Most organisations use leadership in teams to achieve goals

Even with the best technology, most efficient processes, and most exciting ideas, you ultimately implement your strategy through people. Probably people in teams! which means you will need leadership.  Unless you have these guys at your disposal:

leadership is for people

Teams will allow you to undertake larger, more complex tasks. Teams promise synergy, camaraderie and productivity. However, all too often the opposite is true. Nominal groups, people who do not try to work together, easily outperform poorly running teams.

Here are three undeniable observations about teams:

  • Most teams do not deliver as expected.
  • Working in a team can be terminally frustrating, even emotionally damaging.
  • Teams can stunt your personal growth.

Leadership in teams continues to attract attention

Teams continue to grow in popularity.  Sponsors are searching intensely for the best possible way to lead teams.  Most researchers concentrate on a cause and effect view of leaders and teams.  Leadership gurus see effective teams as the result or effect of better leadership. This has led to what Professor J Richard Hackman of Harvard University referred to as the ‘Leadership Attribution Error’. After a masterful performance, players and audience alike applaud the conductor of the orchestra. After a disastrous season the rugby team fires the coach. We are all prone to this error.  But, according to research, teams have as much impact on the leader as the leader has on the team!

Leadership researchers have also sought the common behaviours and traits of good leaders.  Even though research back in the 1950s showed that no common set of leadership traits existed.

As organisations grapple with how to lead effectively they have spawned a burgeoning  HR performance industry with models and tools for measuring managing and controlling staff.  Hierarchies abound.  There are layers of people in organisations whose sole purpose it is to manage other people. They do not produce services of products. They manage people. They drive delivery.

The latest research into teams and leadership offers a different approach

Professor J Richard Hackman wrote ‘Leading Teams’ based on 40 years of research into people and teams. Rather than defining another ‘cause and effect’ model, Professor Hackman listed five conditions on which a leader could focus.  These conditions create an environment within which teams in the organisation can design and execute the work in the way they see fit.
He also defined three criteria for gauging the success of a team:

  1. They deliver what their clients want. Resolving what clients want may in itself be a thorny issue for a team to resolve.
  2. They learn and grow as a team.
  3. Individuals within the team develop team skills and technical skills as a result of being part of the team.

Dr Ruth Wageman worked with JRH and picked up the development of the Conditions model.  Dr Wageman and her team created a model of four triads.

The first triad covers the essentials for setting up the team:

  1. Real Team: Is there real interdependence between members of the team.  Or is this a group of people who simply happen to work in the same office?
  2. Compelling direction: Does everyone in the team agree on a common purpose and plan?
  3. Right people: Is there a balance of diversity and homogeneity, skills and motivation?

The second triad describes essential team enablers

  1. Sound structure: Is the team the right size?  Have they agreed on norms of conduct and have you given tasks the most effective way?
  2. Supportive context: Do your organisation structures support or undermine teamwork? There are three organisational systems with particularly high leverage support.  They are; how you reward teams, the information you provide to teams and how you structure team training. (Hint: It is best to handle all of these in the team, as a team.  For instance, rewarding individuals for team success is very demotivating to the team.)
  3. Team coaching: Effective teamwork requires particular team skills. Teams benefit from the input from skilled team-coaches.

Once you have created these six conditions, your team can focus on three core processes:

  1. Effort: Team members build a shared commitment to the work and the team.
  2. Work strategies: Team members design approaches to the work, uniquely suited to the individuals involved.
  3. Knowledge and skill: The team know each other and engage the knowledge and skills of members in the team.

In the final triad teams reflect on their success against the three criteria for an effective team.  The team can focus on the other nine elements as part of their reflection.  They can then choose which elements to focus on to elevate their performance.

The latest organisation successes are looking to leadership through self management

There are a growing number of exemplars of self managing teams.  One of the marks of the new ‘exponential’ companies is that they use autonomous self-managing teams.  These companies all operate using autonomous teams:

Another great example is Morning Star, the largest tomato processing plant in the world. The company structure is CEO and ‘teams’.  The Morning Star Self Management Institute makes an interesting visit.

So who is the leader around here?

Self-managing teams still require Leadership.  But now there is not a single, heroic, ‘fearless leader’. Now anyone who steps up to a situation takes on the leadership role.  Everyone in a self-managing team is a leader.  JRH also had some interesting thoughts on what a leader did which I have summarised in a note on what it takes to be a leader.

One final note based on the work of JRH: Teams that stay together, grow and become more effective over time.  The research dealt with the enduring myth that teams grow lazy and inefficient over time.  Once teams develop learning skills they get better at being a team.  Teams deliver on requirements as each team member steps up to their responsibility and holds team-mates accountable.  There are no guarantees!  But as the team learns to do these things in harmony they just may deliver the promised magic.