The Lone Ranger is dead.
When The Economist magazine recently asked 180 leaders what the major influence on future organizations would be, two-thirds of them said it would be teams and groups. Clearly, the John Wayne model of leadership won’t work. What is needed today is a different kind of leadership. People who think they can do it by themselves are somewhat deluded. Despite these kinds of statements the cult figure of the Chief Executive Officer still exists. They are enshrined, and probably celebrated too much. This is partly an American phenomenon. However throughout Europe there are beginning to be reactions against these icons for companies and these are ominous signs for the future of figureheads.
As the business world becomes more complex and interdependent, executives cannot afford to lead in isolation. Instead, they must tap into the collective knowledge and expertise of their colleagues by creating real teamwork at top levels of the organization. They need to build truly effective leadership teams.
Successful management in today’s society are forever trying to seek out the most competent individuals to employ in specific roles within a business environment. The criteria on which an individual is selected are widely recognised as the common attributes of a leader. These qualities would include; intelligence, forcefulness, sensitivity, patience, decisiveness, the person would be reflective and dynamic, a good communicator as well as being a good listener. The list of desirable traits continues to describe the perfect leader-manager who would be effective and most probably flawless. In reality this person could not exist, simply because many of the characteristics seem to conflict with one another. It is unlikely that someone could be both forceful and particularly sensitive.
The inability of a single individual to possess all the skills that are sought after, presents the opportunity for the development of a team that certainly could. Teams also have the advantage that if a single member of a team is unavailable, then the productivity of the team may not be impacted significantly, whereas if a single person had full responsibility for a task and then was taken ill for example, any progress due to be made on the task would be halted. Another problem with focussing on training individuals to a high level and therefore becoming somewhat reliant on that person is that, if that person decided to leave to take a position with a competitor or to take early retirement to spend time with their spouse then the business is left trying to adjust for the loss. By focussing on teams the business is somewhat less exposed to these potential problems. However the development of teams to provide protection against competitors ‘poaching’ personnel, has become less effective, especially in the service industries. An example of this kind of activity occurring was seen in November 1999 when a team of Merrill Lynch & Co. telecom analysts defected to Credit Suisse First Boston (CSFB). This forced Merrill to reshuffle its depleted research effort just as the firm’s telecom bankers were positioning to land the mandate on what could be the biggest initial public offering in history. The highly regarded telecom analysts Dan Reingold and Mark Kastan left Merrill for CSFB on 22nd November, taking with them a group of five other analysts – almost Merrill’s entire U.S. telecom research team.
With such an emphasis on the formulation of effective self-managed teams, the question of whether leadership is actually required arises. It has been suggested that to organize genius and to have a great group, the fine art of herding cats must learnt. This analogy is used to demonstrate the difficult skill of persuading members within a team to carry out tasks they may not particularly want to, and feel good about doing it. This soft skill is very important if a group is to have a member in a leading capacity.
Some leaders have managed to succeed without having great people skills. Examples include Steve Jobs at Macintosh Computers, Walt Disney, Kelly Johnson at Lockheed’s Skunk Works, and John Andrew Rice at Black Mountain College. In fact they have been described as having herded their cats with whips; and yet still produced phenomenal results. Leaders typically provide direction and meaning that resonate in the heart, soul and mind. But many leaders of great groups are abrasive, if not downright arrogant.
Another analogy used to describe these people is that they are all alchemists. They are creating something out of nothing. They are creating something magical. They are creating an object of enchantment. An explanation given for why these team leaders were obnoxious at times was that when believing that they were involved in a group that would change the world, they could be afforded the opportunity of being a son-of-a-bitch for a time. If a group can be created that thinks they can “make a dent in the universe,” as Steve Jobs told the team that created the Macintosh computer, one’s personal foibles, losing one’s temper, one’s style become less important. If the team feels transported, and part of the excitement, the thrill and the electrifying feeling of doing something that nobody has ever done before, arrogance on behalf of the leader can be excused.
Undoubtedly this aggressive style of team leadership producing outstanding results is the exception to most group situations. The charismatic nature of the people involved probably had more to do with the eventual result rather than the manner in which they lead. Charisma is intangible, difficult to assess, and cannot be taught, yet can override all learnt skills of good team leading. However there have been studies that suggest that the personality of the leader may adversely affect the team s performance. Mary Fontaine, head of the Hay/McBer’s competency practice, a U.S. management consulting group, carried out a study that found that team leaders with a variety of managerial styles-authoritative, affiliative, democratic and coaching can be successful as long as they encourage dialogues. However team leaders with a coercive managerial style were found to be far less successful at promoting dialogues. In contrast to the success of the individuals and their organisations mentioned earlier it was found that it wasn’t the best and the brightest who excelled. “Sucking the oxygen out of the room with excessive charisma or with an intimidating intellect and self-confidence was often detrimental to team efforts,” Fontaine says. “The truly outstanding leaders frequently were those whose contributions were less visible, who worked behind the scenes to create structures and arrange for organizational supports that made it easier for their teams to excel.”
