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2001 Speeches
Laurette Koellner

Laurette T. Koellner


Boeing Shared Services Group

"12th International Conference on Work Teams"

Dallas, Texas

September 11, 2001

Good morning. Thank you very much for inviting me here to give my reflections on the evolution of leadership in team environments. I'm very happy to be here in the great state of Texas. The Boeing Company has several operations and teams here, working at facilities in Houston, San Antonio, El Paso and here in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. One of the things we pride ourselves on is the fact that typically our people are willing to move to anywhere from anywhere to support our global operations, but I have to admit that no one ever wants to leave Texas. I can understand why.

So...on the topic of the evolution of leadership in team environments, what's the optimum leadership style for enabling peak performance? Actually, people have been asking this same question for years. In fact, they've been asking it for hundreds of years.

Chinese philosopher Lao-Tzu offered this view many centuries ago...

"But of a good leader, who talks little, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will all say, 'We did this ourselves.'"

I think this still applies today. "But of a good leader, who talks little, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will all say, 'We did this ourselves.'"

I'd like to speak this morning about how leadership styles must evolve for today's employees and tomorrow's employees to be the most productive they can possibly be. But of course, it's impossible to talk about the evolution of leadership without talking about the evolution of teams, so I plan to talk about both.

What is it that's happening in our workplaces that is causing the need for us to take a new look at leadership styles, and even a new look at the very role of leadership?

I believe the primary driver of this new look is how work is being performed. Work is being performed more and more by teams, not by individual contributors, not by individual departments, not by individual companies, and not even by individual countries. Whether we are speaking of the smallest of businesses or massive global companies or even of world powers... our work is being completed and our goals are being accomplished by teams. The ability to collaborate has become the key to the success of an enterprise.

What's causing this? Well, there are several factors. One is that the primary tool of today's employee is intellectual capital. As well as skills, each team member brings to the table brains, thoughts, and ideas. Today's employee recognizes that the power of ideas is multiplied many-fold through collaboration. Today's employee is not a "worker" who will stand for a command-and-control environment. Today's employees need leaders who are coaches and mentors, leaders who provide tools to support collaboration, and leaders who can successfully create an atmosphere where ideas flow and creativity is heightened. Successful leaders of today -- and of tomorrow -- are leaders who have been able to evolve - just as our workforce has evolved.

Another factor that has caused this evolution of leaders is technology. We collaborate across companies now because we can. We collaborate across industries and up and down the value chain because we can. We collaborate across the world because we can. We collaborate because it adds value to our companies and to our organizations. Technology has enabled us to team with people we've never seen, to team with people whose language we don't speak, to team with people without the boundaries of geography and time. Our world grows smaller every single day

Let's take a look at some examples of the complexities this brings to us... the complexities of today's teams. I'll use some Boeing examples, but I know you'll be able to identify, based upon your own experiences.

I'll start with a customer/contractor example. It used to be that there would be a prime contractor who was in charge of a program, and a few key subcontractors who did whatever the prime told them to do. They were usually all in the same country, and the few companies involved all had individual departments performing particular pieces of work that were identified to them. And we had strict rules in place that no one, no one from one company could talk to anyone in the other company, except by going through the contracts or subcontracts department.

In other words, the relationship was defined by the contractual document and it was assumed that any conversations that needed to take place would be about the contractual document, and therefore all communications would go through contracts and subcontracts people. This same relationship existed between the prime contractor and the ultimate customer, which was usually one of the armed forces, in the case of Boeing. The successful leadership model in that type of scenario is clearly a command and-control model. The direction flows down, the work products flow up. Classic command and control.

What about today? Are things still that simple? Do we have one customer contracting with one prime contractor who tells a few subs what to do? No way. Even our customers are teams today. In the case of the Joint Strike Fighter, for example, our customer consists of the U.S. Air Force, the U.S. Navy, the U.S. Marine Corps, the U.K. Royal Navy and the U.K. Royal Air Force. Our customer is a team. Our whole approach to winning this contact is known as the Boeing JSF One Team. The Boeing JSF One Team is comprised of Boeing JSF employees across the U.S., the Defense Department's JSF Joint Program Office, and 34 leading aerospace companies from across the world. Now, do you think we still have the same rules that we are not allowed to talk to each other? Again, no way. The leadership model has changed completely. And the idea flow and learning experience have increased exponentially.

