Warren Bennis on Great Groups

Bennis - Organizing Genius

Organizing Genius : The Secrets of Creative Collaboration
Bennis, Warren; Biederman, Patricia

Much of the talk about Enterprise 2.0 centers on the possibilities that new technologies open up for improved cooperation and collaboration in organizations. The problems of cooperation and collaboration in organizations have attracted attention long before today s technology options existed. Warren Bennis has been studying the issues of leadership and organizations for decades. In Organizing Genius, Bennis turns his eye toward the lessons we might draw from the successes of great groups.

Published in 1997, Organizing Genius examines the case histories of seven great groups, whose stories are worth knowing regardless of the lessons they contain. The groups the Bennis and co-author Patricia Ward Biederman chronicle include Disney s animation studio, Xerox PARC, Apple s Macintosh team, Clinton s original election campaign team, Lockheed s Skunkworks, Black Mountain College, and the Manhattan Project. As a long-term student of leadership, Bennis here emphasizes the importance of the group in achieving exceptional results when those results call for creativity and innovation. While there is still an important role for leadership, it is leadership that calls for a much more delicate touch than we are accustomed to seeing or valuing. In Bennis s view, in fact, great leaders cannot arise absent a great group to lead.

Bennis highlights the following lessons about great groups:

  1. Greatness starts with superb people
  2. Great groups and great leaders create each other
  3. Every great group has a strong leader
  4. The leaders of great groups love talent and know where to find it
  5. Great groups are full of talented people who can work together
  6. Great groups think they are on a mission from God
  7. Every great group is an island but an island with a bridge to the mainland
  8. Great groups see themselves as winning underdogs
  9. Great groups always have an enemy
  10. People in great groups have blinders on
  11. Great groups are optimistic, not realistic
  12. In great groups, the right person has the right job
  13. The leaders of great groups give them what they need and free them from the rest
  14. Great groups ship
  15. Great work is its own reward

Bennis also has an online article on The Secrets of Great Groups, which summarizes his insights in a slightly different way. None of these lessons are exceptional, although it s good to see that Bennis emphasizes the importance of shared mission. That s something that I see as a frequent problem in groups that are struggling.

In all of this, technology is not center stage. What Bennis does is to show us places where you might focus your technology efforts.

3 thoughts on “Warren Bennis on Great Groups”

  1. The Secrets of Great Groups link, above, results in a Page Not Found message. Is is possible to provide the updated link to this article?


  2. I am working on my dissertation and am looking for ideas on how to address how much “content” the leader must know to lead organizations to successful outcomes? Much has been written about leadership styles an some researchers have implied a leader must have some competence in the business/organization they lead; but I can find no research examining the importance of knowing the business which you will lead. It seems assumed but some go out of their way to imply the leader does not need to be technically competent because the task to be performed by the leader are different from the task performed by the followers? I accept the leader does not have to be the most technically knowledgeable person in the organization but don’t know how little technical knowledge a leader can possess and still produce effective outcomes? Gabarro (1987, 2007) conducted a longitudinal study, “When a new manager takes charge” and found the MBA generalist manager who could succeed in any situation was a myth…he found that functional background and experience were major factors in a managers success or failure. I can find no other research regarding the value of or requirement for a manager to know the business they lead—those pesky details (i.e. exactly what type of mortgages are in these budles we are buying and selling?) Ant helpful suggestions for my research? Thanks, Larry

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