The Art of Team Leadership

We have all been part of teams that just seemed to work and more often than not, those that never quite seemed to be on the same page.

A team can be defined as “a small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, performance goals and approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable.”  – Katzenbach and Smith (1993)

Great team leaders understand the different stages of team development and adapt their leadership styles to those stages.

There have been many team development models written over the years but one of the most well known is that of Tuckman and Jension (1977) which highlighted the following stages of team development:

1 – Forming

Where a team is in its infancy and there is a high level of dependency on the leader, at this stage team-members are establishing ground rules and are as of yet uncertain about how to act and what their goal is. Characterised by anxiety and uncertainty as the group forms and becomes familiar with each other and team purpose and scope.

Leaders need to ensure that team goals and roles are clearly defined within this stage, they need to work closely with the team to establish the working relationships within the team.

2 – Storming

Now that the group has an understanding of the team purpose and has an awareness of each other there is a need for clarity and refinement of roles and responsibilities. Often this stage will lead to conflict as more dominant members of the team aim to take control.

Leaders need to be aware there will be a high level of requests for clarity on a number of subjects, it is key that these are met by leadership to allow the team to progress from this stage.

They need to be aware of the dominant members of the team and work to ensure they are not drowning out other members. At this stage there is still a high level of involvement from the team leader. However many teams may never progress from this stage so it is important that the power be devolved in some areas so as to encourage transition to the next stage.

3 – Norming

After reaching this stage the team has now formed a bond and has mutual respect and support for each other. There is a good sense of identity and an understanding of the goal and shared responsibly to reach that goal. This stage is seen as complete once the group decides to hold to a set of values and how the group will function.

Leaders at this stage exist to motivate and guide the team, however the team has now found that bond and the general day-to-day tasks should be completed with minimal supervision. However a good team leader will monitor the relationships and assist in taking the team to the next level.

4 – Performing

During this stage the groups combined energy is channelled into the task at hand to reach the end goal. All structural issues have been resolved and the group is a well oiled and functional operating structure. They are strategically aware of the shared vision the team exists to complete and are able to resolve any issues internally with ease.

Leaders at the performing stage help their teams by continuing to deliver a shared vision towards the team goals, however the team is a well oiled machine and works mostly of its own accord. The team leader should seek to be a mentor to team members and help to enable them to reach their next personal level. They should also be aware of any new team members entering as it is always possible to revert back to a previous stage.

There is a fifth stage known as “Adjourning” however this was not part of the original model.

5 – Adjourning

This stage revolves around the break-up of the group, it is hoped this is after the completion of the task at hand. Although in many cases it might be due to a restructuring or change in strategy at a higher level. Thus it can also be seen as mourning, that the group break-up is due to occur. Thus there is often a feeling of insecurity or threat from group members.

Leaders at this stage have a role to play to ensure a smooth transition, if the goals were achieved and the team has been adjourned because of the natural completion then celebrating that success is recommended. If the team has been disbanded prior to this (e.g. In the case of a restructuring) then they have a role to play in ensuring team members are transitioned to their new teams. In all cases it is recommended to ensure team members stay in contact, particularly those that reached the storming level to keep that bond alive should there be a need for a new team to form.

What can manager do to support and develop a team?

Understanding the above team stages and giving support during these stages and learning when to stand back and let the team flourish is key.

A team leader should be seen to guide, encourage and motivate teams within those stages.

This can be shown to be effective through monitoring performance, positive feedback and team morale. On the opposite spectrum if this is not done or is done poorly it may be that there is negative feedback, low performance and low morale. Often this can spread through the team rapidly so must be monitored and the pulse of the team taken regularly.

There are also some key steps any team leader can do aside from these to further ensure effective teams:

Defining clear goals

These should be clear and offer the team direction; using SMART goal setting methods would assist with this. (Specific Measurable Attainable Relevant Time-Bounce)

Decision making authority

Teams require a certain level of autonomy so as not to seek authority for every decision, this level of devolution of power is essential provided clear guidelines are given. This devolution may be required to occur on a gradual basis so as not overwhelm team members (Brower 1995).

Accountability and responsibility

With that power comes responsibility, whilst teams must not be paralysed by fear of failure they must know the boundaries they operate in and the responsibilities that come with those.

Effective leadership

Strong team leaders should offer coaching and mentoring as opposed to directorial efforts (Carr 1992). Set within the group stages listed above they need to be prepared to stand back and offer varying levels of management through to leadership, enabling a shared clear vision in line with set goals without the need to micro-manage.
Training & Development

A successful team should have their development needs continuously under development. Whilst many team members may come with the core skills required for their intended role they may be empowered with learning new skills alongside those they bring to the table. This may include communication, conflict resolution and project management skills. This will also seek to address retention of those team members by investing in their future and will help to maximise their potential.

Resources

Ensuring that the team has the resources needed whether this be money, time, equipment or information (Robbins 1998) is a pivotal part of effective team operation. As above the provision of resources requires responsibility from the team and trust from the organisation. The assistance with this by the manager can be seen as a key helper in the process of the team although in the particular case of information the team should be enabled to obtain this for itself as the dynamics progress.

Organisational Support

Teams need support and commitment from middle and upper management (Bower 1995). Teams also need support and encouragement from the wider organisation including buy-in from senior management that offers a nurturing environment for the team (Margulies & Kleiner 1995).

 


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