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The Team Context: Your Role in Facilitating High-Impact Teams

Jason Diamond Arnold

October 29, 2018

Leadership seems intuitive. But leadership can be tricky the more you expand the number of people you’re attempting to influence. Continuing the skills you need to be an effective Self Leader is just the start of the Leadership Journey.

Sometimes, effective Self Leaders are promoted to the role of a manager where they lead a group or department through a series of One to One relationships, regularly setting and helping individuals set and achieve their goals. But one of the most complex contexts of leadership is the role of a Team Leader.

The Challenge of Team Leadership

A lot has been written on Teams over the past few decades as the workforce has evolved from a hierarchical command and control approach to performance, to a flatter team based approach to creating new products and services for the organization’s client base.

Patrick Lencioni’s break through book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, put the dynamics of leading teams front and center in the world of business, exploring the fundamental causes of team failure and its negative impact on bottom-line business results. Lencioni’s parable generated an international dialogue about the complicated dynamics of leading in a team context, beyond leading in a One-to-One context explored two decades earlier in Ken Blanchard’s, The One Minute Manager.

The goals, scope and roles of the team should be defined early to ensure no mistakes arise in the future. Discover how to facilitate high-impact teams with @InspireSoftware:Tweet This!

Are You Ready to Lead a Team?

Do you believe, that based on your past success as a individual contributor, or even as a manager, you have the experience to lead a team toward a common objective? In Dr. Drea Zigarmi’s book, Achieve Leadership Genius, he and his co-authors assert that leadership is not a one-size-fits-all approach to influences others. Dr. Zigarmi and his team have discovered that leadership occurs in five different contexts--Self, One-to-One, Team, Organizational, and Alliance. Specifically, he discusses how to excel in the Team Context. He goes in-depth about leading a team and what to look out for. The overlooked challenge of the team context is how the team works together to complete the goal.

“Leading in the Team Context means gathering, structuring and developing the collective abilities and energies of a team of people with a common purpose, and then guiding them to the achievement of interdependent goals and sustained high performance.”

- Dr. Drea Zigarmi, Achieving Leadership Genius

Leading high-impact teams involves how you organize the individual abilities of your team to set them up for success. While it seems like effective leadership is about your leadership skills, it really comes down to how you organize the team, then how you use those skills to guide the team through the process of achieving a common objective. There are many challenges to this which change and vary depending on the individuals you are working with, the group goal which needs to be met and the degree in which the members share this goal.

The Difference Between a Team and a Group

Leading in a Team Context is different than leading a group of individuals in a One-to-One context. While a leader may use transferable skills, like listening and giving feedback, they dynamics of how and when you use those skills will differ in the context of guiding the team toward collective success.

One of the biggest mistakes Team Leaders make is similar to how a high-performing individual moves from a role as a contributor to the role of managing individuals. Great managers don’t automatically make great team leaders, without a clear understanding the differences between managing individual pursuing their goals, versus a group of individuals working toward a common goal.

“A team is three or more people associated in a joint action whose interdependent goals cannot be achieved without mutual cooperation and effort. A group is a collection of people who are related in some way.”

- Dr. Drea Zigarmi, Achieving Leadership Genius

Groups consist of members who can succeed on their own. Teams consist of members whose success is dependent on other members. There are many people who view a group as a team and waste their efforts. At the same time, there are leaders who sit back and do not recognize the needs of a team, because they view the team as a group. There are three things which can happen when groups and teams are mistaken for each other:

  1. Using team-building efforts on a group may be wasted since members don’t have a common goal that requires interdependent actions and shared knowledge.
  2. If you assume you are in a group and do not provide the necessary team leadership, it will most likely fail.
  3. Implementing collective group leadership can lead to overlooking the need for one-to-one leadership that is still necessary for individual success.

It is important to recognize the goal of your team at any given time. Make sure individuals you are working with are aligned and effectively contributing to these goals, and provide the appropriate leadership necessary to effectively complete them while meeting critical business needs.

