So much has been written on leadership and what it takes to be a great leader. We can all think of well known examples of leaders, from Mandela to Steve Jobs but can you name any examples of exceptional leadership teams? Despite the £££s spent on developing them, still too few teams are remarkable. How do we release the power of the magical ‘6’ (the said to be ideal number in a team)?
We know that a successful team can achieve far more than individuals alone. The 21st century organisation is set up with a team focus: and the Toyota’s of this world show the results which can be delivered when you give people the freedom to act within teams. Looking at the newly emergent organisation models whether self managed teams or ‘teal’ organisations (to use Laloux’s term), the driving unit for performance is still the team.
The challenge of inconsistency
So what happens when you put high achieving, successful, strong character ‘Alphas’ together? A bloodbath? Extreme politeness rarely dipping below the surface to touch on the real problems? Constructive dialogue, building on the ideas, challenges and energy within the group? Or moments of all three? We all have known or experienced teams which illustrate each of these. Many teams fall into the latter category: moments of brilliance and moments of madness, and that in itself is a problem. Consistency is an essential ingredient for successful leadership. And that holds true for leadership teams as well. An inconsistent leadership team will impact on your credibility both as an individual leader and as a team.
More than vanilla
The challenge for our organisations is how to harness the added value and build team consistency. But consistency doesn’t mean not having those difficult conversations: the solution is not a vanilla one. The answer lies in understanding the complexities of the system of the team, both internally and externally, leveraging this knowledge to create a robust, resilient yet dynamic unit of creative individuals working together. Which is why so many interventions which just address one element of a team fail to make a long term impact.
The team system
I am always wary about introducing the term ‘system’. My engineering and scientist clients love the idea of systems thinking. Others screw up their face and dismiss it as a piece of jargon. So apologies to the latter group: feel free to think and talk about it as holistic, inclusive or simply looking at all the things which impact the team. A team is more than just the individuals and relationships. It’s the vision and goals; ways of working; deliverables; timeframes; its stakeholders (from customers to bosses!). This approach looks at both the individual parts and how they are connected and influence each other. The six core building blocks of a leadership team are:
The team’s vision, goals and high level objectives. Simple? Not quite … I am not the only team coach who has many examples of a team who will cite very different things as their team’s priorities … and stakeholders often have a different view again!
- Tasks and deliverables
What the team needs to do to deliver its objectives
The capabilities and skills needed for success; roles and responsibilities; ways of working. Results!
- Internal dynamics
What’s in the ‘black box’: behaviours, relationships, ability to deal with conflict; conversations and dialogue; leveraging diversity and difference
What do your stakeholders think … of you, your performance, what you are delivering.
Customers, partners, commissioners (or ‘the guys who give you your mandate’), influencers
- Growth, development and change
The ability of the team to adapt to new challenges, to learn new things and regenerate themselves
So what can a team do?
Step One Understand your system – take a team 360!
Step Two Debate the findings
Step Three Prioritise: what will make the biggest impact on performance
Step Four Action
There is nothing earth shattering about these steps. The real magic comes from the conversation and debate. Skilfully handled, these will deepen relationships and help address challenging issues. But it can be difficult for a team not to fall back on old behaviours and ways of doing things. Some teams have the capability to coach themselves; others need a team coach to accelerate their journey.
A great team coach helps the team navigate their way through the dynamics with its inherent contradictions and tensions. He, or she, will help the team examine their world through a series of lenses to uncover new truths. The coach must have the maturity to hold challenge and support through difficult periods, balancing the needs of the team as a whole, the individuals as well as its multiple stakeholders.