Organizing Genius: The Secrets of Creative Collaboration

There are 21 key elements of great groups that I believe emerge from Bennis and Biederman’s analysis. I have listed them below.  While the 21 elements aren’t that surprising, the book does make three surprising revelations about the elements.  First, all of these 21 elements feature in all of the great groups.  It would seem that you don’t get a great group unless all of these conditions are met, somehow. Second, these elements are not planned and implemented top down.  They seem to evolve organically from the leadership.  Third, the manifestation of these key elements is not slick, fair, institutionalized or particularly attractive taken out of context. Human Resources and Senior Management are not likely to cheerfully sign off on a strategy to create these conditions. Even if they do, you probably can’t implement these 21 elements top down and get a great group.  That is the dilemma we are left with when we finish this book. We can see what a great group looks like but it is not certain that we can actually create one deliberately!  That said, Organizing Genius is a great read, the stories are vibrant and detailed and it’s a pleasure getting a little glimpse of what it was like to work on the first personal computer, Snow White and the first U.S. jet fighter. While the stories can’t show you precisely how to create a great group, they will give you good idea of what a Great Group looks like and feels like and that is a big help!

Great Groups – Key Elements – A Checklist

  1. A clear, tangible outcome. The best outcomes are widely recognized as important or fantastic.
  2. An outrageous vision for the outcome.
  3. A leader who can get people to get personally committed to the vision and the outcome.
  4. Exceptionally capable people on the team – the best talent available.
  5. A leader that the team respects.
  6. A leader who gives the team members the information, recognition and latitude they need to deliver the outcome.
  7. A leader who keeps the team focused without micro managing it.
  8. A shabby workplace with access to all the equipment, materials, tools and training the team needs to deliver the outcome.
  9. Team is protected from bureaucracy of the sponsor/sponsor organization.
  10. The workplace enables collaboration.
  11. Team is insulated from distractions.
  12. There is one focus for the team – the outcome.
  13. Team members have responsibilities that are aligned to their expertise, interests, and capabilities.
  14. Team members are willing to work on what needs to be worked on when it needs to be worked on.
  15. People don’t always get along but everyone wants to achieve the outcome so this common desire transcends individual conflicts.

What Do You Aspire To?

Aspire – to long, aim, or seek ambitiously; be eagerly desirous, especially for something great or of high value (usually followed by to, after, or an infinitive): to aspire after literary immortality; to aspire to be a doctor. to long, aim, or seek ambitiously; be eagerly desirous, especially for something great or of high value (usually followed by to, after, or an infinitive): to aspire after literary immortality; to aspire to be a doctor.  (

  • What do you aspire to?
  • What’s your strategy for achieving your aspiration?
  • What have you done in the last year, month, week, today to make progress toward your aspiration?
  • How would you rate your progress?
  • How has your aspiration evolved since you were 12, 24, 36,48, 60, 72?

As a coach, friend, consultant, colleague, I talk to people all of the time and in one way or another I ask these questions.  I find that few people can confidently answer them.  Often these questions put people off.  They get embarrassed or defensive or they just freeze like deer in the headlights.

What is important about aspirations is not what the aspiration is, it is having thought about what you want, having an approach to achieving what you want and staying focused on achieving it.  I worry about the people who can’t answer the questions.  I worry because I suspect they have  an aspiration but because they aren’t clear about what it is and because they aren’t actively pursuing it, it is only a matter of time before they start saying “oh its too late for me” and just give up.

Each of us has so much we could give to ourselves, to each other, and to the world.  When we think about what we want and how to achieve it, we can make good on this potential. When we make working on our aspirations a lower priority than dealing with daily challenges and distractions, we stand a good chance of only enjoying a small part of what life offers us and only giving back a small part of what we have to offer.

The keys to achieving our aspirations are Clarity, Strategy, and Focus.  Simple?   If only. But how?  More to come!