Leadership Team Development – Balancing Individuals and Organizations
As older generations give way to younger leaders, shifts in leadership styles and effectiveness can leave us at wits end about what to do. The expectations of the younger workforce feel diametrically opposed to the heretofore corporate ruling party, the baby boomers—of which I am one.
Over the last several decades, command and control has given way to management by objectives, which has morphed into coaching for performance. Now what?
Though changing generational styles have disrupted the workplace and leadership models need to evolve to address them, teams are still made up of people, most of whom want to achieve something that has meaning for them. And that is at the core of the solution.
An important study released a few years ago and published in at book entitled Tribal Leadership (Dave Logan, John King, and Halee Fischer-Wright) presented some unsettling findings about the nature of teams—and where they truly exist. The findings revealed that only about 25% of employee “teams” actually function as teams. They found that about 50% of employees are individualists who overtly or covertly do things their own way. They carry a fundamental belief that they know better that others around them.
And why shouldn’t it be the case? From primary school through college we are taught that only those with the best grades win. Sure, we may put people together in projects, but teaching, valuing, and rewarding teamwork is not reflected in our educational system. We teach our kids to be individualists. And the Tribal Leadership study validates it.
So, what happens when we’re supposed to work together? Research shows that highly effective leadership teams produce the best outcomes. Tribal Leadership describes it as an investment in a noble cause, a team that demonstrates competition for the best idea, not competition with one another.
So, how do we get there? I recommend reading the book for the insights it offers, but there are some basic approaches one can apply to create an environment that fosters leadership team development. It has both an individual component and an organizational component.
The Individual Component
It all begins with clarity of expectations. People want to know what success looks like—and, in building leadership teams, it can be described in two forms: outcomes and activities. There are a number of ways to get at this. Our firm has developed a coaching system that engages team members in a process of identifying measureable outcomes, the key activities that are highly predictive of success, and a system for tracking progress—which always includes some level of personal accountability.
Trust is an equally important element. If there is any hope of forming true leadership teams, trust must be established, among team members and along all the lines of accountability. An environment conducive to establishing trust is realized when all parties commit to a few basic principles: I will be credible (know what I’m talking about), I will be reliable (do what I say I will do), I will be en-trustable (keep confidence with others), and I will demonstrate commitment to our shared best interest (rather than self-interest).
The third element, especially in the age of the Millennial, is to provide individuals with the opportunity to connect their personal aspirations to their work. This does not mean redesigning jobs to fit preferences. It is working with team members to let them take the first crack at describing what success looks like and what they would like to achieve (within the constraints of the job description). Younger team members are coming into the workplace with a need for self-realization—and they want work/life balance. Though a team should not compromise goals or outcomes for individual benefit, engaging in this process can generate new ways of thinking and doing.
All leadership teams need the experience of success. Celebrations and acknowledgement of achievement is very important—especially when success is linked to the synergy of the team.
One final component in developing effective leadership teams is to understand differences in style. We know that most dysfunction in a team does not arise out of lack of intelligence, or knowledge, or skill, or experience—it arises out of conflict of style. Our firm uses the Hartman Value Profile in our work with clients to develop leadership teams. This is one of many tools, but we have found it to be extraordinarily effective in helping team members see that each style has its own strengths and biases. By understanding each other’s strengths and biases—and relieving the threat posed by different styles—teams learn to collaborate more effectively.
The Organizational Component
When approaching leadership team development from the organizational perspective, we return to clarity. The most effective leadership teams have clearly articulated values, vision, mission, strategic imperatives, goals, and measures of success.
Clarity is closely followed by the need for alignment—alignment of all team members with the items noted in the paragraph above. Gaining alignment in today’s workplace is no longer dictated from on high. Developing effective leadership teams, means thoughtful, engaged discussion driven by thoughtful, strategic questions.
The third element in the triumvirate is focus. Clarity and alignment result in a intense focus on the most important, productive outcomes, the most effective activities, and the most synergistic team collaboration.
One sticky wicket in all of this is how to deal with the individualist. Many of the most initially productive people in organizations are the individualists—they tend to be very hardworking people with high expectations. The problem is that they may fake collaboration and teamwork, and their effectiveness and ultimate productivity are limited. At some point they run out of energy, hit the wall, or develop manipulative, unproductive, or even destructive behaviors to protect their status or position. The authors of Tribal Leadership describe them as needing an epiphany in order move to a higher level of performance as team members—they need to come to the non-threatened realization that they can accomplish more by sharing work with others. To help these individuals reach their epiphany, it is important to team them up with others on projects that require skills they do not possess, or assign them mentors who understand how to work effectively in a team setting. Sometimes they just need to burn out—and that is a very teachable moment.
Sustaining a culture of productive leadership teams requires active attention. Research shows that by articulating core values, promoting their importance, and rewarding their expression you can create and sustain a working environment conducive to productive teamwork. One of the simplest and most effective means is to visibly post your values and constantly recognize their expressions throughout the organization—and constantly talk about them.
In another post I’ll address the evolving workplace and the reawakening of the concept of mindfulness.