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  • Writer's pictureMark Loftus

Leading high performance teams - Part 2

Updated: Dec 6, 2022

In Part 1 of this article, we established that the style of leadership shown by a team leader has a big impact on its performance. Now in Part 2, we dive a little deeper. We’ve identified that team leaders need to really take the lead, and also that the kind of leadership shown by the team leader matters. Let’s dive a little deeper into what the leader needs to do, and what outcome the leader should be aiming for. Again, we’ll be writing more about both of these in upcoming posts.

Attend to the foundations first

The team leader has the key role in getting a team moving. Without leadership early on, a team risks wasting energy and losing people’s goodwill.

Leading high performance teams

If you’re a new team, or new to team leadership, focusing energies initially on these ‘foundational four’ questions can be a good starting point:

  1. are we disciplined in working to improve our effectiveness and performance?

  2. do we know where we are going and believe we are doing something meaningful?

  3. do we know how to achieve our goals?

  4. do we get the best from each other?

These questions are designed to help you rapidly create a team that is clear what its purpose is, feels motivated to achieve its goals, has a good enough idea how to reach these goals, and has set a foundation of inclusion and valuing of each team member’s contribution.

Leadership is strongest when distributed

The team leader needs to lead, but mindfully. If they are not careful in how they lead they will create problems. Imagine the team as a wheel with a hub and spokes: in this model, the team leader is the hub and the spokes are the team members. All interactions, decisions and information flows are routed through the leader, with very little across the team. The team leader will feel pressured, even stressed, and the team will only move slowly, limited by the leader’s capacity.

We can contrast the hub-and-spoke image with that of the mast and sails of a sailing boat. Without a mast the sails are just piles of cloth on the deck. But once the sails are hoist, it is the sails that drive the boat, with different parts of the sail pulling on each other to catch the wind. In this image, it’s the leader that hoists the sails and trims them to catch the wind, but it’s the sails (or the team members) that power the boat through the waves.

The science tells us that it is the mast-and-sails model that works better. The faster the team moves to a shared sense of ownership and leadership the more effective it will become. Shared leadership is central to teams getting the best out of each other, building effectiveness and delivering outcomes. More than that, shared leadership in teams is a key factor in creating teams that support mental health and wellbeing, that are agile and adaptable and both demand and support team member development.

Which, of course, raises the question: how to foster shared leadership? Leaders who push to bring diversity into their team and create a sense of inclusion and valuing differences are rewarded by teams that take leadership. We will pick this theme up further in our research paper on ‘Inclusion: Getting the best from each other’.

The implications

There are two immediate implications:

  • First, team leaders need to be actively supported to understand their own leadership style, impact, and assumptions about how to create high performance teams.

  • Second, it provides a compelling case for everyone in the team to gain insight into their leadership style and impact, irrespective of whether they aspire to a formal leader position.

Key learnings

What needs to happen for a team leader to become skilled in leading a high performance team? They need to develop their Self-awareness, becoming aware of their strengths and gaps. This will in turn help them to understand the strengths of their team, and gives a starting point for shared leadership. Rather than creating a team that’s passive, and simply reacts, a successful team leader creates a culture of proactivity, with solid foundations for the team to stand on.

Resources A Meta-analysis of shared leadership: antecedents, consequences, and moderators (2018) Qiong Wu et al. Journal of Organizational Studies

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