Empowerment Leadership Model for Small Groups, Teams, & Families
Course Five, 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 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 employees really enjoy their jobs and find personal fulfillment. The job then is not just benefiting the organization, but also the employee in a significant way. This in turn leads to happier 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 jobs. 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. This, in turn, brings along with it more and more commitment to the employer.
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 work group or on a team. (Note that I make a big distinction between a work group and a team. Work groups are not led as teams.) Let's think up a really difficult situation that would cause a lot of trouble in either a work group or a team. Let's say that Mike propositioned Dave's wife, Mary, in the company parking lot while she was waiting to pick up Dave from work. Mary did not like it and complained to Dave. The next day, in front of others on the team, Dave threatened Mike. A miserable work-week has gone by, and the tension is still hanging over the team, making everything uncomfortable. A few team members have called in sick, probably to avoid the crisis. Communication has become difficult for team members, who feel the pressure to take sides and declare loyalties to either Dave or Mike.
A work group would most likely consider this Dave's and Mike'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 would not be enjoyable for a long time. About six months later, the conflict would be dropped, unless Dave or Mike quit the job sooner. And, while there would be no more open hostility, and Dave and Mike might even be back to joking with one another, trust on the team would still be considerably undermined. In fact, without any real action on the problem, others in the work group would be distrustful, thinking that if Mike could move on Dave's wife, any of the others could proposition their wives.
I'll bet you can see that this is not 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 Dave's and Mike's, but as the team's problem. The team leader would immediately recognize the dangers for the team, because his focus is on the development of and the success of the team as a whole. He or she is ever watchful for the team's welfare and success.
A true team leader would be more concerned about the team than about Dave or Mike. He or she would steer the team to be concerned about the conflict between Dave and Mike. Such a leader would know that the team as a whole could handle this situation better than he or she could as a leader or supervisor. 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 Mike and Dave. This leader would know that such problems could come up at any time, especially when he or 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 job done for the employer. Then there would not be so much damage control to do later.
So, how might a team leader deal with this situation between Dave and Mike? 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'll name our fictional team leader Randall.
Right away, Randall would recognize that the alleged propositioning of another's wife could be very dangerous to the smooth working of the team in getting its job done for the company. He would step in as soon as possible. He would call a meeting of the team right away so that the problem would not get larger than it already is. It doesn't really matter where this meeting occurs, but since there might be some voices raised in anger, a private place is mandatory.
Once together, Randall says to the team, "The team has a problem to work out before it gets in the way of your team purpose to get your jobs done in the best way possible for the mission of the company and in a way that is enjoyable for the team and its members."
If the team has been working as a team for some while, then Randall would keep silent, giving the experienced team a chance on its own to identify the problem and get to work at resolving it. This is ultimately where Randall wants to go with the team, because he might not always be there when a serious problem comes up.
But our fictional team is new at all of this, so Randall continues, "The team needs to analyze the problem between Dave and Mike 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 let Dave talk first and Mike respond. Let them know that you as a team will resolve this so that the team can stay effective and this job remain a place where all of you want to work and where you feel comfortable working."
The team would then hear Dave's accusations that Mike "came onto" his wife Mary. The team, with Randall's help, would contain Mike's defensive reactions and help him to listen and understand what has happened. The team would ask relevant questions of Dave to understand his side of the conflict.
Then the team, with Randall's help only as necessary, would hear Mike's side, making it as safe as possible for him to be honest. This might require all of the team members to help Dave contain his anger and hear Mike out, even if he thinks Mike is lying.
There are a number of ways the problem might develop. Mike could deny that he did anything, in which case the team would have to help him realize that something did happen and get him to tell what happened chronologically. Mike could then be helped to see that his flirting, or whatever he did, was not functional for the team and would need to stop.
Mike could state that he was just joking and the team would deal with it as stated above.
Mike could admit that he propositioned Mary because he has been very interested in her and thought that Dave and Mary's marriage was on the rocks anyway. With Randall's help, the team would consider this. Assuming that the marriage was on the rocks, the team (not the team leader) might ask everyone to stay away from one another's marriages, in the sense of not seeing wives as available for romantic endeavors, regardless of whether or not a marriage is in trouble. They would probably discuss that it does not help a struggling marriage to have someone make himself available, now or in the future. If Randall does his job well, he would get the team to acquire the commitment of all team members to not be interested in another's wife ever, even after a divorce since dating a team member's ex-wife would likely be destructive to the team and its purpose. Hopefully, they would recognize that job satisfaction is worth the price of staying away from any type of romantic relationship with one another's wives or ex-wives, including flirting. They would define constructive ways to relate to one another's wives, if such was not obvious to all team members. Once these agreements were made, much of the problem would be resolved. Perhaps the team would need to see that Mike apologized to Dave and then to Mary in Dave's presence.