There seems to be a threshold level of team skills required to be a competent leader, and above this level charisma can either make an average leader-manager into someone special or more likely hinder the groups performance. The ideal that leaders are not born, but make themselves supports this theory. A person may develop to be charismatic, however in order to grow as a leader they must learn the necessary people or soft skills. These are the hardest skills to learn. They are the things that will make the biggest difference in organizations.
Bob Haas, CEO of Levi Strauss, has said the hard skills are not getting the pants out the door. The hard skills are creating the work force that will be motivated to be productive. So, the soft skills are the hardest skills.
It seems that there is still a place for leaders within teams, but not in the traditional sense. Leaders are purveyors of hope who suspend disbelief in their groups. They represent the group s needs and aspirations. They don’t know that a task cannot be achieved. Most individuals are hungry spirits, and any leader who can dangle a dream before them usually gets their attention and the collective talents within a team make that dream a reality. Today the one thing that the majority of professional people want is to be inspired.
For many years the qualities of individuals have been studied, and the successful characteristics copied. However the successful features of a management team are less well understood. A team has proved more difficult to study than a single person. However there has been recognition of some of the main elements of what makes one team more successful than another. A number of studies have been carried out to try to depict the foundations of teamwork and the complimentary relationships between members. The format of the team and the relationships within seem indicative to whether the team is successful. It is not necessarily the ability of individuals within the team.
Given a free choice of members and the need to form a high-powered management team to solve complex problems, it would seem sensible to select members who have sharp analytical minds. This would suggest creating a team composed entirely of intellectually clever people. These types of people would be equipped for coping with major projects and big decisions. Creating a ‘Think-Tank’ would initially appear to be the best solution for high profile managerial teams. However, studies carried out by Belbin concluded that the grouping of highly intellectual and similarly analytically minded people within a team in general does not produce the expected high performance. Belbin championed the result as “Apollo Syndrome”, named after the team consisting of the intellectually clever people that carried out the executive management exercises he designed. The analysis of these highly intellectual ‘Apollo’ teams illustrated some of the flaws within the group interaction. A large proportion of each individual’s time was engaged in trying to persuade the other members of the team to adopt their own particular, well stated, point of view. No one seemed to convert another or be converted themselves. This was largely due to the ability to spot weak points in each other’s argument. There was, not surprisingly, no coherence in the decisions that the team reached – or was forced to reach. Subsequent to the eventual failure of the team, finishing last in the exercise, the aftermath was marked by mutual recrimination.
If having a team consisting of homogeneous people with respect to members’ demographics, cognitions and high intellect does not create a successful group, then the obvious alternative would be to create groups of heterogeneous individuals. Scholars have carried out studies to investigate the various types of diversity within a group. Diversity differentiates individuals by the degree to which they are directly related to the task at hand. Job relatedness is one form of diversity and is an important property because it determines whether a particular type of diversity constitutes an increase in a group’s total pool of task-related skills, information, and perspectives. The magnitude of this pool, in turn, represents a potential for more comprehensive or creative decision making. This concept has been studied by Milliken and Martins. The idea of having a diverse team to provide a wide spectrum of views has been used as a starting point to formulate teams. However, teams do not just happen when people get together. At the start, a team is just a collection of individuals. And, like most collections, it is only as strong as its weakest member.
The optimum number of individuals within a team is a major issue for discussion when creating a team. This figure would to some extent depend on the amount of work that needs to be performed. In general the larger the group, the greater the unseen pressures that make for conformity. These pressures may impinge upon an individual to the extent that in mass meetings, congregations and assemblies they feel anonymous. Behaviour within the group is further complicated by group structure. The stronger the structure, the less tolerance there is for dissenters or for any form of deviant expression. Where groups are unstructured, for example large numbers of people meeting for a purpose but without any imposed constraints, studies have shown that rather than the individual recovering a sense of mature individuality, they are likely to revel in the anonymity which size offers. Investigations have discovered that large gatherings of people has the effect of either their constituents becoming excessively passive or, if full self-expression is permitted, inclined to irresponsible behaviour, aggressive verbal declarations, or even acts of destruction. In a team building situation this type of behaviour would clearly not promote the synergy and effectiveness that is sought after.
In order to select a team of optimum size it would be necessary to identify the key roles that are required to ensure that various team models can be met. Belbin identifies eight key roles;
+ Company Worker arranges and does work for the company rather than themselves.
