The Rocket Model: Teaching Teams How to Win

Posted by Hogan Assessments on Mon, Sep 17, 2012

Rocket ModelResults are the what of teamwork, whereas the seven components of the Rocket Model© are the how of teamwork. The relationship between Results and the components of the Rocket Model© is not perfect—some teams do well when they shouldn’t and vice versa. For example, a team may be dysfunctional but have great products or face weak competitors. Such teams, however, will fail when faced with strong competition. Other teams may lose even though they do everything right. Still others may achieve poor Results due to a single, underperforming component of the Rocket Model© (e.g. a team killer, the lack of resources, or poor accountability may prevent a team from winning). We believe that teams need to have at least moderate scores on all seven components of the Rocket Model© if they are to compete successfully.

Effective and ineffective leaders differ in their ability to obtain superior Results. Most organizations are staffed with managers who don’t achieve Results; poor leaders are the biggest obstacles to team or group performance. A critical but often overlooked role of a leader is to teach the team how to win. Athletic team coaches and heads of military combat units tend to do this well – they evaluate the competition and devise strategies and tactics to defeat them. They define team member roles and responsibilities, make members practice, provide feedback and coaching, upgrade talent, and hold members accountable for performance.

Leaders can use three mechanisms to teach their teams how to win. First, set clear metrics and goals that are benchmarked against the competition. These goals might include market share, survey results, analysts’ recommendations, and customer complaints. Given the amount of data available to modern organizations, it is usually easy to find benchmarking information that teams can use to set winning goals.

Second, review team performance regularly. Periodic team scorecard reviews will help members understand where they are succeeding and where they are falling short. These reviews should include discussions about how to improve performance; leaders can also use this time to provide feedback and coaching on proposed solutions.

Third, teach members how to win by creating action plans. These action plans need to state the steps members must take to implement solutions, steps that eventually become roadmaps for winning. The best leaders capitalize on all three techniques to drive team performance.

Topics: leadership, teams, employee engagement, The Rocket Model, team performance, Groups, Team Facilitation, Curphy Consulting Corporation, Followership

The Rocket Model: Team Morale and Conflict

Posted by Hogan Assessments on Mon, Sep 10, 2012

Rocket ModelMorale can be defined as a group or team’s cohesiveness or esprit de corps. Strong emotional ties, close relationships, and high levels of trust between members are the mark of high Morale. Members of high Morale teams often say they would do anything for their teammates; in some cases (combat teams or firefighting crews), members are willing to die for their units. Conversely, low Morale groups and teams contain members who will easily sabotage others if doing so furthers their own careers.

Morale is the component of the Rocket Model© that is most easily observed by outsiders; it is also the primary reason consultants are asked to do team building. However, team leaders are often unable to assess Morale because teams may appear cohesive, but have high levels of covert conflict. This covert conflict is due to norms that require employees to be team players even though they despise one another. The members of these teams smile, nod their heads, and endorse team decisions but secretly resent the process. Leaders need to recognize and deal with this mismatch between members’ private thoughts and public actions if they want functional teams.  

It is important to distinguish between engagement, cohesiveness, and conflict. Engagement concerns members’ willingness to put effort towards team and group tasks.  Members with high levels of engagement take their roles seriously and go above and beyond the call of duty when it comes to getting things done. Engagement is quite different than cohesiveness. Members can all get along but not exert any effort towards team tasks, and highly engaged employees may not particularly like each other. Conflict is related to, but somewhat distinct from, cohesiveness. Teams with low or high levels of conflict may not be particularly cohesive. Often the most cohesive teams are those that experience modest amounts of conflict and have developed ways to get issues successfully resolved.

Unfortunately, many leaders are unable to resolve intra-team conflict. Some hear what they want to hear and ignore the rest. Others know that their teams are riddled with conflict but hope it will just go away. Still others may ask team members to go through team building activities such as sharing personality test results, golf outings, ropes courses, white-water rafting excursions, etc. We know a CEO who asked his dysfunctional team to go on a one-day sailboat cruise and bring ten objects with personal significance. During the cruise, they were to talk about the objects. However, many of these personal stories were leaked back to the larger organization and became sources of mockery for certain team members. This story is fairly typical—most team-building events fail to identify and resolve the sources of intra-team conflict, and have little if any impact on team cohesiveness.  

