Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Top 10 Tips for Team Leadership

There is a lot written about leadership and quite frankly most of it isn't too helpful. In some ways leadership is a fairly simple proposition as long as you approach it in a straightforward manner. Like most things, being an effective leader involves following a consistent and concise set of principles. I suppose you could list hundreds of these guidelines but the reality is you only need a handful – and of course only having a few ensures that you’ll probably remember them when you need to.

Knowing which way to go - how does one achieve it?
In information Technology, the most important leadership role isn't generally the CIO; it starts at a much lower level – with a team. Teams can exhibit the following characteristics:

  • Teams can be formal or informal.
  • Teams can be large (perhaps extending to hundreds of members) or very small – say 3 people.
  • Teams can be local or geographically distributed across the globe. 
  • Teams can be open-ended, project-based or problem-focused – the latter two imply definite end dates which when reached results in disbanding the group. 
  • Teams can be business-focused, technology-focused or both. 
  • Teams can be focused with solution definition or solution development or both.
  • Teams can be targeted to organizational segments or divisions/departments or can be enterprise-wide in nature.
  • Teams can be productive or distracting.

The last point of course is generally due to whether or not the team has an effective leader.

The top ten tips for effective team leadership include:

  1. Efficient Facilitation – This needs to be explained a bit. The fact that a team is communicating is not enough – the communication occurring needs to be productive communication. To be productive – communication generally needs to be framed or directed. This begins when the group is launched but must continue for the life of the group. Yes, it’s somewhat like moderation and for a globally team there may be a lot of moderation involved. But, usually there is some direct interaction between the participants and directed communication goes well beyond typical moderation tasks. Facilitation also includes the ability to elicit the participation of the team members and the ability to keep their motivation level high.
  2. Willingness to Delegate – This is one of the first and worst mistakes that new managers or leaders tend to make. People who have a lot of expertise in an area are often very self-reliant and like to get things done on their own without the hassle of dealing with some type of workgroup. However, if you’re doing all the work yourself then you in effect don’t really have a team.
  3. Being able to identify Key Issues– Being able to determine what is and what isn't important is harder than it seems. When dealing with a group, some things may be very important to certain people and not at all important to others. The team leader must determine what is important for the group as a whole to tackle that within the defined context of the group’s charter. 
  4. The Ability to Make Decisions - This tip is a little bit tricky as it refers not just to the leader’s ability to make decisions but for the group’s ability to do so. In general, it’s not very effective for the team leader to make all of the decisions on behalf of the group. On the other hand, a team that can’t decide anything has little value. 
  5. The Ability to Achieve Consensus– This is not just limited to the group. Generally a team must reconcile its efforts with other external groups; this can be especially problematic in situations where your team is dependent on other groups. 
  6. Demonstrate the Ability to Compromise – This sounds like we’re talking about Congress and in fact that might be a good metaphor for a team – or perhaps a dysfunctional one. There will always be situations where a team may be driven by competing needs or motivations; in those cases compromise is the difference between having a productive team or not. The team leader must be able to compromise themselves before asking anyone else to compromise.  
  7. Have a sufficient level of subject matter expertise in the area where you’re leading – This is one tip some might find controversial. However this advice makes perfect sense if you think about it for a moment. Without having some level of expertise in the subject it will become difficult for a team leader to facilitate the meeting, identify key issues and make key decisions. It places the team leader in a vulnerable position in that he or she must become highly dependent on other team members to carry out the basic leadership functions. 
  8. Be a Peacemaker – As a team leader, you may have to respond to situations where one or more of the group members becomes disruptive or tries to dominate the conversation. This requires some political skill in being able to redirect the group when it gets sidetracked and in being able to defuse potentially tense situations. There are any number of techniques that can be used to achieve those goals, but of course the team leader must know when and how to apply them. It is also important to remember that sometimes in order to maintain peace, someone will need to adjust their behavior – in other words, peace at any cost is not a good policy – sometimes participants will be unhappy by the result or have to leave the team. Don’t be afraid to make the tough decisions in a timely manner.
  9. Excel in Time Management – This is related to many of the tips already listed but has its own dimension as well. Teams that work well generally work to deadlines and tend to utilize every moment of meeting time wisely. The team leader sets all these types of expectations in the way the meeting is run, how it is planned and how all tasks related to the meeting are coordinated with the group’s overall mission.
  10. Demonstrate The ability to acknowledge contributions – The whole point of a team, any team is to harness the collective value of its members. This involves both being able to recognize individual contributions as well as the synergistic output of the combined group. This requires the ability to submerge one’s own ego and focus on harvesting the best ideas in a completely objective manner. 

These tips can be applied to just about any type of team or project context. They seem like common sense yet it is remarkable how few team leaders actually practice all ten of these capabilities consistently. It’s often easy to get caught up in the issues your team is tasked to solve and forget about the processes necessary to ensure that the team actually succeeds.

Copyright 2013, Stephen Lahanas


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