Monday, January 23, 2012

Not All Teams Are Created Equal

Within the first couple of executive coaching sessions with a young leader, I am certain we will end up discussing the subject of building a team and/or leading a team. It is a given because when groups of people come together, problems often arise.

As a side note, if you think you are the first one to encounter the challenges of people working together, then I encourage you to read Thucydides’ book called “The History of the Peloponnesian War.” Written four hundred years before the birth of Christ and considered by many as a classic and one of the earliest scholarly works of history, the book is an account of the war between the Peloponnesian League lead by Sparta and the Delian League lead by Athens. The conflicts between the two empires over shipping, trade, and colonial expansion came to a head in 431 b.c. in northern Greece, and the entire Greek world was plunged into 27 years of war. Thucydides applied a passion for accuracy and a contempt for myth and romance in compiling this exhaustively factual record of the disastrous conflict that eventually ended the Athenian empire. As you read through it, you will realize people have struggled for many years.

Now back to coaching young leaders about teams, the first step in the process is to help young leaders define what kind of team they are wanting to build. On first blush, this may seem simplistic. However, many young leaders talk team but what they really want and expect is all involved to act like a single leader work group.

In a nutshell, here are some of the differences between a team and a single leader work group. On a team, the goals and agendas are set by the team based on dialogue about purpose. On a single-leader work group, goals and agendas are set by the leader in charge in consultation with a senior leader. In the former team performance is evaluated by the team as a whole and in the latter it is evaluated by the positional leader. Furthermore, success is defined by the team as a whole while in a single-leader work group success is define by the positional leader.

As I begin to coach young leaders on these critical differences, I note that teams are best for dealing with complex challenges that require people with various skill sets working together most of time to solve a problem. However, a single-leader work group may be best if the challenge before the group requires fast action and the leader already knows best how to proceed. Each path has it’s pros and cons.

For those of you who are coaching young leaders, I encourage you and they to read the following article called “Firing Up the Front Line” by Jon R. Katsenbach and Jason A. Santamaria, May-June 1999, Harvard Business Review. Here is a link where you can find it on-line:

Happy reading together!

Geery Howe, M.A.Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer inLeadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational ChangeMorning Star Associates319 - 643 - 2257

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