Another example of today's evolving team - the International Space Station Team. The International Space Station is being built by a Boeing-led industry team and is the largest and most complex space venture ever undertaken. Think about this: Sixteen (16) countries, each with their own tools and parts assembling a structure as large as a 777 while it's flying almost 200 miles above the earth at 26,000 miles per hour.

This journey is made possible not through the efforts of any single space agency, not through any single nation, and not through any single company, but through the strength and common purpose of a team on the highest level (no pun intended!) The Space Station is a powerful symbol of what members of a great team can accomplish. It is a symbol of the tremendous possibilities open to us during this new millennium.

Now, those are examples of very large teams. Teams don't have to be large to do good work. Let me give you some examples of smaller teams.

In Renton, Washington, where we assemble 737 jetliners, another team of 19 talented people has made a huge difference in improving the way engines, landing gear doors and other items are installed on 737s. For the past two years, the team has pioneered moving-line concepts - testing new installation techniques, developing new tools and ultimately proving that an airplane can move during the assembly process. It wasn't easy. It seldom is. But the results have been tremendous.

Several Boeing teams are making presentations during this conference.

The appreciation of the power of teams is clearly evident on the manufacturing floors at a number of Boeing Military Aircraft and Missile Systems sites. There are over 7000 shop floor workers participating on more that 1000 teams through out the A&M sites. Our focus has now turned to improving team performance.

Our Seattle Aircraft & Missile Systems F-22 operation has created several "shop floor" teams. The team names are very creative! Our Red Eye Express Team eliminated all crane and forklift moves for (drop-out link) tool moves. The F-22 Talons Team made improvements to save hours on each fuselage/air vehicle. The Survivors Team (and they did survive!) "worked together" to overcome obstacles through conflict resolution training and a by setting their own action plans. It is interesting to note that these teams all set "stretch goals," that is, goals beyond what management set. And they continue to meet or exceed them. Many teams are starting to control their own overhead budgets for consumable shop floor items and tooling. And, as you would expect, managers are shifting from the traditional command and control tactics. Managers on the shop floor are becoming enablers, facilitators, coaches, mentors, and team members. They are listening to their people.

In Mesa, Arizona, where Boeing builds Apache helicopters for the U.S. Army, our on-site medical team works behind the scenes to help the site achieve its goals. Besides serving up a diagnosis, comfort and lots of care for employees who need medical assistance, a seven-member team there has a list of accomplishments that has helped cut costs, generate extra funds, and keep on-site medical service a top priority. This team is a level-4 "high-performance work team." What this really means is that they have been trained and certified to the highest level of performance - level 4 - that at team can achieve. The team is truly a self-managing team -- setting and following budgets, scheduling vacations, resolving issues, and performing other duties. They attribute their success to designing and following what they call their "core value statement." They are literally working without traditional supervision.

Another example is the C-17 Wing Delivery team, where they are empowered and take responsibility for cost, schedule and quality. Again, no traditional supervision. These teams achieved this level by going through the four stages of team training - Team Formation, Teambuilding, Collaboration and High Performance.

Our leader, Boeing Chairman and CEO Phil Condit believes that unleashing the untapped intellectual capital of people is a significant role of leadership. In fact, last year he put an innovative employee program in place. Phil Condit funded and promoted the Boeing Chairman's Innovation Initiative -- which is basically a $200 million venture capital fund for employee ideas. This program provides a way for employees with good ideas to develop teams to get their ideas to market. This may be the ultimate example of the evolution of leadership, because a successful team can result in the team being spun off to form its own company. We've had two reach that stage so far. And whether or not an employee ultimately launches a business... they form a team and learn a lot about business along the way!

So what is it that leaders must do differently? Today leaders must create shared ownership throughout the enterprise (and by "enterprise," I mean the team of collaborators) in a way that is shared, creative and focused. Everyone on the team - including customers and suppliers (again, the enterprise) must understand - and be attuned to -- the team's mission in order to create the most value for everyone. Now, this bit about everyone understanding the mission may sound trite, but it's really, really important. It's important because everyone basically wants to do a good job.

