Book Summary – The Orange Revolution (How One Great Team Can Transform an Entire Organization)

Teams are not specific only to human beings. Take Canadian geese, which migrate immense distances in V-formations. Scientists have determined that these birds fly in a wedge formation to cut back on air resistance, enabling them to glide more frequently, decrease their heart rates and thus reduce their individual expenditures of energy. As a result, the geese can travel 70% farther before they must rest. The lead bird exerts more energy than the others in the formation, but when the leader tires, it automatically changes position with another bird that immediately assumes the lead role. And when that bird tires, a fresher bird takes its place. This process continues throughout the migratory flight, with each one assuming the lead position at some point.

Why “Orange”?

The carrot and the stick represent a great metaphor for employee recognition. Motivational carrots (as opposed to tough-love sticks) are essential to great teams. Therefore, the term “orange” is a catchall for “breakthrough teams” whose members accept the following basic requirements:

  • “Demonstrate personal competency”– Great teams require skilled members.
  • “Expand their competency with leadership traits”–  Top leaders and teams work to enhance their “Basic 4”: “goal setting, communication, trust” and “accountability.” They’re ready to recognize their colleagues when they do well. Research shows that when team leaders focus on the Basic 4 and publicly acknowledge employees’ achievements, their teams have the best opportunity to excel.
  • “Clearly visualize the cause”– Every team member must always focus on the group’s main goal or its inspirational “common cause.”
  • “Follow the Rule of 3”– Rule 1: Every individual adopts unforgettable, “world-class performance” as a model to create a “wow.” Rule 2: Each team member keeps others apprised of current and upcoming activities so there are “no surprises.” Rule 3: Team members praise each other’s success and “cheer” for each other.

“The Orange Revolution Model”

With great teams behind them, leaders don’t have to do everything themselves. Indeed, in such teams, individual members largely lead themselves. At the same time, team leaders play vital roles: They recruit the best people, explain the strategy, provide necessary rules and standards, and champion a recognition culture. Once they have developed exemplary teams, leaders should do everything to keep those teams intact. Alas, some corporations make it “common practice” – counterproductively – to disband good teams periodically and reassign members to other groups.

How to Develop Great Teams

In 2004, Scott O’Neil took over as senior vice president of team marketing for the National Basketball Association (NBA). He had his work cut out for him. NBA ticket sales were stagnant; without new league superstars, the entertainment product for the consuming public had no sizzle. Teams within the league were not only competitive on the hardwood but also in business operations, which undercut the entire association.

“A leader can’t go it alone.”

To correct matters, O’Neil introduced and implemented the Rule of 3 concept throughout the league: To create the wow factor, all NBA marketing professionals aimed for awe-inspiring performance standards. To avoid surprises, business executives at the different teams would openly communicate with each other and share their marketing programs and ideas. To cheer each other along, all NBA business professionals would support each other’s efforts and successes. As a result, NBA sales shot through the roof for four consecutive seasons, with more than 100 million basketball fans attending league games. Plus, income from team sponsorships skyrocketed.

“The more power managers give to their employees, the more those employees esteem their leaders.”

To apply the Rule of 3 to your organization, take these steps:


Great teams all have competent members, but each teammate doesn’t have to be an exceptional, brilliant performer. Indeed, the members of many great teams have not been the stars, but rather the backup players, throughout their careers. Research indicates that it is not who comprises the teams, but instead what the individuals do that make for superior teams. Such groups engage in six vital activities:

  1. “Dream” – Great teams don’t just have goals, which involve measurable boundaries. Their members share dreams, bona fide game-changing visions without limits.
  2. “Believe” – No matter the obstacles they face, great teams are fully confident that they will achieve their objectives.
  3. “Risk” – Great teams are willing to put all their money on the table and take a shot on winning the entire pot.
  4. “Measure” – While great teams are bold gamblers, they also are hardheaded businesspeople who rely on metrics to show where they are and where they want to be.
  5. “Persevere” – Great teams never quit.
  6. “Tell stories” – Teams use narratives to breathe life, drama and energy into their work.

