Empowerment Leadership Model for Small Groups, Teams, & Families
Course 5, Lesson 1
Leading a Team
Instead of Leading Individuals in a Work Group
Copyright 2001 Dick Wulf
Probably the biggest mistake made in team leadership is failing to lead the team as a team. What passes for team leadership these days is not really leading the team.
Teamwork doesn't just happen when you put people together and call them a team. Only about 20 -30% of what is possible with professional team leadership will be realized.
And good team leadership, like good sports coaching, must focus on the team. This rarely happens. While most team leaders think and hope they are building their teams, usually what they are doing is building the individuals on their teams and hoping that will do the trick. But, again, throwing skillful individuals together does not automatically produce a highly functioning team.
The sports coaching model can only go so far. Most organizations cannot afford coaches who focus on training individuals and other coaches who concentrate on the overall functioning of the team. Fortunately, there is an answer to this dilemma. When work groups become true teams, the team coaches its own individual members. And the team leader coaches the team.
Professional team leadership can produce much more than the usual team development strategies. A successful team works at a number of tasks and sub-tasks that takes the team to heights of self-sufficient functioning not even conceived of as possible by most team development models.
Essentially, what is left out of many models are the human factors that build morale and prevent excess turnover. No matter how well a team works to accomplish tasks for its church or employer, that is not enough to meet the needs of the team members.
However, leadership of a team as a team builds in many strengths that help people really enjoy their team responsibilities and find personal fulfillment. The team then is not just benefiting the church, but also the team member in a significant way. This in turn leads to happier volunteers or church employees, who do not jump ship as soon as a little better offer comes along.
Professional leadership of a team also helps teams solve problems that arise between team members. This also keeps people from leaving teams and volunteer opportunities. It builds rock-solid cohesion, because when people know that the team will take responsibility to make sure that people's problems with one another are solved rather than linger on like the pain of an abscessed tooth, they will be more and more committed to the team and its members.
So, what does it mean to lead a team rather than lead individuals in a work group?
Think of it in this simple way. Who you talk to and look at is who you are leading. And, who or what you analyze is who or what you are most concerned about.
THE FIRST EXAMPLE
Let's imagine a problem between two people on a church Missions Committee (team). Let's think up a really difficult situation that would cause a lot of trouble. Let's say that Mary angrily expresses that she is doing more work and that Alice needs to be more responsible and do her share. The real issue underlying this is Mary's need to be seen as spiritually superior to Alice.
Most teams would likely consider this Mary's and Alice's problem. Individuals would try to stay out of it, once their few advisory comments were ignored. Because of the continuing tension, people would act as though nothing had happened, wanting to avoid involvement in the conflict. Working conditions might not be enjoyable on the committee for a long time.
About six months later, the conflict might be forgotten, unless Mary or Alice quit the committee sooner. And, while there would be no more open hostility, and Mary and Alice might even be back to being "nice" with one another, trust on the team would still be considerably undermined. In fact, without any real action on the problem, others in the team would be distrustful, thinking that if Mary could attack Alice's participation, any of the others could be criticized as well.
I'll bet you can see that this might not have a happy ending.
However, a team with a team leader possessing sufficient professional team leadership skills would handle this situation in a completely different way. The team would not see the problem as Mary's and Alice's, but as the team's problem. The team leader would immediately recognize the dangers for the team, because her focus is on the development of and the success of the committee as a whole. She is ever watchful for the team's welfare and success.
A true team leader would be more concerned about the team than about Mary or Alice. She would steer the team to be concerned about the conflict between Mary and Alice. Such a leader would know that the team as a whole could handle this situation better than she could as head of the committee (team leader). Only by letting and helping the team deal with the problem would the situation be resolved quickly and yield greater trust among team members in the end.
A real team leader would want to build the team to be strong enough to deal with extremely difficult situations like this one between Mary and Alice. This leader would know that such problems could come up at any time, especially when she was not present to help. The only answer to this is to lead the team, to build the team to be strong enough to deal with such things as they arise in the course of getting the purpose of the team done. Then there would not be so much damage control to do later.
So, how might a team leader deal with this situation between Mary and Alice? Well, first of all, the team leader wouldn't deal with it. What I mean is that the wise and forward-looking team leader would let the team deal with it. But, the team leader would, in fact, deal with the problem by giving it to the team to solve. Let's see what that might look like. Keep in mind there is not just one right way, but the following is close to a book-perfect answer on how a team leader should deal with such a problem.