Mike could state that Mary came on to him. This would be the most difficult version of this problem for the team to resolve. The reason this one is so volatile is that Dave will confront his wife privately, without the help of the team. The problem could escalate, as Mary would probably deny the charges and Dave would want to believe her and consider Mike a very dangerous liar for the sake of saving the marriage. Or Dave could disbelieve Mary and become
so emotionally distraught as to have to miss work. Hopefully, Dave would not hurt his wife, but that is a possibility. He could forbid his wife to talk ever again to Mike, and the problem for the team would grow.
If Mike made a credible case that Mary had made the first move, the team, with Randall's help, would have to get involved in helping Mike realize that for the sake of the team purpose, it doesn't really matter who makes the first move. Then the team should discuss appropriate contact of team members with one another's wives.
But Randall would still know that the team must help Dave deal with his wife tenderly or all hell would still break loose, just in a different place. So, since the team is new to all of this, Randall would comment, "The team needs to help Dave handle this right, or something might happen to threaten the functioning of your team. You don't want Dave to blow it." The team then might give Dave some suggestions on how to deal with Mary. The team might also convince Dave to go to marriage counseling with his wife. Someone on the team, perhaps even Mike, might offer to go with Dave when he first talks this over with Mary.
What would be the positive results for the team and the company from Randall'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. Almost all future problems, especially non-people, job-related situations, would appear easy for the team to solve, in light of the severity of this one. (2) Cohesion among team members would strengthen as a result of solving such a difficult situation together. Team members would really think twice about quitting and going to another job where men might not have committed to one another to respect one another's marriages. And, like those who serve together in the armed services, strong personal friendships would develop as a result of surviving such a dangerous problem. (3) A sense of loyalty to one another would grow, leading to a real comradery and sense of community. More and more social activity might occur with team members and their families. The more you enjoy the people you work with, the more reason to stay at a particular job. (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.
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 get his work done on time. 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 employee individually and talks to him about getting his work done on time. The employee begins getting his work done on schedule. 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 calls a meeting and asks the team what it wants to do to help the team member who is having trouble getting his work done on time. Team members discuss why they need the team member to get things done on schedule, 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 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 he 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.
THE THIRD EXAMPLE
Here is a third example. Both Team A and Team Z have a very discouraged member who is angry at and intimidated by a customer he must deal with. Both men are more prone to quit their job rather than do what must be done.
In Team A, someone tells the team leader that Joe is having a problem with a customer and will probably quit or start taking sick leave to avoid the situation. The team leader gets the word out for everyone to encourage Joe. He also talks to Joe individually about the conflict with the customer.
The leader of Team Z sees the problem differently. He knows the problem is first of all the team's problem and only secondarily Joe's problem, at least at this moment. So the leader gathers the team together and says, "Okay, team. Joe needs your help. It is your job to help him know how to deal with this difficult customer and also to encourage him so he can successfully handle this situation, keep his good job with us, and earn the money his family needs." Then the leader backs off and lets the team spread its wings and fly. The leader watches carefully, analyzing the team's efforts and process, not just individual contributions.
Mary gives a simplistic answer, leaving Joe feeling stupid rather than empowered. Still the leader says nothing, waiting to see if the team will realize Mary's lack of empathy and depth. After a while it seems that the team did not pick up on what occurred. So the leader, talking to the team as a whole, gives work to the team by asking, "Does Joe appear encouraged by what you have been saying? If your team is going to be successful, you need to stay tuned in to the effect of what you are saying. You might ask Joe if what was said has given him the wisdom and courage he needs to deal with his difficult customer."
When the team checks with Joe, they find out that he is feeling more stupid than ever. The team does some reflection and concludes that not all problems can be dealt with so simply. The team leader adds, "There is a lot of wisdom and experience in this team. Does the team want to discuss what really encourages people? Or can you think of some other way to help Joe?" Again the leader removes himself from the process for the more difficult assignment of watching and analyzing the team's effectiveness and planning his next strategic comment. The team members begin stating what encourages each of them. The leader notices that there is no synergism, no asking one another further questions to reach a deeper understanding of each member's way of thinking. The team leader knows that he still has a developing team. So the leader waits until the point would be obvious and then says, "You are merely acting as a collection of individuals. Help one another ask questions and truly understand what goes on inside each of you when you are encouraged."
