Lots of managers I meet in training or at events tell me how they now lead team of staff and volunteers. And what has happened over the years, is these teams have got bigger and bigger, as settings have continued to grow or extend their services. The single most common things said to me is: ‘I never imagined I would lead a team’ and ‘how do I do it?’
One thing for sure, is working in teams is essential and is the preferred way of working for most organisations. But it needs some thought.
Our starting point is clear roles and responsibilities. But we also need to know how group dynamics affect teams – this is something I have written about before. As is the importance of leaders being able to apply and adapt their leadership styles to each and every changing situation that naturally occur in teams.
Teams do need to have: a definable membership; an identity, interdependence, interaction, feel sustainable, and an ability to act as one together. And successful teams: communicate, know individual roles, commit to excellence, follow the leader, know their strengths and weaknesses, have common goals and vision, and appreciate individual input and team effort.
The challenge is that all teams are a living, constantly changing, dynamic force in which people come together to work. And as Adair (1986) identified they are tasked with balancing the needs of: the individual, the team, and the task. And in attempting to achieve these three aims, each team must openly discuss their objectives, assess ideas, make decisions, and work towards their targets together. Tasks need to be defined, planned, allocated and resourced, and quality needs to be checked against the plan, which should be adjusted if needed. For individuals, all need to have their personal needs met, receive praise and encouragement, be given status in their role, supported to grow and develop at their pace, and recognised for their individual abilities and qualities.
It is the team that holds all (including the leader) to account by setting standards, maintaining discipline, building team spirit, encouraging and motivating (so all have a sense of purpose), sharing skills and learning/training together, and ensuring effective communication throughout.
It is those teams that do all this and achieve outstanding practice or service, that impress me most. They are not mutually exclusive. You can’t have one without the other. But it needs constant attention, as teams change whenever anything changes in the team. In teams that can easily include: new members joining or established members leaving, the job changing, different roles and routines emerging, new users or customers requiring changes in practice and structure, and new policy changes as well. Which is why thinking about working in teams and leading them is a constant occupation of the leader.