We will name our fictional team leader Lucy.
Right away, Lucy would recognize that the angry accusations of Mary could be very dangerous to the smooth working of the team in getting its job done. Furthermore, if not handled correctly, many of the team members would not volunteer to be on teams or committees for a long time, if ever, thus reducing the volunteer labor pool of the church. Therefore, the team leader would step in as soon as possible.
Lucy could say to the team, "The team has a problem to work out before it gets in the way of your purpose to be the church's primary support to the missionaries we give to financially."
If the committee has been working as a team for some while, then Lucy would keep silent, giving the experienced team a chance on its own to identify the problem and get to work at resolving it.
But our fictional Missions Committee is new at all of this, so Lucy continues, "The team needs to analyze the problem between Mary and Alice and give them the kind of help that will solve this problem and make sure that such a problem never comes up again. Go to it. I suggest that you help Mary and Alice express themselves in a biblical way so that this problem is resolved in the love of Jesus and similar situations are prevented in the future.
With Lucy's help, the team would help Mary to express her concern without judgment, clarify why Mary targeted Alice, help Alice respond without defensiveness and explain her situation, bring in other team members to express their opinions about workload expectations, clarify what the team needs in the way of output from each of the members or decide to recruit additional workers, clarify that Christians should be devoid of competition and concern for status, and a host of other actions.
What would be the positive results for the team and the church from Lucy's leadership of the team this way?
There are more benefits from such team leadership than I can list here. But, I will list a few of them. (1) The team would grow by leaps and bounds in confidence because it dealt with its own problem with little help form the leader. Almost all future problems, especially non-people, task-related situations, would be easier for the team to solve. (2) Cohesion among team members would strengthen as a result of solving a difficult situation together. (3) A sense of loyalty to one another would grow, leading to a real comradery and sense of community. (4) Team members would acquire many problem-solving skills, such as thinking and analyzing, and decision-making. (5) The team and its members would become more capable and independent, requiring less supervision by the team leader. (6) Individuals would be helped to become spiritually more mature and do things differently and without pride.
THE SECOND EXAMPLE
Consider this difference. There are two teams, Team A and Team Z. The same two problems exist in both teams. The first problem is that one member does not contribute much. The second problem is that each team has a person who dominates discussion. The leader of Team A believes he is leading the team, but he is not. The leader of Team Z is truly leading the team.
In Team A, the team leader meets with the person individually and talks to him about talking more in team discussions. The person begins to talk a little in team meetings. The Team A Leader also meets individually with the too-talkative person and explains that others are not getting enough time to talk and he needs the individual to talk less and maybe help out in asking others questions. The person stops talking so much.
In Team Z, the leader asks the team if it thinks that it is getting enough participation from all members. If the team does not determine that more is needed from the silent member, then the leader will point out that the silent member has qualities to add to the team, but that she or he is not involved. If the team does not act, then the leader asks the team what it wants to do to help the team member who is having trouble participating. Team members discuss why they need the team member's contributions, ask him what the problem is and how they can help, and then deliver the help needed. By the time the team process is completed concerning this problem, the team has learned how to work as a unit to solve a problem, how to confront helpfully as a team, and that problems are the team's to solve. Members learn they are very capable as a team.
In Team Z, the leader also sees the dominance of the one team member. He asks the team if it is satisfied with how the team is going. The leader explains that it is their team and their success is in their own hands. Many team members are unhappy, a few are angry, and the domineering person is totally confused by the question. A silence follows that seems to last forever, even though it is only two minutes, while the team members get up the nerve to talk and figure out how to say in a helpful way what is on each of their minds.
Then, finally, one of the team members says that she wishes she had more time to talk. Another mentions his frustration at not getting to speak very often. A few other comments are made. Then the over-talkative individual asks why they don't feel they can talk. There is another silence.
The team leader stays quiet, since there is no sign yet that the team will not be able to solve this team problem. Eventually an angry member blurts out that Jim (what we'll call him) talks too much. It is tense for a moment.
The team seems stuck, so after a minute of silence the team leader asks the team if others agree that Jim is talking too much. Another person adds that she does think that Jim is talking too much, but that he is not doing it out of malice. Jim explains he is talking out of discomfort at the silences between comments.
