THE BLOG
02/02/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Beyond a Team of Rivals -- The Method to Obama's Saneness

It is well known by now how much a fan President elect Obama is of Abraham Lincoln building a Team of Rivals and a fan of Doris Kearns Goodwin's book of the same title.

Sadly, most of us are a little confused by this because for so long political administrations have built teams (companies and organizations) based more on gathering like minded people together or returning political favors than on selecting people for their experience, competence and expertise in the area for which they are being chosen.

Happily however is that by most political analyst's accounts (i.e. David Gergen et al) Obama is doing all the right things to build a strong and capable team. Still, most of us are left wondering exactly what Obama will do beyond putting together such a team.

What he'll clearly need to do is perform the equivalent of a "front end alignment" after he builds his team.

If you don't get the wheels for your car balanced and aligned, they'll pull to the left or right and wear out faster. Evidence of that is how many of us have had to replace our tires with the tread on one side okay, while the other side was bald. A faulty balance or faulty alignment and you may not finish the journey.

Front end alignments are not just about automobiles and road trips. They are critical to successful Presidential administrations. Former head of strategy at Texas Instruments during its heyday, creator of Peat Marwick's California consulting practice, advisor to President Carter on Zero Base Budgeting and Productivity Measurement, industrial engineer turned management consultant and founder/owner of Los Angeles based Management Overload Ward Wieman has developed a Triaxial Model™ to do for teams what your car mechanic does to keep your car on track.

His model also works for Presidential administrations and appears to be the one that President elect Obama, whether he knows it or not, is following to build and direct his.

Before you can take Wieman's model for a ride, your company, organization or your administration needs to pick a destination. Obama has responded to questions about selecting older, experienced team members when he was the candidate of change by saying that he will gather input from his team, but it will be his responsibility to develop and articulate a compelling, convincing and consistent vision of a future that the American people will want to be part of and make a reality.

Now that he has built his team, Obama will most likely intuitively implement Wieman's Triaxial Model. It is presented here to make it explicit for the reader and the American people in the hope that the more we understand how and why Obama does what he does, the calmer and more confident we will feel. And if you haven't noticed, calmness and confidence are in short supply these days.

X Axis - What's important? Wieman has set out 14 key functions that most business leaders would agree are essential to the success of any enterprise. Similarly a Presidential Cabinet and other departments are usually selected as the key functions that the Executive branch needs to optimally function. After the Cabinet posts and other key advisors are selected, Obama will most likely lead them independent of their particular areas of expertise towards a consensus of what are the most urgent and important functions to prioritize in order to get the United States back on track and be successful in a global community. This will probably include, but not be exclusive to, the economy, job creation, the war(s) we are in and will need to engage in regarding continuous terrorist and other threats, health, education, and our international alliances. Gathering this information will immediately tell you two things: 1. What people view as the most important and critical functions to focus on; and 2. Who's on the same page.

Y Axis - How good are we at those things? After arriving at a consensus regarding top priorities that are mission critical to success, do an assessment of how good your team and in this case, America, is at them. This type of assessment approach has the wonderful advantage of preventing your administration from becoming distracted by people's fiefdoms or personalities; rather, it's about making sure that there are only strong links in the chain. It's not personal, it's about performance that will lead to success.

Z Axis -How do we align America to get good at what we need to be good at? This is about getting the right groups of Americans in the right jobs doing the right things, realigning others who might not be a fit, and retraining others to participate in building a future that serves everyone well.

I've personally seen Wieman help companies and organizations run like a swiss watch using this model for fifteen years. And the way it looks, we will hopefully watch President elect Obama use a similar model to lead America into a glorious future as co-leader of not just a "New Deal," but of a "New World" in which people are "judged not by the color of their skin or their nationality or their religion or their gender or their generation or their sexual orientation, but by the content of their character and their commitment through actions to create a rising tide that lifts all Americans, all nations and all peoples."