But in order to do a good job, the team needs to know what the expectations are, what the deliverables are, and how what they are doing fits into the bigger picture. (A group of employees in a Boeing department recently described this as TELL ME WHAT, EXPLAIN WHY AND INVOLVE ME IN THE HOW.) It's critical for leaders to be able to help everyone understand the mission. This is a big change for leadership - it used to be that leaders told individual people what their individual job was, and people seldom got to see the big picture. It can't be that way anymore.

Leaders need to remove bureaucracy, making way for teams to be more flexible and adaptable to change. This too may sound trite, but think about it. This is the opposite of what leaders used to do. Leaders used to enforce the bureaucracy; now they need to remove it. The people doing the work must be trusted and empowered - they need to be able to do things themselves. They need to be able to make decisions and see results immediately, so that they can make mid-course corrections and mid-course improvements. And so that the team - and the project - is able to move swiftly toward its goal.

Leaders need to involve more people. The old adage of "if you want it done right, you have to do it yourself" doesn't fit in today's workplace. Everyone contributes to the smooth operation of the organization. If you can't work together, then prepare to be surpassed.

Leaders need to link people to each other and each other's ideas. Technology plays an important role here. At Boeing our objective is instant access to information by anyone from anywhere. E-enabling the work environment is one way to bring people closer together, to connect their ideas. E-enabling breaks down the barriers created by geography, by language, by time. This is another big change for leadership. Remember, in the past, it was the leader's role to bring information to people. Information is power, and the leader had all the information - and power. Today, the leader doesn't bring information to the team, but enables the team to access information -- sharing the power. Basically, the leader needs to make information available to people on teams and those on the "front-line." These people make the day-to-day decisions and take actions that affect our business, our customers, and our suppliers. These people know what to do!

Leaders need to take action. Business today is about action, bold action. Leaders must support people in the risk taking that is essential ... not only for their personal growth, but also for the growth of the organization or the company. Now, I'm not speaking of risk involving the safety or integrity of the product or the brand. I'm speaking of encouraging personal risk, career risk. Leaders need to encourage people to take new assignments that broaden their knowledge and scope. Again, a new role for some leadership, not all. Leaders used to never want to lose a high performer from their teams; now good leaders encourage movement and rotations. Sharing ideas. Sharing talent. Sharing creativity. Enhancing teams.

Leaders must know when to make decisions and help their teams in the decision-making process. Decision-making should be moved to the lowest possible levels, and decisions are best when diverse opinions are sought and considered. But business is not a democracy. Even effective teams can stall-out and lose valuable time striving for consensus in every possible decision. Leaders must set the expectations of how and when decisions will be made. And in some cases, leaders must step in and make tough, unpopular decisions - after having listened to the team.

Leaders need to focus on people. Our vision at Boeing ... we call it Vision 2016, because in the year 2016 our company will be 100 years old ... is "people working together as a global enterprise for aerospace leadership." Our vision very purposefully starts with the word "people." We can never lose sight of the fact that our strength and competitive advantage is - and always will be - people. Our CEO speaks very eloquently about this, and I could never do it justice, but the way he sums it up is: We work very hard and are very successful at delivering leading edge technology. We can work for years at a particular technology and be the first to market, but a competitor can come along and duplicate that technology immediately. However, they can't duplicate people. People are our competitive advantage. We can never lose sight of the fact that leaders need to focus on people every minute of every day.

So, in closing, our workforce is continually evolving - and good leaders should empower that evolution. It's been said that it is far more difficult to hold and maintain leadership than it is to attain it. Leaders must keep evolving. We need to think of ourselves in new ways. We'll be tested in new ways. We'll lead and team in new ways. And we will relate to customers and partners in new ways. We will forge new alliances and networks, and our ability to team and to work together well on teams will be crucial to our success - and to our companies' success. Companies and organizations that "get it" will be the companies and organizations that thrive - and profit.

Thank you. I'd like to take a few minutes to listen to any comments or answer any questions you may have.