A collective and dynamic view on leadership

Ana Margarida Graça – Lecturer in Leadership

A single arrow is easily broken, but not ten in a bundle

Japanese proverb

The England football team during the World Cup 2018, Thailand’s cave rescue or the UK parliament during Brexit negotiations are all recent examples on the importance of teamwork. To some of these teams, coordination and adaptation were determining factors for their success while for others the lack of shared goals and cohesion were hindering their decision-making and performance. Teamwork is a fascinating topic – as if one person is not complex enough, imagine a group of different people with different personalities, ways of thinking, emotions and adaptive responses, having to work, interact together and succeed.

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Amongst the multiple factors that contribute to increase team effectiveness, leadership is a key process to promote better team actions and results. How leaders build and sustain effective teams is still a challenge in many organisations. Starting with the definition of team effectiveness, team-level facets of effectiveness can be categorised as action-oriented outcomes (e.g. objective performance, goal achievement or mutually supportive behaviour), feeling-oriented outcomes (e.g. team members’ satisfaction or commitment to the team) and learning-oriented outcomes (e.g. adaptation or efficiency gains). Therefore, team leaders need to take into consideration that team effectiveness encompasses more than the objective performance of the team (outputs, sales, KPIs…). This complexity inherent to team context raises two main considerations discussed below.

Team-centric Approaches

First, team-centric approaches to leadership focus on leadership rather than in leaders. While some would associate leadership to the CEO or senior executives, leadership capacity can emerge from many if not all people at various levels. For instance, employees without people responsibility might challenge customer processes to better achieve the shared goals of a business. Thus, key to leadership is to either personally address the needs of the team, or make sure they are being addressed and taken care of. Therefore, anyone in the team can lead when it comes to task accomplishment and group maintenance. The role of the formal leaders should not be diminished. Formal leaders are accountable for their team projects and have an important role in setting directions, act as a representative of the team with other parts of the organisation and monitoring day-to-day operations. Nevertheless, we need to stop this idea of “romanticizing” the leader as someone speaking to a big crowd and change to a different mindset where everyone contributes to address team needs and provide important inputs that are well received and encouraged by the leader.

Dynamic Relationships

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Second, relationships and interaction between team members and leaders go beyond single moments in time that could be captured in a snapshot. Team dynamics’ researchers suggest that team interaction is cyclical and dynamic by nature and team needs that arise in early stages of team enactment can be different than at later stages of a project. The role of leaders is therefore to intervene at the right moment with the appropriate strategies that fit those needs. For example, initial leadership functions can have continued influence on desired team processes over an extended period of the team’s existence, and thus specifically enable a team to continuously adjust to their work demands. This will ensure the team delivers, but also sustains and adjusts its emotions and motivation close to the deadline and increases the willingness to working together in the future as suggested by team effectiveness research.

It is now a great opportunity to reflect upon who are the different people in our teams that contribute to leadership and who has the potential to address different team needs. Moreover, it might be important to look at what leadership can do to address the complex dynamics that teams face over time. It is never too late for “teamwork to make the dream work”!

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