Topics: leadership, teams, employee engagement, The Rocket Model, team performance, Groups, Team Facilitation, Curphy Consulting Corporation, Followership

The Rocket Model: Team Power

Posted by Hogan Assessments on Mon, Sep 03, 2012

Rocket Model

Team power can be defined as the quantity and quality of resources available to a team. Resources include facilities, office space, computers, telecommunication systems, specialized equipment, software systems, budgets, and the level of authority granted to teams. Executive leadership teams often have many resources and wide discretion in decision-making—for example, the authority to spend billions to acquire other companies. In contrast, task forces such as the 9/11 Commission or the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reformcan only make recommendations and have little authority to make final decisions.


All groups and teams need resources in order to succeed. However, the resources that they need will depend on their goals. Account executives who are part of a regional sales group will need computers, customer resource management software, sales collateral, and travel budgets. A professional hockey team needs training facilities, hockey equipment, chartered aircraft, etc., to successfully compete. A lack of physical resources or the authority to acquire them will impede team and group success. For example, we know a manager of a talent acquisition team for a major retailer who had to have all staffing decisions approved by three layers of management. Virtually every decision, no matter how small, needed the blessing of the Senior Vice President of Human Resources. This bureaucratic structure significantly reduced the team’s ability to make timely hiring offers, and they routinely lost highly qualified candidates.

Leaders need to clarify their team or group’s purpose before worrying about the resources they need to succeed. Is the team to be held accountable for making recommendations or achieving results? If it is the latter, then how do these results impact the larger organization? Teams that make big contributions need more power than those that make few contributions. Clarifying who makes the decisions about physical assets, budgets, and authority can help improve commitment and cohesiveness; nothing will disempower a group or team faster than discovering that upper management will make all the calls.

The default position for most leaders and teams is to ask for more resources, yet research shows that most teams squander what they are given. More often than not, teams have all they need to succeed, but for many it is easier to acquire more rather than change how they could use their existing resources differently. One hallmark of good leaders is that they get results in spite of budget, equipment, or facilities shortcomings.  

Topics: leadership, teams, employee engagement, The Rocket Model, team performance, Groups, Team Facilitation, Curphy Consulting Corporation, Followership

The Rocket Model: Three Ways to Improve Buy-In

Posted by Hogan Assessments on Mon, Aug 27, 2012

Rocket ModelThe current thinking about employee engagement is somewhat misguided since leaders tend to get all of the blame for having disengaged employees. Missing from this perspective is the fact that team members also bear some responsibility for where they fall on the disengagement-engagement continuum. All leaders can do is create an environment conducive to team member Buy-In; after that, it is up to each team member to decide to become fully engaged and committed to team success. There are three things that leaders can do to foster Buy-in: 1) establish credibility, 2) paint a compelling picture of the future, and 3) empower team members.

Establish Credibility. Interviews with thousands of people and over a million 360-degree feedback ratings show that credibility is a critical component of leader effectiveness and team success. Credibility can be defined as the degree to which members believe in the leader; it has two components—trust and expertise. Trust concerns building strong relationships with others, and expertise concerns having the relevant knowledge and skills. Because trust and expertise are independent, leaders and members can have a variety of high and low combinations.

The fact that trust and expertise are both needed to establish credibility leads to interesting group dynamics. For example, teams often recruit new leaders and members because they possess needed expertise, but they may not be listened to until the other members begin to trust them. If seasoned veterans have the required knowledge and skill set, but are difficult to work with, they will not influence decision-making. Leaders who want to improve their credibility need (at least) moderate levels of relevant expertise and team members must be able to trust them.

