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Turning People On to Teamwork (Part Seven of a Series)

March 8, 2010


The past five posts explored what it means to be a team, the five levels of teamwork, how to build performance, the four major team player types, and the four stages of team development.

It’s important that leaders set the proper context–the atmosphere–for teamwork. Remember, team work is not an end to itself. It’s built around the need to accomplish something. A common purpose, mutual accountability, interdependence and trust serve as the foundation to building a strong team.

In building a strong team, it’s vital that in the early stage that people learn about themselves. They need to understand their own strengths and weaknesses and what they need to do to respond to the latter. They must develop their own personal visions of what they want to achieve in their lives and how they’re going to realize this. And a key component of this is people taking responsibility for their personal growth and development. This is achieved best by adopting a lifelong learning philosophy, one in which the team member strives to continually improve himself or herself.

Following this approach will enable a team’s members to transcend to team learning. In essence, this is not just about sharing information. More importantly, it’s about the existing boundaries among team members. Interpersonal learning takes place when the members must depend on one another for their own rewards. Of course, this raises such issues as resolving conflict effectively, solving problems collaboratively, and running productive meetings.

100_0654 Turning people on to teamwork means creating those conditions that allow people to meet their personal needs by performing the work themselves. Instead of motivation, what drives people forward is commitment, in which their energy is directed towards a goal. To build commitment is less a matter of changing the person as it is creating the right conditions.

The team leader requires special skills if he or she is to be successful in fostering team learning and in setting boundaries for the team. These essential skills include: leading the team towards creating a common vision and team goals, communicating clearly and concisely, running productive meetings, and solving problems quickly, as well as anticipating them.

A great deal has been written on leadership, to the point where it is used loosely without a clear understanding. The distinction between a leader and a manager can be explained this way: One is given management responsibilities–power and control over people and things. Leadership, on the other hand, must be earned.

In a team setting, this requirement to earn the privilege of being the team leader cannot be overstated. The leader’s purpose is to inspire and mobilize the team to higher levels of performance. The leader achieves this by enabling the team’s members. And this can only be done if the leader gives up control. This is one of the most difficult challenges many managers will experience in their careers. Yet it’s essential if the members of a team are to assume greater responsibility and ownership for their work.

Abraham Maslow made this poignant comment on control and authority and one that should be heeded: When the only tool I have is a hammer, I tend to treat everyone like a nail.

Don’t forget that an effective team isn’t just concerned with getting work done but also with how it gets done. Process (how decisions are made) is critical. Strong teams with solid leaders don’t compromise or vote. They operate by consensus, guided by their common vision and purpose.

Next Post: Rethinking Teams and Teamwork: Getting Over the Guilt Complex

2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 8, 2010 4:32 pm

    Yes, Susan, there’s a common assumption by those appointed to managerial positions that they are by default leaders. I’ve seen this for the past 30 years in large organizations. Yes, leadership can be taught, but it needs to be incorporated into one’s daily work. It takes years to build leadership skills, with a key part being self-reflection, inquiry and understanding oneself thoroughly. Leadership development, unfortunately, is not something that can be popped in the microwave.

    Management/leadership gurus like Henry Mintzberg (of McGill University in Montreal) has been a longtime proponent of people learning leadership skills in a work setting and not classroom. And it comes with timie. Mintzberg has been very critical in the past with MBA programs that taught technical skills to mainly younger people. That situation has been changing of late in biz school programs.

    Thanks for writing.

  2. March 8, 2010 3:37 pm

    Your description of a manager versus a leader is eye-opening, Jim. I never thought of it quite that way, but I believe you are right. Good managers aren’t necessarily good leaders. Leadership must be earned, and to be a great leader, one must be willing to give up some control and let others shine. Unfortunately, many managers and top-level executives don’t understand these concepts.

    I’m wondering, can leadership be taught or is it so closely tied to one’s individual personality and character that you either have it or you don’t?

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