Taking the offensive

Tom Cornwell has seen the way a group of people can bond as a team at the right time in order to accomplish greatness. Just look at the St. Louis Cardinals’ improbable playoff run to win the 2006 World Series.

The team struggled throughout the regular season, and while it managed to finish on top in its division, no one expected the Cards to make any noise in the playoffs. Instead, the team jelled and ended up winning it all.

“Exceptional teamwork allows you to take good, but not necessarily super performers, and accomplish extraordinary things,” says Cornwell, general manager at DRS Sustainment Systems Inc., a subsidiary of $3.3 billion (FY2008) DRS Technologies Inc. “What we attempt to do as leaders of this organization is to recognize that the benefit of the team and its success is greater than any individual’s objective or goal.”

In the business world, chemistry problems often occur when the broader team that represents the entire company begins to split off into smaller teams, each with its own set of goals and objectives.

“There is a natural tendency that when we organize a group of individuals, we establish a leader and we typically then want to treat that organization as a team,” Cornwell says. “There is also the element of competition within our society. If you’re not careful, having multiple individual teams as part of an organization can create competitive situations that actually become conflicts between departments. In its most extreme example, you get type A personality leaders with a conflicting objective to another department. It’s akin to all-out war.”

When Cornwell took the helm of the 800-employee DRS-SSI, he did not see a war brewing at the defense contractor, but he did see some cracks in the foundation.

“What I was seeing was that we had functional organizations that were created, supported and focused for the benefit of the functional organization,” Cornwell says. “It wasn’t necessarily for the benefit of the whole organization or the benefit of the customer.”

Cornwell needed employees to commit fully to their individual tasks but to do so in such a way that they wouldn’t lose sight of the big picture.

“If done correctly, every employee should have an individual goal that supports the strategy so they can relate to it and say, ‘I’m helping grow the business because I’m doing the following and it’s part of my goal,’” Cornwell says.

Here are some of the ways Cornwell helped employees see that connection to make DRS-SSI a stronger team.