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In high-performing teams, leadership is always shared leadership. And by leadership in ‘real’ teams – that is small groups of people working on interdependent tasks while being jointly committed to a common purpose and goals – we understand proactive contributions to the conditions that allow a team to reach its goals.
In that sense, we couldn’t agree more with late JR Hackman, who states that “no one person has sole responsibility for team leadership. Leadership is provided by anyone who helps create and maintain performance-enhancing conditions, regardless of whether that person happens to hold a formal leadership role”.[i]
So, leadership in teams is not about motivating, directing and overseeing a group of people. It’s rather about getting out of the way in a productive fashion.
That doesn’t mean that formal team leaders and managers are irrelevant. To the contrary. For one, teams in organizations don’t exist in a vacuum. Formal team leaders often represent a team in front of superiors and other stakeholders, especially in classically structured, highly hierarchical organizations. Managers are thus more visible and hold relevant interfaces, and thus play an exposed role in moderating the wider network of the team.
In addition, managers need to take risks allowing shared leadership to happen. This may include unlearning their understanding of what individual leader-managers can and should do. And learning to support their group in co-leading themselves to a joint purpose. Kicking off this very process, including a proactive discussion of purpose and goals, may be the most relevant piece of what’s left of the traditional manager role.
Check out our Team Kit Board for a canvas approach to designing and engaging high-performing teams.
[i] Hackmann, J.R. (2002) Leading Teams: Setting the Stage for Great Performances. Brighton, Massachusetts: Harvard Business Press, p33.