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Leadership Skills: Organizing Tasks for Success

This is article two, in a three-part series diving into the cornerstone activities of task leadership. In the first article, we examined task analysis.


Webster defines organize as the effort to “form into a coherent unity or functioning whole.” Every successful team, company, or government begins with this undertaking, and over the lifecycle of the institution may reorganize itself many times. Organizing a team for success certainly requires several elements: resources, clarity of mission, overarching guidance, and governance. The single element that cannot be overlooked is leadership.

Leadership is required to organize multiple individuals’ efforts, regardless of where the institution is in its strategic life cycle. Whether forming a start-up or a development team, reorganizing for a new reality, or scaling down the organization, the multidimensional challenges of pulling people together requires a communicated vision and focus, and the intangible skills of a leader to help team members through the change. Organizing for success requires some very fundamental skills, as shown in these examples.

 For every minute spent organizing, an hour is earned. ~ Benjamin Franklin

Organizing a start-up

In a start-up environment, the organizational leader needs to translate the fruits of the task analysis into defined functions, requirements, and outcomes. Good leaders then align these functions and requirements to capabilities. This process’s tools and techniques may include work breakdown structures, RACI matrices, or the application of agile and scaled agile techniques for self-organizing teams.

Interestingly, the same skills are required to organize, implement, and then ultimately disband ad hoc teams (e.g., Tiger teams and focus groups). Key things for the leader to keep in mind during the organization design process are:

  • Keep the larger organization’s mission or “DNA” in mind; the new team should operate within and contribute to a broader capability. Once the organization’s design is confirmed, members should be able to explain how the new team supports and enhances the overall organization’s mission.

  • Design the organization to promote accountability and participation; every team member should have a valuable, clear role. RACI matrices are particularly helpful in achieving this effect; team members should be able to say, “I am a valuable member of this team because I am responsible for…”

  • Ensure the task leader does not take on excessive implementation oversight roles. One technique for balancing oversight responsibilities is to leverage talented or experienced team members as informal leaders to accomplish specific roles, and giving them the latitude and resources to implement a solution.

The results of this organizational effort may include a wire diagram, a RACI matrix, a covenant or manifesto, or some other curated expression of the team’s operating model. Most importantly, it should be clearly understood by current team members and easily communicated to new ones as they join the organization.

Organization in a reorganization

In a reorganization, the leader needs fundamental organizational change management (OCM) skills to identify the need for change and guide the team members through the transition. These tools may include conducting an organizational change readiness assessment, selecting one of several OCM methodologies, organizing and conducting after-action reviews, retrospectives, or coordinating external reviews of the organization. Key things for the leader to keep in mind during any team reorganization:

  • Ensure the team understands the reason for any change’s desired results; emphasize team members roles in creating this new reality.

  • Help the team put the past in its proper context; ensure they understand that “that’s the way we’ve always done it” may not be the best way forward for the organization.

  • Build on strengths; as the organization has evolved, it has probably developed strong competitive capabilities; incorporate these into the new organization. To ensure these strengths are documented and replicated in the new organization, consider incorporating existing team or organization capabilities into your manifesto or highlighting these in any new process documents. Communicate to the team, “what is not changing about our great organization.

Ultimately, the leader is responsible for establishing and communicating a vision of the reorganized team. Good leaders understand the need for organizational change once a “new reality” is defined; they must also encourage, support, and guide the team members to the desired end state. This frequently requires the leader to exert both formal and informal influence to reduce the inevitable resistance to change experienced by organizations in transition.

Organizing when scaling down

When scaling down, or closing an organization, the leader’s skills are every bit as critical as they were at other points in its history. Leaders must achieve the delicate balance of functionality and closure – keeping the organization going while effecting a smooth transition of resources – most importantly, the people. Key skills for an organization leader when scaling down an organization include:

  • Prioritizing the reduction in capabilities: as teams close down, they inevitably lose capacity – the leader must plan these to reflect the broader organization’s mission.

  • Planning and executing effective knowledge transfers (KT): the organizational leader has to ensure a plan to transfer knowledge between individuals and organizations.

  • Paying close attention to an organization’s human impacts at the end of its life cycle; this often includes identifying and providing transition resources for team members, recognizing contributions, and anticipating (and responding to) the emotional stress on team members.

As with any organizational change, leaders of scaled-down or end of cycle teams must continue to communicate a vision of the future while focusing on the human aspects of change for team members. This may involve communicating what advantages the scaled-down organization will have, such as focusing on specific market opportunities while strengthening proven capabilities. If the organization is at the end of its lifecycle, plan for and communicate how team members will be taken care of as the team shuts down. This may include helping team members prepare resumes, document their contributions, and improve skills for future engagements.

Organizing the team for success requires the leader to be truly open-minded to the multiple organizational design possibilities. The best leaders are technology and technique agnostic – that is, they are adaptable to a wide range of organizational approaches.

In our next article in the series, we look at task completion, “Leading the team through the effort, which entails communicating, empowering, guiding and adjusting individual and collective energies, while remaining focused on the desired end state. In our initial article, we examine task analysis.

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