The concept of the team leader has changed. No longer is a team leader responsible for people seated at desks around them. Today, the team leader has to manage dispersed teams, gathered from different departments, or indeed organisations, and often across borders.
They will have been brought together to focus on specific projects because of their individual skills and expertise rather than past collaborations.
To bring a team together quickly requires real leadership. The key point of this is to agree the common goals and objectives of the team. This might mean allowing individuals to thrash out their differences and also to recognise the different contributions that each individual brings to the team.
Unless the team can work towards a common goal, collaborative teams are in danger of becoming stuck, constantly fighting to get ideas across, or worse, finding that a more dominant personality takes charge with little support from the team behind them. So, what are the essential ingredients for an effective team leader and successful team?
Set clear objectives
The challenge in the early stages of a team's formation is to set clear objectives. An effective team leader always has one eye on the future of the team and the organisation they're working for. Without clear objectives, it will be difficult to find the right team with the right skillset.
Beware appointing people to the team on gut-feel. It is well documented that this lack of strategy can result in failure. Make a list of the required team skills and use some of the various assessment tools available to get a good balance of skills, personality and behaviour.
Create a culture of inclusivity
For any team to work effectively, the ideas and skillsets of others need to be recognised. A team leader needs to develop a culture where sharpness of ideas and arguments are accepted, rather than dominant egos taking priority. Individuals should be allowed to present their views, based on their own skillset and competencies, so all individuals can have a significant impact and achieve more as part of a team. Recognise too that you may not have all the answers, sometimes someone else in the team may be more qualified or highly skilled to address tricky problems.
Embrace conflict and use it to move forward
As a team starts to move forward, different ideas compete for consideration. The team addresses issues such as what problems they are supposed to solve and how they will function individually as well as together.
This stage can be contentious, unpleasant and even painful to members of the team who are averse to conflict. Yet it is worth bearing in mind that conflict can be constructive as well as destructive. It is how it is handled that makes the difference. A team leader should be approachable, be prepared to listen and be willing to offer constructive, reasoned responses. Knowing when to back off is also an important leadership skill and having confidence in others' ability allows other team members to demonstrate their areas of expertise and perform to a higher level.
Keep up morale
All eyes are on you as a leader, so lead by example. If you are disengaged and demotivated, then this will be reflected in team performance.
Get stuck in and show you are prepared to be involved to get the job done, especially when there are tight deadlines or difficult targets to reach. This doesn't mean getting bogged down in the day-to day-work, but it does mean being sensitive to the pressure and needs of your team.
Take time to find out the personal needs of each team member so that you know what motivates them and what doesn't. Use this understanding to recognise or reward individual accomplishments. There are many ways to reward performance and some of the best cost nothing.
Without effective guidance, teams and individuals often disengage, neglecting their responsibility and very often go over the same action points, so little is accomplished.
Appreciate the responsibility of your role
An effective team leader accepts that they may need to make tough decisions from time to time. Whether managing performance, or conflict, there will need to be a strategy in place to identify issues and negotiate a balanced, swift and lasting resolution, should the need arise. Equally, a leader needs to bring people together, to promote creativity, help individuals develop, improve performance and support collaboration to deliver consistently high results.
Aim for self-sustaining
A key indicator that the team is working is when the group begins to work collaboratively, functioning as a unit to achieve results. There should be little need for supervision, as everyone will be self-aware as well as aware of the strengths and weaknesses of others, accepting them as a natural part of group dynamics. Yet they will have individual roles to play and take their responsibilities seriously. At this point, the team is self-sustaining.
Gary Wyles (pictured) is managing director of Festo Training & Consulting
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