South-Western - Management  
The Secret of Great Groups
Topic Managing Individuals and Teams
Key Words groups, leadership
News Story

Few great accomplishments are ever the work of a single individual. We stand a better chance of making breakthroughs when we combine the knowledge of people from a variety of backgrounds, disciplines and experiences. The difficult part is getting talented, self-absorbed, often arrogant, incredibly bright people to work together

Warren Bennis has studied group leadership from the perspective of groups such as the Manhattan Project, which invented the atomic bomb; the computer revolutionaries at Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center and Apply Computer; Lockheed Skunk Works, which pioneered the fast, efficient development of top-secret aircraft; and Walt Disney Studio animators. He found 10 principles that were common to all, as well as to their larger organizations.

  1. At the heart of every group is a shared dream. The work becomes not a job, but a shared quest.
  2. They manage conflict by abandoning individual egos to the pursuit of the dream.
  3. They are protected from the "suits," or executive management of a company. The group leader becomes the protective layer.
  4. They have a real or invented enemy. That is most obvious with the Manhattan Project, who was fighting the Nazis and Japanese. More often the enemy is the competition.
  5. They view themselves as winning underdogs. World-changing groups are usually populated by mavericks who operate outside the mainstream.
  6. Members pay a personal price. The job comes before all else, including personal lives.
  7. You cannot have a Great Group without a strong leader, and vice versa.
  8. Great Groups are the product of meticulous recruiting. Picking the right talent for a group means knowing what you need and being able to spot it in others.
  9. Great Groups are usually young. Because they're young and naive, group members don't know what's supposed to be impossible.
  10. The group has to produce a tangible outcome that is external to themselves. Most dissolve after the product is delivered.

These principles not only define the nature of Great Groups, but they redefine the roles and responsibilities of the leaders. Bennis felt that leaders shared four behavioral traits: they provide direction and meaning; they generate and sustain trust; they display a bias toward action, risk taking and curiosity; and they are purveyors of hope.

Great Groups remind us how much we can really accomplish working toward a shared purpose.


Choose one of the 10 principles listed as being common to the groups studied, and explain why you feel it is the most important. Which do you feel is the least important and why?


Using a past or current job you have had, describe a project that would have been well-suited to a group approach, and one that would be better served by an individual.


Research the success rates for male and female expatriates. Summarize your findings and draw conclusions.

Source Warren Bennis, "The Secret of Great Groups," Leader to Leader Winter 1997.
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