+ Chairman Team leader, adept at drawing on the resources of the group to advantage.
+ Shaper Driving, action-based leader.
+ Resource Investigator outgoing, extroverted, inquisitive.
+ Plant introverted, very clever.
+ Monitor Evaluator high mental ability combined with disinterested detachment, sorts out the best ideas.
+ Team Worker listens to others, copes with awkward people, influences team spirit positively, places group objectives above personal interests.
It is possible for individuals to take on more than one role, which indicates that the full eight members may not be essential. The formation of a successful team should include the majority of these roles. This would suggest that for a competent group between four and eight members would be effective.
Building a Team
Ironically, the way to develop an effective team is to first develop individual interpersonal skills among all team members. These skills reflect an ability to manage individual or personal behaviour, while also responding appropriately to the behaviour of fellow team members and outsiders whom the team interacts with. It is important to remember that behaviour is different than personality. Behaviour is observable. It is comprised of what we say and what we do. The more a person s behaviour elicits approval from others, the greater acceptance or endorsement others give them. Obviously, approval between team members creates more positive interpersonal relationships. That, in turn, facilitates the interdependence teams need before they can achieve real results.
Behaviour is clich d as what a person sees is what they get. That is because the things that a person says and the things that they do are all the information we have available when dealing with each other. For example, a person may see that someone is happy or upset, but they don’t know why he or she is sad or glad based on what they see alone. However, if the observer approaches that individual, it is important to that they temper their communication with this observation. Something is going on here, and they had better be careful. Developing observational skills is essential to developing effective interpersonal skills. Equally important, is that individuals must learn to manage their own behaviour to earn approval.
There are four areas, or sources, that an individual can control to enhance the level of approval they receive from others:
+ Ability to handle feedback.
When all four sources are managed well, a positive impression is created. It is important to focus on all four sources because it cannot be predicted which source, or combination of sources, will most affect a person’s response at a particular moment in time, or in a particular circumstance. Success here requires continuously monitoring and adapting behaviour, an ability that can be developed with practice over time.
Team building is notoriously difficult due to the unpredictability of the people involved. However from observation and study of competitive teams, the necessity to provide a collaborative environment is essential to achieving positive results. Because many corporate cultures and societal structures traditionally reward individual effort and achievement, it takes ongoing training to develop a team that focuses on sharing information, not hoarding it, and group goals, not individual achievement.
Team members must respect each other by honouring deadlines, project milestones, and other commitments. Some of this may appear warm and fuzzy , but it is essential if a cross-functional team is going to achieve hard results. Teams are built on trust, and trust is built on mutual respect among team members. Without trust, true interdependence cannot develop. Team members need to take direction and then work with minimal supervision. These objectives rely wholly on trust within the team.
Team members also need to learn to manage conflict by controlling the amount of behavioural tension they create in their interactions. At appropriate levels, tension motivates a team to accomplish its work. Too much or too little tension, however, directly affects the team’s productivity, both individually and collectively. Boulding defines conflict as, “a situation of competition in which the parties are aware of the incompatibility of potential future positions and in which each party wishes to occupy a position which is incompatible with the wishes of the other.” Theoretically, conflict is neither good nor bad. Conflict is not something that is a tangible product but it lies in the minds of the people who are parties to it. However, it does become tangible when it manifests itself in arguing, brooding or fighting. The problem lies with the inability for people to manage and resolve it effectively. If managed effectively, conflict can be constructive. If not, conflict can be a destructive force in people and organizations.
A final point when building a leading team is that team members are as responsible for offering honest feedback as they are for receiving it. The inability to manage any of these areas results in a team that cannot develop to its fullest capability.
Teams don’t just happen. They are developed through hard work, mutual respect among members, and striving toward group goals.
In conclusion there seems to be an opportunity to bring together the characteristics of what it takes to make up a successful leadership team. The Hay Group, a management consulting firm in Philadelphia, and Harvard University conducted a joint study and examined the differences between outstanding leadership teams and typical and poor ones.
They found that outstanding teams were significantly more developed than the others in the following ways:
+ They are real teams, with clear, stable boundaries and interdependent team tasks.
+ Team members are emotionally intelligent rather than just the smartest-of-the-smart.
+ They are twice as capable as members of poor leadership teams in reading others’ concerns.
+ Team members do what they promise, and at least one member will do something for the good of the company, even if it means a personal sacrifice.
Executive Excellence, Warren Bennis, Vol 15, Issue 3, Mar 1998
Academy of Management journal, 37: 1649-1665.
American Management Association, Louisa Wah, Vol 89, issue 2, Feb 2000
Management Teams, Why They Succeed or Fail, Belbin RM., 1994
Teaming Up, Harshman CL & Steven LP, 1994