Obama’s Team Chemistry – the X-Factor

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Obama’s Team Chemistry – the X-Factor

President Elect Barack Obama is forming his team for governing the United States of America.  The buzz in the media centers around the personalities and talents of selected team members.  The entertainment value of media questions has been noted by the President Elect, “I know you are having fun with this,” when asked about previous rivalries in the Democratic Party.  The media questions are haphazard, disorganized, and by themselves are rather shallow.  Few people have questioned the competencies of Obama’s Cabinet selections – but many question the viability of the team chemistry.

President Elect Obama will be wise to recognize the phases of team development: forming, storming, norming, and performing.  All well-led teams follow this evolution.  It  takes the wisdom of Solomon to recognize and motivate a team through the process.  But fear not, there are specific methods of promoting the team growth.  President Bush has a Masters of Business of Administration – he should have had the necessary training to apply the principles of team management – but it appears his team did not progress beyond the storming phase until after Rumsfeld left for greener pastures.  (Is Rumsfeld the Dallas Cowboy’s T.O.?)

Chemistry is a science – the science of elemental interaction.  We have used the term often in sports analogies to interpret or understand team member interaction.  Management is the science of getting people together to achieve common goals.  The science of Chemistry follows natural laws – and we are learning that there are specific dynamics of organization which we might call the Laws of Management.  The ‘natural laws’ of management are defined by Leadership.  The chemistry of the Obama team will be dependent on the Leadership of the President Elect.

The failures of the Bush Administration were failures of leadership.  President Bush assembled a team of all-stars, then failed to bring them together into a cohesive team.  Think Cheney, Rumsfeld, Powell, and Rice.   We have seen this in sports – the primo’dona player who will not pass the basketball – he has to score the points himself.  We also know that effective leadership brings all-stars players together to form a powerful team.

There are two interesting approaches to understanding a Team.  One is the use of analogy to chemistry – and the other is the application of management science.  In either case there are two fundamental properties of success:

  1. Competency of Team Members
  2. Team Cohesion

The laws of chemistry requires an understanding of:

  • Elements (team members), President Elect Obama, like President Bush, is assembling a team of all-stars.  Both Bush and Obama acknowledge diversity as a strength.  Diversity of team presents the greatest diversity of problem solving options.
  • Interactions (team member relationships), these interactions can happen with mature players – but almost certainly will not happen without proper leadership.  The leader must see themselves as a member of the team – with a specific role.  Power struggles within a team are counterproductive – but individual team members may take on leadership roles with specific tasks.  The first term of the Bush Administration was thick with the conflict of power struggles.  The role of Obama as the Team Leader will be to advocate dissent during debate – then to advocate consensus with final solutions.
  • Catalysts (the promotion of team member interaction), this is the role of the leader – in this case the President.  The catalyst is in the articulated vision and the passion of the leader.  Obama’s Team appears to be people who themselves understand the value of team.  Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton both demonstrated team cohesion values in the Senate.
  • Energy (motivation), We witnessed the Bush Team directing their energy into conflict.  Sadly, when Brent Scowcroft offered dissent about the Iraq Invasion he was dismissed from the team.  The message to others was simple – keep your dissent to yourself.  The team members were left to passive-aggressive behavior that undermined other team members.  It is the role of the President to manage conflict – to direct dissent into healthy debate.  The management of the Obama campaign for President indicates that President Elect Obama understands team Energy – and is able to focus the energy into productive outcomes.
  • Attraction (the sense of role appreciation),Each team member must understand they do not stand alone – again witness Powell, Rumsfeld, and Cheney.  (This is not meant to discredit any of these men – but rather to point out the failure of leadership).  Developing a common vision is central to developing team collaboration.
  • Mass (the size of the team).  The greatest challenge to any President Elect is the pre-defined bureaucracy of the Federal Government.  Cabinet positions are pre-set.  The President Elect must manage the dynamic of voluminous mass.

