Historically, operational leadership has always been viewed as a top-down process, where responsibility for the team's success (or failure) ultimately lies with the leader. Although placing the credit or blame on the leader is a common response, research shows that achieving success and ultimate performance within a team has far less to do with the leader than what we may have thought.
Social psychologist and author J. Richard Hackman has outlined five questions that, when answered and implemented, will increase team effectiveness within your business:
- Real Business - Does your team have interdependence among members, clear boundaries and a moderate stability of employee retainment over time?
- Compelling Direction- Are team objectives and purpose clear, challenging and focused upon the end result rather than the means in pursuing it?
- Enabling Structure - Does the team’s structure and composition enable rather than impede teamwork?
- Supportive Context- Does the team’s inter-social network provide support that members need to complete their work?
- Expert Coaching - Is competent coaching available to assist during tricky times, take advantage of emerging opportunities and provided when the team is ready to receive and use it?
As you can see these conditions have more to do with the team design than the leader themselves.
For our business, we do a few things differently to ensure our business processes are designed to work with our team, not against it. For example, all online processes are cloud based to promote flexible working and we relinquished official titles to ensure employees have room to expand outside of their specialised responsibilities.
How a team is configured to work together is proven to be four times more powerful than leader coaching in individual self-management and almost 40% more powerful in affecting overall team performance (Wageman, Hackman, & Lehman, 2004). This however, is not to discredit the importance of a highly competent leader and the role they play within the team’s design.
So what makes up a successful leader?
Awareness of self and team dynamic
Effective leaders are always aware of any conditions that most powerfully effective leaders are constantly aware of the conditions that dynamically mould team effectiveness.
The ability to identify and improve on gaps
The skill in extracting themes from past experiences, both positive and consequential, is integral to narrow the gap between the team’s future success and repeated failure.
Leading a team can be an emotionally exhausting undertaking, especially for those who have challenges in managing their own anxieties or stresses. It’s important for leaders to lean into the uncomfortable in order to better understand their team members, versus retreating out of fear or unease.
Guiding a team into the unknown from the familiar requires a great deal of personal courage. Adapting new routines and challenging traditional, comfortable processes can make for significant positive change, but not without the risks of disrupting the peace.
It’s no longer sufficient to simply know your stuff, but possess emotional maturity and courage necessary for impactful change within your business. Sometimes organisational change can seem too difficult, but not for those willing to take on the challenge to guide their team to an exciting place, where the end result is totally worth it.