The Core Skills of a Team Leader

While the dynamics of leading a team differ from leading in a One-to-One context, the pursuit of a team goal remains similar to an individual’s journey toward achieving a goal. Just a individual will experience a series of phases in their pursuit of a goal, research validates how typical it is for team to evolve through stages when pursuing a collective objective. As the team’s leader, you need to distinguish the common indicators that reflect a team’s phase of performance.

Bonus Content: Download the Leadership Values Checklist!

“A team will experience the five phases of performance as individuals, organizations, and alliances as they pursue common objectives. However, the key indicators of performance will differ depending on the context of the goal. A team goal will have indicators that may reflect outcome-oriented needs, while other indicators may reflect process-oriented needs. Your role to meet those needs grow exponentially more complex in a team context!”

A team leader needs to be able to continually and effectively assess the collective ability and energy related to the goal they are pursuing. Good team leaders will know how to effectively read the team and offer proper amount of direction for the team, without taking away their autonomy to achieve the objective, and inspire them when the energy and motivation of the team is wavering due to outcome or process oriented needs.

The Micro Skills of a Team Leader

Once a Team Leader learns to effectively assess the needs of the team, it’s the leaders role to offer the most effective direction or support of that team in order to optimize the pursuit of the team goal. Several key skills a team leader needs to effectively demonstrate to improve the overall efficiency of a team are to Facilitate a Team Charter, Assess the DISC (dispositions or personality) of team members to communicate more effectively when pursuing team goals, Facilitate Effective Team Meetings, Facilitate Team Problem Solving, and Resolve Team Conflicts.

Team Charter (Purpose and Process)

Part of achieving team goals includes creating a team charter. Team charters guide how teams work together around the goals. Many people think a team charter is ineffective. However, it is the thinking process that is essential. Creating a team charter together helps clarify the purpose of the team, the scope of the project, the duties and roles of each member, the strategy and the expected outcome. The more clarity you put into your charter, the more clarity you give for your team. Creating a team charter is useful beyond the charter itself and helps the team understand their own purpose and process.

In Jesse Stoner’s book, Full Steam Ahead, she warns leaders about the dangers of leading without a clear direction and process for achieving objectives, “Leadership is about going somewhere,” she says. “If not serving a shared vision, your leadership efforts are in danger of becoming self-serving.” Taking time up front to charter a team can seem to slow things down. It’s difficult work to create a shared vision and agreed process on how to achieve that vision. But slowing down things to create an effective charter can help you lead agile over the course of time and ensure your moving fast in the right direction, with smarter decision that the entire team is motivated by.

DISCover Team Members (DISC for Teams)

There are many factors that can influence the effectiveness and overall performance of a team, but perhaps the most important factor that can impact a team are the individual personalities that make up that team. A good team leader must not only understand the individual disposition of each team member, but also know how those personalities are actively engaging, or disengaging one another. Using a DISC assessment tool is the first step to understanding the makeup of your team and the possible conflicts that could arise based on how you and team members communicate to the different DISC types. A greater understand of team members disposition can help cultivate creativity, resolve conflicts effectively, build on each other’s strengths, and ultimately work toward a common vision.

DISC is a behavioral analysis tool used to help understand and improve team performance. The most effective teams require comprise of different types of team members, the knowledge and the capability to work with each other while recognizing these behavioral styles.

  • Dominant: completes tasks, may overstep authority, likes challenges
  • Influencing: strong communication, motivational, people-oriented
  • Compliant: fact/data-oriented, detail-oriented, traditional approach, more passive
  • Steady: reliable, team player, traditional approach, slower paced, cautious

These styles have different degrees of trust, communication, common goals, mutual respect and tolerance. Effective leaders and team members recognize these in others. When team members are lacking trust, it must be earned. If communication is creating problems, effective teams must clarify the issues creating the problem. Using DISC can help teams perform better to reach their goals.

Leading a high-performing team involves how you organize the abilities of your #team to set them up for success. Find out how with @InspireSoftware:Tweet this!

