Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Leadership and Work Teams


Guest post from Simon Mac Rory:

If you work in an organization today as a leader you will lead a team. 90% of what we do in an organization happens through collaborative effort, making the team the most important production unit.

For two years (2016 and 2017) Deloitte’s Global Human Capital trends survey has positioned organizational redesign as the number one concern for businesses. In 2016 they termed this the ‘Rise of Teams’ and 2017 ‘The Organization of the Future – Arriving Now’. Bottom line, organizations are seeking to reconstitute themselves as a network of teams, ditching the traditional hierarchy. This makes teamwork even more crucial to overall success or failure for the organization.

The rhetoric surrounding this critical aspect of work tends to indicate that organizations and senior leaders are champions of teamwork and that they have the team ‘nut’ cracked - the reality however, points to a very different scenario. 

It is estimated that only 10% of teams can truly be deemed high performing, 40% are dysfunctional and detrimental to team members experience. The balance of 50% can at best be described as performing marginally and never producing more than incremental results. For me, the success and effectiveness of any team starts and ends with the leader. In my experience of working with and coaching work teams, the best, most effective teams always seem to have the best and most effective leaders.  If this premise and the figures above are accepted it would suggest that only 10% of team leaders are high performing, enabling their teams, whilst 40% of leaders are failing in their leadership tasks, whilst the remaining 50% are barely holding in there!

Most of the trouble for the struggling team leader starts with the belief that teams are there to support their leader.  

Nothing could be further from the truth and the converse is the needed reality – leaders are there to support their teams. This is what is referred to as the inverted hierarchy. Leaders are at the bottom of the pyramid supporting those in the team above them and not the other way around. This is a ‘get over it already’ moment. As a team leader the only means you have to success is in the success of your team. The more successful they are, the more success for you. Your job is to get all the barriers to team performance out of the way. You ensure that the team has what it needs, and you go to bat for the team always. Your job is to deliver strategy and structure for the team and it is the team that delivers output, quality and customer satisfaction. The alternative is that you as leader do everything, believe that you have all the answers and the rest of the team become your audience whilst you perform.

Jack Welsh famously said “Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others”.  Great team leaders intuitively recognize this. This means being prepared to delegate, to empower and then to coach and support as necessary. It also means that as a leader you must recognize that the team is comprised of individuals and that each has separate, unique needs and operate at differing levels of ability and confidence. Therefore, there is a need for a leader to have flexibility in leadership style to develop the most appropriate overall style for the team, adjusting it to meet the needs of individual team members. Great team leadership is about creating the confidence in your team members to follow you by anticipating their needs and ensuring that all that can be done to enable each member of the team is done - so they can deliver.

An effective team leader will understand this requirement for flexibility, evaluating their performance, examining not only their leadership style but the appropriateness of that style. They must have the confidence to continually ask themselves and the team, “Is there anything I can do to improve my leadership of this team?”

Sounds complicated? Not really. Adopt the inverted hierarchy and see yourself at the bottom of the pyramid supporting the team members and their performance and not the other way around.

Traditional versus inverted hierarchy



With such a disposition, the management of coaching, performance, goals, communications, up- skilling, planning and evaluation becomes the natural task of the leader. This in turn will lead to a natural adoption of the appropriate style of leadership for the team and its individual team members, driving overall performance. Finding that balance for the team overall and meeting the individual needs of members is a key task of team leadership. Remember it is not the team leader’s job to do all the team tasks, rather it is to enable and support the team members to deliver.

Are you leading your team with the appropriate style? If your team has any characteristics of the left-hand column you may need to change your leadership style.

Teams without appropriate leadership                       Teams with appropriate leadership
Lack or have misplaced confidence

Display confidence

Constantly seek direction

Are self-managing

Avoid decision making

Have a clear focus

Are fearful of mistakes

Have an appropriate sense of ownership

Have tenuous loyalty at best

Have loyalty to the team leader

Avoid extra effort

Go the extra mile when required

Keep quiet about bad news

Enjoy high levels of trust and openness

Find it difficult to be motivated

Tend to be more motivated

Have a sense of “flight or fight” and the accompanying stress levels

Experience high morale – will want to belong to the team

Feel frustrated

Feel valued as individuals and as a team

Are constantly threatened by attrition

Have high retention

Tend to have the few carry the many

Have an equitable division of labour

Allow poor performers to ‘get away with it’ leading to a sense of unfairness

Do not carry poor performers

Are less effective and struggle to deliver success

Are more effective and more successful



Simon Mac Rory is a team development specialist. He works with senior leaders to help them discover that edge to become truly high performing. He founded The ODD Company www.theoddcompany.ie in 2011 to deliver TDP (a cloud-based team development tool and methodology) to the international markets. Simon operates from London with a Dublin-based support office. He received his doctoral degree for his work on the application of generic frameworks in organization development and is a visiting research fellow at NBS. His new book is “Wake up and smell the coffee – the imperative of teams” http://wakeupandsmellthecoffeebookproject.com/.

No comments: