From me to we

While teams can be an effective way to organize, not all teams are effective. Leadership is always a shared commodity in a team, since nobody fully controls a team process. While discipline is crucial, if you want to succeed, social aspects cannot be overlooked.

Team members share roles and responsibilities crucial to their task’s success. In one project, you may be the formal leader but depend on others for key insights. In another project, you watch others excel but may have unique experience in a vital area. If you are very outspoken, you can rally people to support you when there is time to make a decision. You may be the social leader in the group. The important thing: You must think and lead simultaneously.

In the last decade, business has been seen rapid innovation. Those who fail to innovate die — unless they operate a monopoly. (And eventually, monopolies also die, due to government regulations or because an ever-changing business environment.) Innovation grows in importance. Fresh perspectives are held in high regard but cannot possibly come from the insiders alone. And while insiders are important, one person alone cannot change much. What matters: Look around yourself, and work with what you have. Within any organization, there are insiders and outsiders. A team has a great deal of knowledge that is inaccessible those not on the team. This holds true even for colleagues who have been part of a company for 20 years.

Jon R. Katzenbach and Douglas K. Smith’s 1993 classic The Wisdom of Teams posits that corporate teams must be small, diverse, and accountable. Their follow up tome, 2001’s The Discipline of Teams, indicated that successful teams depend not so much on bonding, togetherness, and empowerment but, rather, on discipline — all of which is true. But there is more: Meetings, for instance, must be issue-driven. You have to allow time to solve the issue. Do not stick strictly to project plans. Effective teams, wrote Katzenbach and Smith, alternate leaders even when completing one task. All members are mutually accountable.

A Hollywood soundstage or a large public-sector consulting project, are both examples of team settings. A team is a small group of people, usually twelve or less, working together for a limited time to achieve common goals. If the team is larger, additional people perform marginal roles or act as subcontractors to the main delivery. A successful team is a group whose elements (e.g., people, process, leadership, and resources) lead to deliveries that match or exceed initial expectations.

Teams command a set of resources and are affected by several factors specific to their task, the individuals on their team, the setting, and the sector. Other factors may intervene.

Successful teams believe in their task and command sufficient resources to reach their goal. They have a social leader, as well as a task leader (neither of which may be the assigned project leader), and they spend considerable time face to face. When forced to meet online, they are aware of the current limitations; communicate carefully and do not spend too much time on controversial issues.

The bulk of existing research on teams indicates that while all teams are working on a task or task, most teams devote equal time to maintaining the social relationships within the team.

Teams differ in degree of complexity, and you need to know which factors come into play in your own team. Even more importantly, as we will see, every team must become a “we” before anything useful can happen.

Five things My Daughter Taught me about Leadership

I have a two year old daughter to whom I dedicated Leadership From Below. I believe she embodies the principle. She has absolutely no formal power, she is clearly a small thing who has a lot to learn about life. One would think she lacked the size, experience, or economic resources to pursue great things. On the other hand, I have discovered that she very often gets her way. Why is that?

1. Be persistent.

When I dedicated my book to her, I admit I was thinking of her qualities like persistence, dedication, stubbornness, and willingness to go to extreme measures. All of these are important to bottom-up leadership where you do not have a lot of formal power, such as in team work, when working with competitors, or in any kind of partnership. Management books and managers had better take notice soon – and knowledge workers are using these principles daily. So, let’s turn to my daughter, who is two. For instance, if she has indicated she wants something, say a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, she will pursue her idea until it gets there, even if there are very good reasons why she would not get one, such as she just ate, we are in the car without easy access to food, or we are making something else for that meal. Resisting leadership from below occurs at great peril, if you are dealing with passionate believers. They will simply not give up. Persistence is largely a good quality in life. You can accomplish more if you are prepared to work at it, even if the environment initially is hostile to your ideas or you do not see immediate results. However, not everyone is persistent, and not all persistence does in the end lead to success. So, there must be more to her shrewdness. Maybe persistence only pays off if you…

2. Build an unbreakable bond.

Having reflected on this a bit more, I found something even more important: the leverage she has through the unbreakable bond she has created between herself and her significant others, indeed everyone who spends time with her. For example, she is her uncle’s favorite, he refuses to discipline her and leaves the room when she is sad, to avoid being associated with causing any pain. He explores the good side of the little princess and lets her parents handle the rest. What that bond does is that it creates an unbreakable allegiance to her, her actions, opinions, viewpoints, and desires, even the ones that are clearly counterproductive, cause things to break, or are really painful. This week, for instance, my daughter decided to put our telephone in the toilet. We scolded her a bit for it, but it is now just a good story. Also, for some inexplicable reason, after we dried out it, it is now working again. Does her bond extend to objects, too?

3. Make your way the natural way.

My point is this, leadership is about building relationships, only then can you have influence. Trying to push your will through without strong relationships with people around you will only cause resentment. However, if you have a unique position built on repeated interactions where you have shown you care about others, where you show that despite your strong will you also give back, your commands will be carried out. The even stranger thing is, it will not feel like a command. In fact, it might feel like the natural thing to do.

4. Push your point, but move on.

Even more impressively, if I have been coerced to accept one of her whims, even if making her happy has been at the expense of my good night’s sleep, sending the report my boss is waiting for, or has taken every minute of my valuable talking time with my wife that evening, it is soon forgotten. By both of us. Life goes on, there are new challenges ahead. This happens even if there have been seemingly unsurmountable obstacles to peace, maybe I slept for only an hour combined throughout the whole night. She will simply smile at me and say something like: “Daddy read?” How does she do it?

5. See yourself as an equal

My daughter, who only just turned two, had an almost innate feeling of the peer-to-peer principle which is so immensely important in contemporary society, and is every day exploited by practitioners of leadership from below. She simply sees herself as an equal. She has no fear. She will likely approach royalty, CEOs, tax men, bosses, or teachers she will meet on her way in the same fashion she approaches her parents: as an opportunity to explore life, present her position, and share her world view with others. May that attitude become more prevalent in business, too. Having an effective leadership style is not about age, experience, or formal power. It is largely an attidude and a set of skills you hone through practice. I say, look at the two-year olds around you, and learn.

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