Empowerment Leadership Model for Small Groups, Teams, & Families
Course 5, Lesson 6
Directing Help Toward The Team
Rather Than to Individuals
Copyright 2001 Dick Wulf
Leadership of teams requires relating to teams rather than to individual team members. This mandates directing actions and speech to the team and hardly ever directing talk and behavior to individual members.
Read Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and tally the number of times Jesus spoke to just one disciple. Then tally how often he talked to the whole group of disciples. This will give you huge confirmation that the team leader should address the whole team and very seldom individual team members.
Most often people relate to one person at a time. But when a team leader does this in the team context, things never intended are communicated. Relating to individuals defines the leader, not as one who will help the team develop into a strong unit, but as one who will help individuals. When the leader talks to individual team members, it encourages individuals to look to the leader for help rather than to the team and its members. This is not good. Such behavior ignores the very existence of a team and in time will destroy whatever embryonic team exists.
And, when the team leader focuses on helping and relating to individual team members, it can communicate that the leader does not believe the team or its members are capable. Or this can be construed to mean that the team leader needs to call all the shots, control all the action, know what is best for everybody, answer all the questions, give all of the help.
If the team leader speaks to individuals, focuses on individuals, analyzes the behavior of individuals, and rewards individuals, the team will accomplish little on its own to feel good about. In fact, there won't be a team at all. If the team does not have a presence in the mind and actions of the leader, how are the team members going to know that a team exists?
Therefore, the skillful team leader talks as little as possible to individual team members, even apart from the team. When he or she does talk to individual team members, the knowledgeable team leader avoids doing anything that the team or its members can do. The skillful team leader never wants to sabotage the team in its responsibilities. And, when the team leader talks to a team member apart from the team meeting about the team or its responsibilities, it should be to help that person go to the team about the concern.
Almost all verbalizations by the team leader should be addressed to the whole team while his or her head turns to look at all team members. This communicates that there is a functional team in the room. It indicates that the team is an entity that should work together to do whatever is necessitated by its team purpose.
Whenever the team leader talks, it is critical to address the team by using words and phrases like, “the team” and “you” as in “you all”. Examples might be, “Does the team want to encourage Jim to call around to find cheaper church office supplies?” “Do you (‘you all’ communicated by looking at everyone while talking) wish to evaluate how today’s meeting went in terms of the team’s purpose?” “What does the team think of what Mary said?” “What do you think the pastor meant when he said that?” Once the team sees itself as a team, this will be less necessary. But, it is absolutely critical at the beginning of leading a team as a team.
When someone is talking, the team leader should be looking around at every one of the team members, including the one talking. It is the team members who should be concentrating their gaze on the individual talking. The individual is the concern of the team and its members. But the individual talking is not the primary concern of the team leader. Instead, it is the whole team that is the main concern of the team leader. Thus, the responsible team leader is constantly looking at and assessing the whole team.
Therefore, the while the team leader should secondarily be analyzing what an individual team member is saying, he or she does not want to deal with it if the team can. (The primary analysis of the team leader is that of team functioning, not individual functioning which is the concern of the team.) The team should analyze what a member says because the individual is the concern of the team. Instead, the team leader should be analyzing the behavior of the whole team in light of the individual’s statement and behavior. The team is the primary concern of the team leader, and he or she must not get caught up in what an individual is saying.
When the leader talks to individuals, the danger is that each team member may focus only on himself or herself rather than the other team members and the team as a whole. Many situations may then seem too overwhelming. Team members may then be intimidated by challenges when those adversities and difficulties would be easy for the team as a whole. Tasks like dealing with a loud, forceful, too-talkative team member, bringing out the shy members, or confronting hurtful communications are some of the things that may seem too difficult – if the team leader talks about these tasks to individuals instead of the team as a whole. If a team leader asks, “Joe, can you help Mike (a shy member) open up?”, the team will be sabotaged. And Joe may resent the assignment. Not so if the team leader asks the team. Addressing the team, the leader can just as easily say, “Can the team help the shy members to open up?” No member then feels that the weight of the problem is on his or her shoulders alone. The team will begin to grapple with the problem because help from the other members of the team is expected. Even the shy members will contribute.
The leader of a team should want the team to develop into a powerful, small society. This can only be done by consistently addressing the society and not the members of the society. This is not so foreign as it might seem. Coaches address teams. The United States government addresses states. States ask communities what they want. What if states asked individuals what they wanted rather than asking the community as a whole? The community would be weakened, if not destroyed. Therefore, it is critical that the team leader communicate with the team and not its members.
