Some people may be surprised to know that teamwork can flourish without a lot of formal reliance on the team’s leader.
Many leaders operate under the impression that great teams must have great leaders driving them forward, and that they must be backed up by a powerful organization that can bestow lavish benefits and perks on the team’s members.
Make no mistake about it: bad leaders can destroy a team.
But really good teams don’t necessarily need powerful, highly directive leadership, even if it’s well intended—they simply need leaders who know how to get out of the way so the team can grow and develop organically.
When we ask team members to rate how important direction, communication, clear roles, processes, and leadership are to the development of a high-performance team, leadership usually comes in last place.
When you think about it, this is actually pretty logical. Leaders are needed to create the conditions, facilitate forward motion, and find the resources necessary for a powerful team to develop, but it is ultimately up to the members themselves to figure out how to function like a team.
We started to understand this interesting dynamic a few years ago when we wrote a book called Teamwork: We Have Met the Enemy and They Are Us. Back then, we began to see that great teams don’t form at the command of management. You can’t force or legislate the development of a high-performing team. The formation of great teams isn’t driven by company policies or mandates; great teams are created by people who are like minded and need only an opportunity from management to let the natural teamwork unfold.
Leaders simply need to set the stage, speak to the benefits and importance of teamwork, and give people an opportunity to come together and talk about the vision and expectations they want to promote within the team environment. When leaders provide sufficient training, encourage teams to gather and talk, and offer moral support, a high-performing team dynamic will develop organically.
Some might ask, “So, what can team members do that is relatively independent of the leader?” The list of good practices and ideas is nearly endless. The whole point is that teammates can in fact take control of their destiny if leaders just do a few basics well.
Here are a few ideas to empower your team members to grow into a dynamic team with minimal direction from you as their leader:
- Share knowledge with one another.
- Manage your time effectively.
- Understand each other’s priorities.
- Recognize each other’s accomplishments.
- Bring up issues and offer solutions rather than waiting for someone else to do it.
- Assume positive intentions.
- Gather data and understand business issues.
- Look at each assignment as a learning opportunity.
- Run some experiments and discover better ways to accomplish the work.
- Set up your own communication process to ensure better alignment.
At the end of the day, teams don’t need to be micromanaged or controlled by leadership. They don’t need a leader-hero who will swoop in and save the day, either. All they really want is a leader who will:
- Invite the team to create their own working agreements.
- Endorse the organic team-development process and encourage it.
- Create an opportunity for team members to come together, talk, and learn.
- Celebrate and recognize positive developments in the group.
- Step back and give the team a little space.
- Make sure newer members or those with meeker personalities don’t get bullied by strong informal leaders.
- Lead from the sidelines.
A team that grows organically grows from within. As you think about how to unleash the untapped potential in your team, make sure you are encouraging them to lead using the leadership style that allows teamwork to blossom.