Leaders must then persuade the team that each member has the expertise needed to perform in their respective roles. This will build trust between team members and enhance group cohesiveness. If any team member lacks credibility, then Buy-In will suffer and the team may fail.  Leaders can help those players who lack credibility by gaining the trust of other team members and providing additional coaching or training.

Paint a Compelling Vision of the Future. Some people are gifted orators who can inspire others. Research shows that leaders who paint powerful visions of the future have subordinates who exert extra effort towards team and group goals. However, few leaders provide clear visions for their teams or groups. When asked to describe their vision for their teams, most leaders are stumped but may make lengthy presentations. It is somewhat ironic that people work hard to attain leadership positions but cannot explain why anyone should join their teams. When President George H. W. Bush was running for a second term in office, his staff asked him what his vision was for his second term.  He responded, “Vision, vision, what is this vision thing?”  Most observers believe that is what cost him the election.

Most leaders would communicate persuasive visions for their teams if they knew how to do it properly—the “vision gap” is a function of knowledge not motivation. Leaders need to keep five factors in mind when creating and explaining their visions for the future: 1) honor the past, 2) be realistic about the present, 3) provide hope for the future, 4) capitalize on stories and metaphors, and 5) use emotional energy during delivery.

Empower Team Members. Empowerment stands on two legs: delegation and development. Team members feel empowered when they have the freedom to make decisions that fall within their roles and responsibilities. Team members feel dispirited when they are micromanaged. Leaders can do several things to empower team members. The first step is to ensure that team members have clear roles—this will define the needed knowledge, skills, and decision-making responsibilities. Involving members in team decisions also improves empowerment, as members who contribute to the decision-making and create the action plans will have higher levels of Buy-In than those who do not participate in these activities. Involved team members are those most committed to and engaged in team success. 

Topics: leadership, teams, employee engagement, The Rocket Model, team performance, Groups, Team Facilitation, Curphy Consulting Corporation, Followership

The Rocket Model: Commitment and Engagement

Posted by Hogan Assessments on Mon, Aug 20, 2012

Rocket ModelOne important component of the Rocket Model© is Buy-In, which concerns the degree to which leaders and members are committed to and engaged in team goals, roles, norms, and success. There is an important difference between member commitment and engagement. A United States Marine corporal may be very committed to The Corps and protecting the United States, yet he may not be particularly engaged while walking guard duty at Camp Pendleton. In this scenario, the corporal will do the minimum and nothing more. Likewise, team members may be committed to the team and its goals yet not engage in the tasks needed to succeed. The Holy Grail for leaders is to create teams whose members are both committed to and fully engaged in the tasks needed to succeed.

Team members with high levels of commitment and engagement will work toward team goals, take their roles and responsibilities seriously, adhere to team norms, and do what is needed to help their teams and groups win. Team and group members with low levels of commitment and engagement may publicly agree to decisions but privately ignore them. They will also be unconcerned with achieving team and group goals. Executive leadership teams avoid conflict, so a lack of Buy-In may not be apparent in their meetings. However, they will use proxies to fight their battles, which will start a chain of inter-department finger pointing: the sales leaders may complain that R&D designs products that nobody wants; leaders in R&D will blame operations for building products with poor quality; both groups will blame IT for poor software systems, etc. Executive team members smile and compliment each other’s accomplishments, even though outside the boardroom, Rome is burning.

The lack of Buy-In is not confined to executive teams – any team can have members who are not committed to success. Uncommitted and disengaged members will focus on their own agendas and blame others when things go wrong. When Buy-In is lacking, leaders will hear: “It wasn’t my fault, I got my part done” or “I never agreed with that decision.” Buy-In is the rocket fuel for team success. Just as rockets with more fuel carry heavier payloads, teams with greater Buy-In can achieve more difficult goals. The opposite can be found when member Buy-In is low.

Buy-In is a component of the Rocket Model© where there are differences between groups and teams. Group members only need to buy in to their individual roles and goals; team members need to buy in to their team norms and goals, be willing to cooperate and do joint work, and internalize the idea of shared fates. In a group, if members do not have high levels of Buy-In, they may fail to achieve their individual goals, but this may not impact the group’s overall success. Teams, however, depend on cooperation and joint work to succeed. Teams with even one or two low Buy-In members (think Slackers or Criticizers) will lose. This difference between teams and groups has important implications for leaders.

