Do teams need a leader?

We’ve just recorded our ‘introduction to teams’ course and someone asked that apparently simple question. And the answers ranged from “of course” to “of course not!” So what’s the definitive answer? Sadly it’s “yes…but!” Simply because it depends on the team and their stage of development. If there’s no leadership at the beginning you won’t get them clear on what’s expected, and if you’re too hands on once they’re motoring then you’ll stifle them. Think of it like an orchestra coming together and the role of the conductor.

Tuckman’s ‘Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing’ model has aged well and a great way of looking at the team’s stage of development. But the question we get asked so often is: “OK I get the phases, I can even recognise them but what do I actually do?” Fair question.

In the forming stage when everyone is getting together your job is to help them get to know one another, clarify expectations, set goals and deadlines, map out groundrules and create a plan. Get to know what each of your team are good at so they can all contribute to the best of their abilities. You have to be a little more hands-on and directive so that you get a level of clarity and get everyone involved.

The storming phase often surprises managers. It was all going so well, now it’s all gone wrong, people are blaming each other, there’s conflict and hostility. Your job is to stay calm, ask the dominant ones to give everyone a chance, and get the team back on track. Clarify their roles, reiterate the purpose, groundrules and milestones, address each of them to make sure they’re clear. It might seem like a backwards step but the team won’t move forward if you don’t intervene.

The norming phase is when your team really starts to motor, they all recognise each other’s contributions, they’re a functioning unit but also get on want to work with each other. In the storming phase you had to reassert control, but now your role is to reward good behaviour, point out where they’re doing well, coach, support and delegate more to your team.

The performing phase is where it’s all been leading, the really productive phase for your team when they have a loyalty to each other and the team as a whole and working towards a common goal, they want to succeed together. Now they can pretty much take care of themselves and your role becomes more hands-off, coaching, guiding, suggesting, rewarding, a light touch, so they can do more for themselves and making sure they improve and that they don’t become complacent, coast or slip back.

So do teams need a leader? Yes they do, but one that can understand the individuals and the situation and knows how to adapt their style appropriately. Because after all, that’s what management is all about, being like an orchestra conductor getting the best out of them individually and building them into a real team.

Photo credit: ‘Conductor’ by Rob Swystun

Summary
Do teams need a leader?
So do teams need a leader? Yes they do, but one that can understand the individuals and the situation and knows how to adapt their style appropriately. Because after all, that’s what management is all about, being like an orchestra conductor getting the best out of them individually and building them into a real team.
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