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High Performance Teams – The Benefits of Creating Both a Steering Team and a Design Team for Maximum Output

Steer_DesignTeamImageRecently, an organization expressed interest in transforming from a traditional top-down, supervisory model to a high performance, high engagement, lean organizational model.  These types of challenges place a heavy demand on leadership in terms of finding the time to run the operations and concurrently design, plan and implement something totally new.  As much as leadership wants to be doing it all, many times it’s just impossible for that to happen.  So what are the alternative choices?

We have seen very positive results from creating a Design Team in addition to a leadership Steering Team.  (We prefer to call a leadership team a Steering Team because leadership should occur at all levels within the organization, not just at the top).  Let’s look at the purposes and boundaries of each.

Purpose of the Steering Team
The Steering Team’s purpose is to oversee the strategic directives of the organization or division.  It defines the overall goals and ensures that all the goals are achieved.  These often include production, financial, quality, safety and morale targets.  In other words, the Steering Team has to oversee the “big picture” and be highly competent across a wide range of disciplines.  A high performance Steering Team operates six to nine months ahead of the day-to-day, looks for synergies and collaborations and cuts through the red tape that is slowing things down.  It’s the “driver” and has to be functioning at a highly competent, highly committed level.

Purpose of the Design Team
Many times the Steering Team realizes that it cannot be driving all of the master plan AND simultaneously be detailing the “to do” list of the cultural transformation.  That’s where a Design Team comes in.  The Design Team is a multi-functional (think diagonal slice of the organization, division or department) team created to build the steps of the transformation from the ground up.  This approach shifts the ownership of the transformation from the top to all levels creating a core group of champions to drive the necessary changes.

Let’s imagine that an organization wanted to embed a Lean-Six Sigma culture and tools into the workplace.  All the typical questions emerge:  Where to start and when?  How to get buy-in to the new tools?  How to ramp up the training and customize the processes to the specific organization?  Rather than having this work done by an outside consultant or at the Steering Team level, instead move it to a Design Team.  Because the project is the sole purpose of the Design Team, its focus isn’t diluted.  In addition, because the Design Team members have to live with the results of their work, they are much more committed to getting it right.  The Design Team becomes the “arm and legs” of the Steering Team, completing the legwork and increasing commitment as a side benefit.

Key Suggestions for a Design Team
In order to be highly effective, there are some suggestions for your Design Team:

  1. Put people on the Design Team who are really committed to doing the work, not just to showing up at meetings.  If they miss too many meetings or don’t do the work, move them off the team.  No slackers!
  2. Provide a charter for the team specifically detailing the goals, milestones, activities, authority level, and expected benefits.
  3. Provide the team with a stellar coach/sponsor who is able to help the team break through the red tape and encourages the team when the process is “slow slogging.”
  4. Require high performance meetings with agendas, meeting roles, and action items with deadlines and owners.
  5. Use an online project management tool, like Basecamp, to post communal documents and conduct work from common “cloud” framework.  Repost immediately to Basecamp so there is no lag time.
  6. Spotlight the Design Team as a “team of the people” who are driving forward the changes that need to be made.  This will increase the buy-in of the rank and file.
  7. Make them a recommending body to the Steering Team, who then has to take ownership of the final decisions.


We all complain about being too busy, but part of the reason is that we don’t do a good enough job delegating pieces of the work to others.  Utilizing a Steering Team and Design Team structure is an effective way to spread the myriad of tasks over a broader span of control.  The results are far greater commitment to the changes and a batch of new leaders emerging from the work of the Design Team.

For more of our insights and philosophy around creating a high performance team culture click here

One Response to “High Performance Teams – The Benefits of Creating Both a Steering Team and a Design Team for Maximum Output” Leave a reply ›

  • This is logical advice until you realize that most small to medium-sized (manufacturing) companies are staffed so lean that the members of the Design team are also the same members of the Steering Team. This produces work overload and slows things to the point where, unless there is incredible tenacity, one of the efforts just goes away when the ‘next big thing’ hits.

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