Facilitate Effective Team Meetings

Team Meetings are a blessing and a curse. They can be a powerful opportunity to discover key issues facing the team goal or to share updates on overall progress. Poorly facilitated meetings can kill the workflow of a team and have a negative impact on the motivational outlook of team. Whether you take a more modern agile approach to team meetings, or the traditional face to face meeting room approach, you’re never going to stop having meetings altogether. There is still great value in getting team members together in a room, face-to-face or virtually, to work things out in real time.

Team Leaders need to set the norms for facilitating effective team meetings. Having a purpose for the meeting, with clear outcomes, and the type of team meeting being conducted (preview, review, or refinement) can go a long way in making the meetings more productive. Explore meeting formats that consistently make the meetings more valuable for the entire team, not just you as a Team Leader. Team meeting should make everyone’s input and contribution to the team goal feel valued, understand the priorities of the moment, and always leave room for opportunities to discuss how the team could improve on the pursuit of the team goal.

Bonus Content: Download the Checklist to Develop Leadership Excellence!

Team Problem Solving

There are few skills as important to business success than the skill of problem-solving. Problem solving in teams requires three important things:

  • Team diversity for thinking
  • Social support for creativity
  • Removing complex systems

Team members thinking process and ideas should be diverse. It’s important to have a devil’s advocate and avoid groupthink. Furthermore, the wider the teams thinking, the more ideas people will have. Members should also feel supported and safe to share these ideas. If member a has an opposing idea, they should feel safe enough to share it. This can help develop team trust and create new ideas. Finally, teams should look to solve problems while removing entire sets of problems. If an issue is much more complex than it needs to be, you should consider simpler options to make it easier.

Problem solving ranges in the width of areas it can be used and depth in which it solves problems. Furthermore, the more areas of complexity a problem is spread, the greater problems are spread out. The deeper issues which can’t be restructured require a deeper level of problem solving skills. “There are few practices as widespread, and as crucial to business success, as problem solving,” according to Jeff Pruitt in his article, 3 Surprising Ways to Develop Problem Solving Teams. No matter what context you are attempting to lead in, the ability to have an effective and concise problem solving process is critical to the success of an organization. A Team Problem Solving process is vital to a Team Leader and should reflect a consistent approach to problem solving learned in a self or one-to-one leadership context.

Resolving Team Conflicts

Conflict happens! One of the most important skills a team leader can develop is the skill of effectively resolving conflicts on a team. As a team leader, your primary focus is on the overall progress and performance of the team toward the team goal, but unresolved conflicts can have a serious negative impact on the motivation and productivity of the team.

It may be a temptation to simply dismiss the conflict, especially if your natural disposition as a leader is to avoid conflict. It may be even easier to dismiss the conflict as simply a personal issue, rather than an opportunity to clarify and improve the process and norms of the team, which may be the source of the conflict. A good Team Leader is skilled at recognizing conflict on a team, identifying the source of the problem without labeling individuals as the problem, then effectively, consistently, and justly resolving the conflict in order to continue the effective pursuit of the team goal and ensure the team remains optimally engaged in the purpose of the team.

The Essence of a Team Leader

When you consider the complexity of teams and the skill required by both the leader and the team members to collective contribute to a common goal, it’s natural to question if it’s worth leading a team at all. When the purpose of a team is simply a series of individual job descriptions toward an unclear or uncommon goal, it’s easy to see how conflict can quickly rise in a team setting. The feelings and frustrations of team members are legitimate when their is not a skilled leader effectively guiding them through a process that brings meaning and purpose, not only to the organization, but all of the team members contributing to the goal.

When the combined skills of and talents of individuals come together to create an extraordinary product that no individual could have accomplished on their own, or acting independently from the collective knowledge and skills of the team. In fact, the art of team leadership is a powerful way to understand the importance and growing need for effective teams in today’s workforce. Team leadership is the great opportunity to help people with diverse skills, backgrounds, talents, and passion come together for a common purpose greater than themselves as any individual on the team.

Jason Arnold is the Director of Leadership for Inspire Software.

The Team Context is one of five contexts in achieving leadership genius (excellence). Read about the other four contexts by getting a copy of Dr. Drea Zigarmi’s book, Achieve Leadership Genius!