Yet every now and then a team leader must help an individual team member. Individuals will seek out the leader. It can’t be prevented, only mildly discouraged. Team members will talk to the team leader before the meeting, after the meeting and at other times of opportunity. They will often, if not always, bring to the team leader their individual problems. They will especially bring to the leader their problems dealing with the team. This is a big problem. How does the skillful team leader deal with this so that the team remains the individual’s main source of help? How does the leader deal with this so that the team is not robbed of its role and power?
Individuals can always get more from a whole team than from a leader. Even the wisest leader is not wiser than the whole counsel of the community. The leader has only a limited amount of time and resources. Therefore, one of the greatest results of leading a team as a team is to create a small society that is responsive and has much to offer its members. This is the main goal of the savvy team leader.
Therefore, when approached by an individual team member, the alert team leader discusses things in light of the team being the individual’s greatest resource. Whenever the team leader talks to an individual, it should be to help that individual take advantage of the team’s help. In effect, it is the team leader’s job to direct the team member to the social system to which he or she belongs. It is that social system, in this case the team, that is responsible to help.
So the simple rule is this: Always help individual team members take their needs and problems to the team! This keeps the focus on the team -- and off of the leader. This gives the team its rightful responsibility. The exception to this rule is when an individual brings a problem that is unrelated to the purpose of the team or its healthy functioning. Obviously, it would disrupt most teams for a member to ask the team to spend time recommending a good dentist.
It is very flattering to be asked for help that you can provide. However, the humble team leader resists the opportunity to be of help whenever the team can grow and proceed toward its purpose by being the conduit of help to an individual member. It is even acceptable to reply to a request, “That request should be taken to the team. The team can do a much better job than I can. When might you be able to bring it to the team’s attention?”
The team leader should not need to “show off” his or her knowledge and helping skills. The team needs the practice of helping. Even if the leader does need the practice, it is not his or her role. When the leader takes an active role in helping individual team members, in or out of the team context, the leader stops helping the team and begins hindering it.
So, in insignificant things the team leader can feel free to give advice and answer questions when interacting with an individual team member. But, in all things related to the team’s purpose and the team’s functional development the leader should almost always direct the individual to his or her team. This way the team will become strong and individual team members will practice leadership skills. This is the way the team grows and develops more leaders.
Let’s illustrate directing the individual to the team with a common problem. What should be done when a team member approaches you, the team leader, and says that she (Joan) detests another member of the team (Sally)? Such a problem would negatively affect the team’s performance.
One way of dealing with this so that the team is strengthened is to reply, “Let’s talk about how you can take this problem to the team.” In this way you do not rob the team of growth opportunities to teach tolerance, to effect conflict resolution, to train its members how to speak the truth in love, etc.
Most likely Joan will be shocked that you even suggest she bring up her dislike of Sally for open team discussion – especially with Sally present. Using “politeness” as the reason, she will overlook that her nonverbal, automatic behavior toward Sally is already more hurtful than the act of bringing the problem out in the open. But Joan will likely not easily understand, because individualistic societies yield few visible examples of teams or social units solving problems. Yet, superior results come from teams of people – committees, teams, project teams, families, even Moms and Dads, working together.
So, to be sure, Joan will need your help in seeing why it is good to bring the problem to the team and how to best do it. You will need to explain that helping Joan accept Sally is the job of the team and that they can do it better than you can. That’s because everyone can point out what they like about Sally that Joan is overlooking. And if Sally is doing anything that makes her unlikeable, others will also point it out and help Sally make necessary changes.
But Joan’s objections will have more to do with how to bring it up to the team, especially because it really is best presented when Sally is present. People don’t really like to find that they have been the subject of team discussion “behind their backs”.
First the team leader needs to help Joan make the decision to try to accept Sally and move beyond disgust and judgement. Then the team leader can explain to Joan that she can say to the team something like, “I want the team’s help to appreciate and be able to work with Sally better. I have a problem liking her, but I do want to like her. Can you help me see what my problem is and help me over it?”
By directing Joan to the team rather than counseling her yourself, you will not undermine the team’s role with both Joan and Sally. You will also give the team a challenging task which will build confidence and cohesion. (Note that if offense was the issue instead of lack of acceptance, the leader might direct Joan to talk to Sally apart from the team.)
When team leaders ask questions of or speak to individuals, they are usually acting like team members rather than team leaders. For example, in a situation where Joe’s wife has left him, the team leader might ask Joe, “What are you feeling about your wife leaving?” Here the team leader is acting like a team member. This question can easily be asked by team members. In fact, the team members must learn how to do this. Instead, the team leader might say to the team, looking at each person while the sentence is being said, “Do you think it is appropriate to find out how Joe feels right now or what he is thinking?”
Next, we will discuss dangerous abandonment in teams and what to do about it.
Copyright 2012 Dick Wulf, Colorado, USA