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Great Leaders Must Create Great Teams

Great Leaders, Great Teams Article

Having recently watched the winter Olypmics and the Commonwealth games, I’m sure you’ll agree in the power of teams. Today’s article is focused on why great leaders need great teams.

A recent client was informing me of his struggles with his team. He did not think his team were performing to the standards he’d expected. I offered to observe one of his operational board meetings. Over the 2 hour session I observed the air-space, i.e. who uses up more time, what sort of contribution each of the key players making, etc. It was a fascinating experience. The leader ended up taking 75mins of the 120 mins allocated airspace.  That meant that the other 6 team players had an average of somewhere between 7 and 8 minutes of speaking time each. There was little by way of dialogue or debate amongst the team members.

When the leader was presented with these statistics (that he spoke for 75minutes of the time – 10 times more than that of any of his team members) he did appear somewhat sheepish. His response, which is not unusual in my experience, was that his team needed direction, that whenever he asked a question he never got any response and that he needed to keep driving the agenda. A typical directive, pace-setting leader who gets a job done by TELLING people what to do.

The thing is that teams need to learn how to become team players. So often team performance is focused on the ‘what’ of performance and not on the ‘how. Putting technically competent managers into a group and expecting them to become a team is almost farcical. There are so many skills that have to be learnt.

Transformational Team Leadership

I once worked with a team who had a real visionary leadership style. The team was a coming together of two organisations for a joint venture. The leader was brilliant – yes he had his weaknesses – and he chose to get help with creating a high performing team. This was an 18 month plan, with a variety of interventions and coaching along the way to ensure the team learnt how to behave with each other. The cultures of these organisations were so very different that the team could have quickly crashed and burnt. Instead they over-delivered for 3 consecutive years and the approach this leader took became the blue-print for future joint ventures.

So, just how do you turn a group of individuals into a great team?

Have you heard of the Forming, Storming, Norming model of team performance? The first team described in this article are a great example of a team that have not yet formed. They have been working together for 2 years and were still in Formingstage. There was no indication of how well the individuals knew about each other, no trust established, no insight into individual strengths and where they needed support. (And this team have some pretty big challenges to overcome).

A team that has ‘formed’ understand individual strengths, values, aspirations and how they best work together. They spend a great deal of time ‘breaking bread’ and building that understanding. One client of mine used the Gallup Strengths finder to help her team and the wider function understand their impact and their strengths. It has a massive impact on productivity and team trust.

Once teams have developed a deeper trust for one another, they often experience an uncomfortable but highly beneficial Storming phase – when the team are challenging each other, not accepting no for an answer, being ‘mutually’ accountable for the success of each other’s goals. This phase means knowing just how far to push each other and how to support each. If teams cannot handle conflict or deal with tricky conversations they will get stuck. Many will move back to the niceties of the Forming stage – focusing more on transactional conversations.

The team then moves into a period of Norming. During this phase, the team now tryly understand each other (strengths, weaknesses and resilience capacity) and are working hard to deliver the TEAMaccountabilities. If the team can challenge each other, push each other, stand up for their beliefs, change the goal posts and help each other in times of need – the team truly become High Performing.

Ultimately it is the leader that has the opportunity to create high performance. He or she must have a clear mandate for what must be delivered. This includes a clear vision and direction for the team. The leader has to be comfortable with difficult conversations, be prepared to give tough feedback, take accountability when the going gets tough and ensure the team is rewarded for a job well done.

Where are you on this scale? When was the last time you took time out to reflect on your team’s performance? When did you take full responsibility for the success and the performance of your team?

If you’d like to explore further, then here’s your assignment for this week:

Write down the names of the people in your team.

Next rate how much of a team performer they are. Do they prefer to work by themselves or are they seeking help and giving support to their colleagues?

How engaged are they in your leadership?  Use a scale of 1-10 where 10 is highly engaged and 1 is zero engagement see where you believe the team to be. Add up the scores and see what the overall average score is (be truthful).

If the team are any less than a 6/7 you need to go back to basics. Have a look at the requirements of a team in formation and perhaps what you may need to do to create more challenge and conflict. You can create both an individual and a team plan for moving the team on. Good luck!

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