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Good leaders lead, Excellent ones lead through Teams

There’s no doubt that having a strong leader helps elevate a team’s performance. Part coach, part sensei, team leaders are the cornerstones of any successfully organization. Leaders push teams to rise to the challenge. Yet many great leaders have failed. Why? What is it that some leaders have and others do not? The key is strangely simple. Good leaders get the job done, great ones inspire. Being able to create a feeling of being part of something larger is what makes a good leader great.

“Teams are more productive and innovative than mere work groups. They produce results that exceed what groups of individuals can do through simple cooperation and coordination,” writes Linda Hill and Kent Lineback in a Harvard Business Review post. I’m sure most of you agree. When a team is really jiving they are capable of almost anything. The challenge is how does one create an exceptional team? Simple. Leaders must create what Hill and Lineback call the “team effect”.

Demystifying the “Team Effect”

Hill and Lineback argue that individuals only really work better in a team when there is a “strong mutual commitment to their joint work. This commitment creates compelling social and emotional bonds among members, who come to believe that ‘we’ will all succeed or fail together.” While this may be true, how do managers get teams to this point? Well luckily for us, Hill and Lineback outline several key points that managers should clue in on.

  • Mutual sense of purpose – Just about every high performing team believes it exists for a compelling reason. These teams believe that their benefit is not the task or the work it accomplishes, but the benefits they deliver. Hill and Lineback illustrate this further with an example, “It’s the difference between ‘We scrub hospital floors’ and ‘We prevent the spread of deadly infections.’” This ideology is what really pulls a team together and makes them feel like they are part of something bigger than themselves.
  • Tangible goals based on that purpose – Purpose must be made concrete or it will quickly wither. Goals without a purpose are an aimless activity. The key to sustaining this sense of purpose, every team needs to be able to strive towards a specific, easily identifiable goal.

It’s when these conditions are present that you will see a transformation in your team. Members will start to perform at a higher level “not because the boss demands it but because their colleagues expect it,” says Hill and Lineback. It’s at this point where a group makes the change from group to team. Onces your team starts really meshing, you’ll notice that it manage itself. Performance will be guided by the social and emotional bonds of team members and not the expectations of managers.  So instead of imposing and directing, excellent team leaders suggest, support, define, and evaluate performance against the conditions that foster the “team effect”.  Because, according to Hill and Lineback, “In the end only your group’s members can make themselves into a team by freely committing themselves to a mutual purpose.”

Image Source: www.iStockphoto.com

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