Give Teams Intriguing Puzzles to Solve: Part 3

Give Teams Intriguing Puzzles to Solve: Part 3

Last week, we continued exploring how leaders can drive engagement by giving their teams intriguing puzzles to solve.Based on extensive leadership research lead by Liz Wiseman, a Top 10 Thinker, we have uncovered the three steps for setting a direction that invites people to solve hard problems:

We wrap up the series by exploring how leaders can successfully generate belief:

Generate Belief

When we seed opportunities and lay down challenges, our team becomes interested in what is possible. But this isn’t enough to create sustained movement. Our research revealed that multipliers then generate belief — the belief that the impossible is actually possible through a massive number of baby steps. These series of small, early wins generate belief and momentum. Two ways in which we discovered that multipliers generate belief is to co-create the plan and orchestrate early wins, both of which were demonstrated during the redesign of the boston.gov website.

Co-Create the Plan

When your team has a hand in creating the plan that they will eventually implement, their belief in its viability will be inherently high. During the redesign, while the end game was clear, the teams were given the authority to define priorities based on their knowledge and web traffic. As Reilly Zlab noted, who served as a team lead during the redesign, this authority effectively “empowered the team to make decisions on priority of the redesign roadmap.”

When teams are empowered to co-create the plan, it ignites their belief. As a result, teams are engaged and ready to tackle the challenge.

Orchestrate Early Wins

During the redesign, Lauren Lockwood developed two paths on their roadmap. The first path tracked the necessary technical back-end investments or what she calls “eating your vegetables.” The second path focused on announcements. These were quick wins that the team would be proud to announce. For Lauren, these announcements were important for two reasons, they “demonstrated constant change that was visible” while showing successful delivery, which “gives you political capital” to maintain executive support.

Zlab recognized the importance of running their pilot in public. Their first win was the initial four-page site that allowed for public feedback. Subsequent changes allowed the public to see that their feedback was being heard and in many cases acted upon. Zlab said, “these quick wins built momentum for both the team and public.”

While laying down an intriguing challenge will cause an initial level of involvement, it is the continuous, smaller wins that keep team engaged for the duration of an initiative.


Having highly engaged government teams does not happen by accident – it is intentional. Leaders throughout government play a critical role in creating an atmosphere of engagement across their teams.

Our research showed that multipliers make challenges both provocative and plausible, attracting others to join them and offer their full capability and intellectual engagement.

Leaders can create intriguing puzzles for their teams to solve by:

  • Seeding the Opportunity (Take a Bus Trip)
  • Laying Down a Challenge (Ask the Hard Questions and Drop the Agency Speak)
  • Generating Belief in What is Possible (Take a Massive Baby Step)

Creating these types of stretch challenges will not only engage teams but also promote growth and learning for individuals. This is especially important within government organizations. Donna O’Leary, Chief Information Officer for New Hampshire’s Health and Human Services, recognizes that “with limited training funds available it is important in the public sector that leaders provide opportunities for on the job learning and growth.”

How can a leader start down the path of becoming a challenger? Our research showed that it starts with a very simple question every leader should consider: “What hard thing is my team capable of?”

Originally posted on GovLoop by Jon Haverly.