Team member or team leader? Understanding teams and your role in them
The classic definition of a team is that the people in it are ‘working together to achieve a common goal’. If there is a problem with team performance or morale it is likely to be because one or both of these criteria are not being fulfilled. Either the team is not working together, or there is no common goal to work towards. These are two aspects of teamwork that you as manager can give your attention to in a number of very practical ways. Here are some of them:
Are the team members working together effectively?
Are individuals clear about their roles and responsibilities? Are they aware of the roles and responsibilities of others in their team? Have you identified and resolved any ‘border disputes’ or personal agendas? Are you recognising achievement? Is the team properly resourced? Is there a regular forum for people to discuss how things are going, clarify misunderstandings or discuss improvements?
Is the whole team committed to a common goal?
Is that goal clear enough? Do we all know what success would look like? Does that goal genuinely drive decision-making? Is the goal seen by everyone as positive? Are you actively monitoring performance in relation to the declared goal? Are you feeding back to the team on progress so they know it still matters? Are we assuming that the goal is still relevant rather than revisiting it and refining it in the light of changing circumstances?
As the leader of a team you are the conductor of an orchestra. Each member of the team should have a clear role in the team that enables them to make a defined contribution. However, for most of us, we don’t have the luxury of standing on the podium in splendid isolation watching everyone do their thing. Particularly in a smaller organisation we are also likely to need to pick up an instrument from time to time and play it, and it’s this dual responsibility that can make it a struggle from time to time.
I still think the conductor analogy is useful, even if you spend a fair amount of time with your sleeves rolled up getting involved. We will need to support our staff practically from time to time, we may even have a regular responsibility for delivery as part of our job role, but we are not judged on our ability to deliver; we still tend to be judged on our ability to manage. We are judged by our senior managers, but also by our team. It is our team that will deliver the results, but is the team leader who is responsible for those results. Given the choice between getting stuck in and doing the job ourselves, or enabling the team members to do it more effectively themselves, I suggest we go for the latter.
If I find that I am frequently stepping in to make sure something is done then there is an opportunity for me to do more than simply share the load. I can do my job as well. I can work out why the task continually depends on me to step in and ‘rescue’ my team and come up with ways to increase their effectiveness. I can involve my team in finding out what the problem is, and what the possible solutions are: they probably know already, and if they don’t then we can learn together in the process of finding out.
The precise action I take will depend on what I find when I look into the causes of the situation. Here are a few possible causes and some possible solutions:
Possible causes Possible solutions
Lack of resources Discuss with senior management; remove or reallocate roles
Lack of skills/knowledge Coaching, training, shadowing
Mission creep Reaffirm or reassign purpose and scope of team
Lack of planning Hold team meeting/working group to revisit plans
Lack of decision-making Provide leadership
New responsibilities added Revisit job descriptions (this is often left)
Low motivation Involve senior staff in ‘role refresh’ with new responsibilities
Out of date processes Throw out old processes and create new ones together
Habits, routines Pilot new ideas; feedback; multi-skill; peer to peer coaching
Lack of role clarity Monitoring of processes and results; job descriptions again
Just a simple list of problems and possible solutions can be a great little tool. The key is that we are being proactive in our management of the situation; we are thinking like a manager rather than a team member. If we can identify a barrier to performance and improve it we are making a difference rather than coping with things as they are.
If we involve team members in this process they can make a difference themselves, and also see their manager doing something proactive. It gives them a role in addition to their team function and a stake in the overall activity. Most people welcome the opportunity to be more involved and therefore more influential. Helping them to do that is an important part of our role and benefits us by freeing us from being a more highly paid team member. The alternative is that we continue to spend our time doing when we should be spending our time managing.