department involved to make it difficult for teams to get information about the business… You don’t want them finding out how the business is run.

5) Assign a manager to keep an eye on teams in your areas… what you really want these managers to do is control the direction of the teams and report back to you on any deviations from your plan.

4) When you reorganize or change policies and procedures, do not involve team members in the decision or give them any advance warning.

3) Cut out all training of team members.

2) Express your criticisms freely and withhold your praise and recognition. Teams need to know where they have screwed up… (And if) you give praise, people will expect a raise or a reward, and you don’t want that.

1) Above all, remember you know best. That’s why they pay you the big bucks. Never let team members forget that.

Team Training | Troubleshooting

[1] Hackman & Katz 2010.

[2] Walton & Schlesinger 1979.

[3] Orsburne, et al. 1990.

[4] For example, a study of 111 work teams in four companies found, “More empowered teams were… more productive and proactive than less empowered teams and had higher levels of customer service, job satisfaction, and organizational and team commitment” (Kirkman & Rosen 1999).

[5] The other blind spot is addressed under “Poor Performers.”

[6] Larson & LeFasto 1989.

[7] Donnellon 1996.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Bergel 1997.

[10] Hackman 1990.

[11] Reported in Nelson 2000.

[12] MacKellar-Hertan 2003.

[13] Weaver & Farrell 1997.

[14] Manz & Sims 1992.

[15] Gary 1999.

[16] Varney 1989.

[17] Robbins & Finley 1995.

[18] Donnellon 1996.

[19] Ezzamel & Willmott 1998.

[20] Donnellon 1996.

[21] An excellent resource is Edwards & Ewen 1996.

[22] Nelson 2000.

[23] Pfeffer 1998.

[24] LeBlanc & Mulvey 1998.

[25] Donnellon 1996.

[26] Pfeffer 1998.

[27] Rosen 1989.

[28] Unless otherwise noted, examples and quotations about the various reward types are from Parker, McAdams & Zielinski 2000.

[29] Murray & Gerhart 1998.

[30] Stewart, Manz & Sims 1999.

[31] Weisbord 1992.

[32] Crandall, Wallace & Bisgeier 1997.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Martin 1993.

[35] Turner & Pratkanis 1998.

[36] Neck & Manz 1994.

[37] Larson & LeFasto 1989.

[38] Majchrzak, et al. 2004.

[39] Joshi, Lazarova & Liao 2009.

[40] Senge 1990.

[41] Parker 1994. Edited for length.

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