But one thing is for sure: You don’t work on your own.
“Work structures have changed, becoming more fluid and intertwined,” says Michael Campbell with the Center for Creative Leadership. “The ability to lead teams and groups of all shapes and sizes is a core skill and the key to getting things done.”
So, whatever your formal role (team leader, manager or team member), here are three things you need to know about leading teams.
1. Effectiveness is not based on one metric. Of course, teams are measured by results — did you accomplish what you wanted to accomplish? But two additional outcomes also tell you how effective a team is:
- Learning. Did the team build capability and get better?
- Satisfaction. Was the team engaged in the work? Did team members enjoy working together?
2. Needs must be met. Teams have needs and when they are neglected, your outcomes will suffer. Research shows that teams have three types of needs:
- Planning needs. Do we have a shared understanding of goals, roles, team norms, and a strategy or plan to achieve those goals?
- Execution needs. Are we clear about how our team communicates, coordinates, collaborates and monitors its effectiveness?
- Interpersonal. What’s the level of trust on the team? How do we handle conflict constructively? Are we motivated to achieve our goals?
When a team is underperforming, faltering or flat-out failing, look carefully at what’s missing. What behaviors are required (by you and other team members) to meet team needs?
“We find that leaders easily recognize the importance of planning and execution needs, even if they don’t always fulfill those needs,” Campbell notes. “Addressing interpersonal needs is just as critical to team effectiveness, and it is also messier.”
3. Facilitation trumps expertise. Your knowledge is limited. You don’t have all the answers; that’s why you are working with other people. Facilitation skills are needed to access the ideas and knowledge of team members and draw out their collective best thinking. Facilitation requires the ability to mentally pull back from the action or the topic at hand and observe how the team is functioning, and help it improve.
“As a leader you’re not just filling the space the team is working in, you’re creating the space for teams to address their needs,” says Campbell.
Team leadership skills are critical regardless of your formal structure. When you know the outcomes of team effectiveness and the needs that create those outcomes, you’ll have a better handle on what’s going right on your teams — and what isn’t. With that knowledge, you can build a better team.