Topics: leadership, teams, employee engagement, The Rocket Model, team performance, Groups, Team Facilitation, Curphy Consulting Corporation, Followership

The Rocket Model: Four Critical Team Norms

Posted by Hogan Assessments on Mon, Aug 13, 2012

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Teams have many norms, some of which might involve safety, expected work hours, e-mail inquiry response times, or meeting attendance. Research shows that some norms are more important than others; the rules governing a team’s operating rhythm, communication, decision-making, and accountability norms have the biggest impact on team cohesiveness and performance. 

A team’s operating rhythm concerns the frequency and management of team meetings, and a surprisingly high number of leaders do not know how to run efficient team meetings. Communication may be a problem if team members complain about being in the dark, confidential conversations being shared with outsiders, or that difficult topics never get raised. Decision-making can be a problem when leaders make autocratic decisions or, conversely, groups make too many decisions by consensus. Leaders who play favorites or fail to hold members accountable for their performance or misbehavior usually have problems with team morale and performance.  


Given the issues surrounding sub-standard performance and norm violations, every group and team will need a sheriff. Although members can play the role of team disciplinarian (i.e., shop stewards, athletic team captains, and Non-Commissioned Officers), more often than not the leaders must play this role. Unlike teams populated with Slackers, Criticizers, and Brown-Nosers, leaders who set clear expectations, hold members accountable, and treat people fairly usually attract and/or retain Self-Starters. If leaders are unwilling to uphold standards and hold people accountable for their performance, they will create dysfunctional teams that fail to achieve their goals. Establishing an explicit team accountability norm is important since few things can wreck team morale more quickly than favoritism. When members detect foul play, they can be expected to spend time complaining about the situations rather than doing what is needed for their teams to succeed. A related but even more prevalent problem for groups and teams is a lack of consequences. Too many leaders are more concerned about winning popularity contests than beating other teams, and are reluctant to hold members accountable for sub-standard performance and norm violations. Leaders who play favorites or fail to maintain standards will eventually have teams full of Brown-Nosers, Slackers, and Criticizers.

Topics: leadership, teams, employee engagement, The Rocket Model, team performance, Groups, Team Facilitation, Curphy Consulting Corporation, Followership

The Rocket Model: The Pervasive Nature of Team Norms

Posted by Hogan Assessments on Mon, Aug 06, 2012

Rocket ModelNorms are unwritten rules that guide human behavior. Examples include elevator and airport security line etiquette. Most people “know” what to do when entering an elevator full of strangers: enter the elevator, face the door, don’t make eye contact or engage in conversation, and leave quickly when reaching the desired floor. In airport security lines: take a bin; quickly fill it with shoes, jackets, laptops, liquids, etc.; put the bin and any luggage on the conveyor belt; walk through the body scanner; and then like Lucille Ball in the candy factory, reassemble everything as quickly as possible. Like all norms, those governing elevator and security line behavior are not written down but everyone is expected to abide by them. Those who don’t observe the norms are considered aberrant.

How do norms relate to building teams? Context describes what situations face the team; Mission, what the team is to accomplish; Talent, what roles team members’ play; and Norms, how the team gets things done. Norms develop as soon as a group of people gets together. Within an hour or so of first meeting, groups will develop rules for greeting and communicating, making decisions, and setting follow-up meetings. The longer a group has been together, the more entrenched its norms become. Some groups even develop their own language in the form of TLAs (three letter acronyms). Seating arrangements, pecking orders, meeting schedules and behaviors, dress codes, presentation formats and styles, decision-making processes, work hand-offs, and performance standards are all common team norms.  Norms are typically obvious to outsiders but often invisible to insiders. Unfortunately a team’s “rules of the road” are usually implicit, leading newbies to annoy more seasoned team members by wearing the “wrong” clothes, sitting in the “wrong” seats, or raising “forbidden” topics. 