The leadership role to promote the team chemistry encompasses defined strategies.  We recommend these relatively simple principles as a means of building and managing a team:

  • Be Credible-
  1. Have integrity – have values and be consistent, maintain confidence of team members.  President Bush championed the idea of a “Compassionate Conservative.”   President Bush articulated a vision of low taxes, limited spending, limited foreign policy intrusion, and defense of the Constitution.  But he was not consistent with his articulated values.  This incoherence proved disruptive and divisive within his administration.  President Elect Obama has been clear with his values and his vision – it remains to be seen how well he can hold the course.
  2. Set the direction – Be clear on direction but open to discussion.  We hate to belabor the point – but President Bush failed to maintain consistent direction.
  3. Be encouraging – Compliment success and offer assistance with problem areas.  When the Military was calling for more troops to accomplish the goals in Iraq President Bush, Vice President Cheney, and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld failed to assist with the resources necessary.  Rather – they discounted their professional advice.  President Elect Obama must pay attention to his professional staff.
  4. Find Common Ground – emphasizing points of agreement.  There was only one point of agreement with President Bush – his point.  Enough said.
  5. Manage dissent – acknowledge both sides of an argument.  Again, Brent Scowcroft was dismissed for rational dissent.  At least eight United States Attorney’s were dismissed for not following political dictates.  President Bush completely failed in understanding basic principles of team leadership.
  6. Be Inclusive – do not assume all team members agree, ask them about their opinion, ask about resources they need, ask about obstacles and dissatisfaction.  Again, when staff asked for resources they were chastised or just flat out fired.  Another complete failure of leadership.
  • Articulate a Vision -
  1. Be Passionate – be sure to connect the vision to common team values.  The inconsistency of stated values with action taken disorients team function.  We see this as a fundamental flaw in the Republican platform.  Pro-Life and Pro Death Penalty.  Pro-Life and anti aid-to-dependent-children.  Pro capitalism, anti living wage for consumers.  And the big one for this writer – The GOP promotes family values while advocating wages that require both parents to work in order to achieve the lowest level of the middle class.
  2. Articulate a vision of the future that is is exciting, while being challenging but achievable, and sustainable.  President Bush cut taxes (Federal Revenues) while conducting massive and expensive wars overseas – clearly not a sustainable vision.  President Elect Obama has championed several programs (health care for all) and a restructuring of the tax code.  We will be watching with interest.
  3. Be creative and original – be interesting.  It appears that President Elect Obama is creative and original.  We shall see.
  • Set Goals -
  1. Be specific – break the vision down into manageable tasks.  Obama has put together a team that certainly has the capacity for defining manageable tasks – but it remains for the President Elect to match tasks to personnel.
  • Encourage Constructive Debate -
  1. Listen to dissent – and reflect on the message to be sure the team member felt heard.  President Elect Obama has intentionally put together a team of people who are not afraid to speak up – it remains to be seen how he will manage the conflict.
  2. Acknowledge differences – each team member must feel they make a contribution.  Bill Richardson did not get the job he wanted – Secretary of State.  He was granted the position of Secretary of Commerce.  President Elect Obama went out of his way to highlight the importance of this job in the context of economic recovery – did Richardson buy the deal?
  • Encourage team member ideas -
  1. Credit initiative – All ideas do not have to come from the top.  We can be sure that the Obama Team are people who will have their own ideas.  Obama must fit these ideas into a central vision.
  • Promote cohesiveness -
  1. Manage the team size – smaller is better, people naturally feel more intimate and confident in smaller groups.  Can Obama break the Cabinet down into more manageable groups?  We shall see.
  2. Each team member must feel honored to have their role – a tough examination or ‘vetting’ process validates a team member selection.  It seems the Obama team has had one of the most rigorous vetting processes in recent history.  Good job.
  3. Promote Intra-team interaction – This can alleviate the need for consultation with outside parties.  The massive bureaucracy of the Federal Government suggests that this is a team of teams – and it is Obama’s task to keep these folks together.
  4. Promote interaction by defining roles in the context of other team member roles.  This is critical – Some role interaction seems self evident – like the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense.  Other interactions are less clear, how might the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development interact with the Secretary of Homeland Security?  Obama has his work cut out for him.
  5. Recognize competition – competition should be from groups outside of the team – not within the team.  We are talking about military and commercial competition.  How might the United States Education System compete with the education system of Japan – for instance.
  6. Recognize interdependence – When there is success, acknowledge the success as a result of team cohesiveness.
  7. Acknowledge success – everyone wants to be on the winning team.

When President Bush took office, many of us felt a sense of relief when told of his Cabinet appointments.  We saw a team of all-stars.  Today we recognize that all-stars do not make a team.  Effective leadership makes a team.

Bum Phillips, the former coach of the Houston Oilers, said of Don Shula, former coach of the Baltimore Colts and the Miami Dophins:  “He can take his’uns and beat yours’uns.  And he can take yours’uns and beat his-uns.”

That is the mark of leadership.

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There Is 1 Response So Far. »

  1. Great analogy and analysis.

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