Tom brings up that he needs a silence of about 30 seconds to know that he is not interrupting. Linda says that she needs to formulate what she wants to say in her mind before she will start speaking; she is not good at spontaneous talking, and she feels foolish if she doesn't say things correctly. Jim, the over-talkative member, says that he will try to not talk so much but that he just gets so restless when there is a silence. The others reassure him that they understand. Then a few members suggest ways he might deal with the situation, like doodling, taking notes, or acting as a scribe for the team by taking down meeting notes and getting them printed and distributed at each meeting.
The team process continues until the team is confident that enough understanding has taken place. They decide to go ahead and give the team another try to see if some people will talk more and the one person will talk less. If the over-talkative person's feelings were hurt or if he shows that he feels threatened, the team reassures him of their acceptance and need for his contributions -- just not so many of them.
In Team Z, some of the benefits of this kind of team leadership are easy to see; others are more subtle. Clearly, after the team is through with this process (which was engineered by the leader) the team will have a great deal of confidence in its ability to solve problems. It will know that whenever any member brings a problem to the team, the team working together can make a good try at solving the problem. The team also greatly values the leader who is vital to seeing that the team does all it can do to be successful. The team members are grateful that the leader let them take leadership and did not do anything they could do for themselves. The team leader is quite impressed with the good job the team did and feels privileged to have had a part in helping the team discover its abilities and go on to victory.
There are also less obvious benefits. For example, the team learned that one of its members is quite critical of herself and is probably intimidated by any situation that requires spontaneous communication. The team may want to help her over this inhibition so she can be more successful on the team (and it will positively affect other areas of her life as well). The team also helped the over-talkative person realize that criticism is not necessarily rejection. Do you see the tremendous benefit of the team process that comes when the team leader leads the TEAM?
But, unfortunately, I have to say that there is also harm done in Team A where the leader did not lead the team, but the individuals on the team. The team might be thankful that the leader met with the over-talkative guy and brought the other member's work performance up. But the team will also unconsciously know that the leader did not think the team and its members capable of dealing with the situations. The tragedy is that confidence is undermined and dependency upon leadership is bred and proliferated. As a result the team is made weak by such a leadership style, and leaders have to do more since the team and its members will not think the leader believes in them or wants them to solve problems.
It is absolutely critical, therefore, that teams be led as teams. The most basic, essential skill in leading teams is leading the team as a team. Leading individuals in a team setting does not accomplish things - it destroys the power of the team.
WHAT RESULTS DO YOU WANT?
Do you want confident people? You can help them grow in confidence when they see their own contributions in their teams being used by others. When the team is led, the team and its members will interact and do the work, solve the problems, and help everyone succeed. This will lead to a very capable team and much more capable team members.
Do you want your team to accomplish more than individuals can do on their own? Then relate to your people as a team, not as individuals. Talk to the team, and only occasionally to individuals. Recognize the synergism possible as people work together, building upon one another's contributions.
LEADING A TEAM IS MUCH EASIER
This leadership of a team is actually simpler and easier than leading individuals. It is less burdensome on you, the team leader. The team has greater abilities because of its expanded resources in many different personalities, its greater number of life experiences, and the varied talents of its members. If the leader does a good job of leading the team, the team members will be excellently and thoroughly led by the team itself.
THE TEAM LEADER DOES NOT THINK LIKE A TEAM MEMBER
Let's take a closer look at the different perspectives of a team leader and a team member.
The team and its members should have their primary focus on the team's purpose, including the productivity of its members. This should not be the focus of the team leader.
The team leader should primarily focus on the team and its functioning, noticing dysfunction that needs attention. The secondary focus is on the team members and whether or not they need the help of the team either to become a contributing team member or for some personal need.
For example, if the team needs to analyze a problem, the team leader should be thinking, "Which team members have experienced something that would be helpful? Is the team seeking or going to seek their contributions?" The team leader would also be thinking, "How can I help the team get those people involved? What can I say to the team?"
Probably the biggest mistake made in team leadership is failing to lead the team as a team. What passes for team leadership these days is not really leading the team.
This leadership of a team is actually simpler and easier than leading individuals. It is less burdensome on the leader. The team has greater abilities because of its expanded resources in many different personalities, greater number of life experiences, and varied talents of its members. If the leader does a good job of leading the team, the team will lead its members.
Next, we will look at focusing your attention on the team and not on individuals.
Copyright 2012 Dick Wulf, Colorado, USA