Although they are implicit, norms potently affect team member behavior and represent a powerful lever that leaders can use to change team and group dynamics. Surprisingly, we find that Norms are often one of the lowest scoring components in the Rocket Model©, and many leaders are either oblivious to the norms that are in effect, or unaware of how to change them. It is critically important that leaders create explicit team norms that are aligned with team goals and roles.

Topics: leadership, teams, employee engagement, The Rocket Model, team performance, Groups, Team Facilitation, Curphy Consulting Corporation, Followership

Four Common Myths About Teams

Posted by Hogan Assessments on Mon, Jun 11, 2012

describe the imageHumans are social animals and spend much of their time working in groups and teams, yet most people don’t understand the dynamics of effective teamwork. That is not to say people do not recognize good teamwork when they see it, but many do not know what to do in order to get people to work together effectively. Some of this confusion is due to the following misunderstandings about teams and teamwork:

Myth #1: Teams always perform better than individuals. Although we like to think that groups outperform individuals, there are some tasks that are better performed by individuals. Repairing cars, setting up home theaters, and conducting sales calls illustrate this clearly. Yes, teams of mechanics can work on cars and companies can endorse eight-legged sales calls, but in many cases this would degrade the performance of the individuals doing the work. Our default action is to assign work to groups rather than individuals and this often leads to redundancies and inefficiencies. Leaders need to look at the nature of the work to be performed and determine the best way to get it done.

Myth #2: Athletic teams are good analogies for business teams. Leaders often use athletic teams as examples for creating high-performing work teams. Given the prevalence and visibility of professional sports teams, these analogies are understandable but misguided. Work teams are nothing like athletic teams. Think about 2012 Super Bowl Champions the New York Giants. Many private and public sector leaders would love their teams to perform like the Giants, but professional athletic teams differ from work teams in five important ways. First, professional athletic teams obsess over talent. Potential players must participate in combines, mini-camps, training camps, and preseason games before final hiring decisions are made. Many work team members are selected on the basis of availability and internal politics rather than skill. Second, athletic teams practice-to-play ratio is something like 100-to-1, whereas work teams spend little if any time practicing. Third, professional athletic teams have clear team goals (i.e., win a championship) and objective measures of success (win-loss records), whereas work teams often suffer from ill-defined goals and metrics. Fourth, the challenges and threats facing professional athletic teams (i.e., next week’s opponent) are clearly understood, whereas the challenges facing work teams are much harder to anticipate. Finally, athletic coaches teach their teams how to win. They are constantly teaching team members new strategies and tactics for beating competitors, whereas work leaders rarely, if ever, educate their teams. These differences do not mean work teams should not borrow some of the best practices of professional athletic teams, but mindlessly applying sports analogies to work teams is not particularly useful.

Myth #3: Corporations are team-oriented. If you look at the corporate values of any company, collaboration and teamwork usually appear near the top of the list. Although companies constantly preach the importance of teamwork many of their processes and systems encourage individualism. Most company’s performance management systems are based on individually oriented goals and accomplishments; team goals, contributions, and results typically take a back seat. Likewise, hiring and compensation systems, budgets, and support programs (i.e., IT help desks) are often slanted more towards individuals than groups. Though they often hope for teamwork, companies reward individual effort.

Myth #4: Effective teamwork is common in most organizations. Many people believe that if you put together a group of high performing individuals, they will eventually coalesce into a high performing team. Unfortunately we all know examples of work and athletic teams that had the right talent but failed to perform to expectations. Effective teamwork is actually a relatively rare occurrence. Although we have all belonged to hundreds of teams, only a few qualify as high performing teams. Because most groups and teams have ill-defined goals, use ineffective work processes, squander resources, or suffer from interpersonal conflict, they usually fall short of their goals. 

By Gordon Curphy
Curphy Consulting Corporation
Guest blogger and author of The Rocket Model

Topics: leadership, teams, employee engagement, The Rocket Model, team performance, Groups, Team Facilitation

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