The team looks confused. So the leader makes a clearer statement, one he knew he should not make until he knew that the team did not yet understand the concept of working together to define what is effective in encouraging. "What I am referring to," continues the leader, "is that a healthy team uses its resources wisely. Whenever someone has made a comment on what encourages him or her, the team should see that each of its members uses his or her skill to analyze and get the most out of what was said. For example, Jill said she is most encouraged by knowing others will stand by her as she goes out on a limb to do something difficult. You really don't know why that helps her or what she means by 'standing beside her.' So those of you good at asking questions should ask. Those of you good at clarifying what was said so everyone understands should clarify. Those of you good at bringing out the best in others should ask people their opinions, observations and how they understand what Jill is saying. Work together. Build on one another's strengths. Build on one another's contributions rather than just making your own individual contributions and thinking what you will say next. Watch the team's process and think about what else needs to happen, who should do it, and who should ask that person to enter into the discussion."
If we carried this example further, you would see clearly how the team would become experts on encouragement. As the team and its members become more proficient and skilled at helping one another, everyone will do much better on their job, benefiting themselves and the organization for which they work. The team will become more and more empowered.
Let me repeat: Do you see the tremendous benefit of the team process that comes when the team leader leads the team? It is absolutely critical, therefore, that teams are led as teams. The most basic, most essential skill in leading teams is leading the team. Leading individuals in a team setting does not accomplish things - it destroys the potential 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 employees.
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. The team leader should focus on the team.
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?"
THE FOURTH EXAMPLE
Here is one last example contrasting the leadership of individuals, leadership of individuals in a work group, and leadership of a team.
An individual is having serious trouble getting to work on time. Other team members are negatively affected.
Leadership of Individuals, One-on-One:
The team leader meets with the tardy employee and discusses the problem. The individual gets personal attention from one person, an authority figure, and may feel cared for, but probably feels scared instead. To not lose his job, the employee will get to work on time, maybe for a while, hopefully from then on.
The team leader feels important and useful. He or she has helped someone improve for the sake of the job.
Leadership of Individuals in a Work Group:
Here the team leader calls the work group together and talks to individuals. Usually in this situation the leader would just state to the whole group that it is important for everyone to get to work on time. This method contains the risk that anyone other than Joe will be offended, since they do get to work on time and did not need the warning.
Better, but still a bit short of the mark, the leader might ask the group to tell Joe why it is important for him to get to work on time. He or she asks if anyone has any suggestions for Joe. The main point is that the leader takes the major responsibility for helping Joe and unknowingly communicates that the team is to be dependent upon him or her to initiate dealing with work problems.
If leaders lead individuals when others are present, team members can become passive observers. They gain some benefit from the insights the leader communicates to the individual. But all remain dependent upon the leader. This does not effectively motivate the team to solve problems without the team leader's involvement. This is harmful because often the team leader is not present when a problem could be easily solved on the spot.
Leadership of a Team:
The leader gives the whole job to the team, possibly saying to the team, "Can you guys help Joe with his problem of getting to work on time?"
Whether this is a formal meeting in chairs around a table or an informal one in the break room or at the water cooler, team members will grapple with the problem. They will go about the task of helping, not only during the one meeting, but over time, until Joe is regularly on time for work. The leader says little, only what needs to be said to help the team reach its maximum helpfulness.
While team members are helping one another, each team member struggles with his or her own issues about getting to work on time or some other aspect of job performance.
After this team incident, team members will be less dependent upon the team leader to solve problems that arise on the job. Because when the team is led as a team, every team member contributes, some see their potential for leadership, and all sense their capability.
Joe will have felt important and cared for by many people, not just by the team leader. If all goes as it should, Joe will not feel inferior to the other team members because many of them admitted difficulties they face in doing their job.
The team leader really feels important, not because of accolades he or she receives from the team, but because of the success he has helped the team achieve.
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.
The team leader should place his or her primary 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.
The most essential team leadership skill is Leading the Team!
Next, we will look at focusing your attention on the team and not on individuals.