No Surprises

The Blue Angels jet acrobatics team, which represents the US Navy and Marines, has performed for more than 450 million spectators since the group began in 1946. Blue Angels pilots guide their jets in close formation, thrilling audiences with their precise, acrobatic flying techniques. Potential disaster is always just a wingtip away; to avoid a deadly mid-air crash, all Blue Angels pilots must know exactly what their teammates are doing on a split second-by-second basis. The last thing they need is a surprise.

“In companies that make a Best Places to Work list, 90% of employees feel they are part of a team working toward a shared goal.”

Scott Beare, a Blue Angel, explains how the pilots synchronize their amazing flying moves. “We hold a brief before each event,” says Beare. “Even though we’ve flown the patterns a million times, we sit down and discuss every maneuver, and how we’ll execute. We discuss the demonstration in absolute detail.” The Blue Angels always insist on open and highly detailed communication at all times. Their lives depend on it.

“Many great leaders hire for culture first, and competence second.”

While the lives of your own teammates probably do not hang in the balance, clear communications are nevertheless essential at all times. Otherwise, unwelcome and potentially damaging surprises are liable to ensue.


Dysfunctional teams have members who not only don’t support one another but often go out of their way to undermine, oppose and disrespect their teammates. They assign blame when things don’t go well, fight each other at every turn and scheme against one another. Obviously, such contentious team members will never accomplish anything worthwhile. In contrast, individuals in breakthrough teams enthusiastically cheer each other on when a team member does well.

“Team members have to have the expectation that they are in control of their actions.”

At Zappos, the online shoe retailer, one team tradition is “SNAPS”: “Super Nifty and Positive Stuff.” During Zappos team “zuddles” (Zappos-speak for “huddles”), team members read aloud notes that staffers contribute, applauding “things that someone else did that was really cool…Then we all snap our fingers.” Employ this approach to recognition during your team meetings. Walmart, Home Depot and American Express team members routinely gather to celebrate their teams’ achievements.

Some “Micro Ideas” to Build Great Teams

The Rule of 3 represents a “macro” approach to developing highly effective teams. Additionally, you can put a number of quick, useful micro ideas and techniques to work in your team-building efforts. These suggestions fall into 11 categories:

  1. “Shared experiences” – Once a month, get the CEO or another executive to address your team informally during breakfast.
  2. “Shared symbols” – Team mascots bring people together. Select one for your team.
  3. “Shared challenges” – Establish a “five-minute rule” for all team members: They will seek help if a problem stumps them for more than five minutes.
  4. “Shared rewards and recognition” – Sound a gong when the team accomplishes something special.
  5. “Personal balance” – Bond with your team colleagues in some enjoyable group activities away from the office: For example, train for a sporting event or do volunteer work together.
  6. “Shared voice” – Every Monday, call the team together and request that each member share what he or she plans to achieve that week.
  7. “Shared knowledge and skills” – Reserve 30 minutes daily for team members to read and focus on independent work-related study.
  8. “Shared competitors” – Set up a companywide sports league composed of different work teams.
  9. “Shared fun” – Organize a barbecue or other social outing at your home for the team.
  10. “Shared environment” – Democratize the work environment. Get rid of executive privileges like special parking spaces.
  11. “Shared relationships” – Organize a special fund available to team members who may, one day, be in personal need.

Typical Challenges

Your organization has much to gain from the Orange Revolution. However, going Orange has its own set of special challenges. Not everyone on the team may clearly understand the group’s goals, and each individual member may have his or her own idea on what constitutes team success. Take your team off-site for a special meeting where you can clarify team objectives. Some team members might dominate their teammates, while others might be subdued and never contribute during team meetings. Circumvent this problem by formatting your meetings so that everyone gets to speak his or her mind without interruption.

“On a great team, members don’t consider themselves one of five, for instance, but one-fifth of one.”

Factions often form on teams that can interfere with group cohesion. If you sense that destructive subgroups are developing, move quickly to disassemble them through a redistribution of work. Openly reward team members who work well together. If you have no other option, fire people who are toxic to team harmony.

Are You Orange?

The Orange Revolution begins with you. Start by transforming your own activities at work – and at home. Establish your own professional and personal competence. Implement the Basic 4. Recognize the contributions of your work colleagues – and your family members. Champion the concept that great teams can accomplish any objective they set for themselves. Make these famous words by anthropologist Margaret Mead your teamwork standard: “A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”