Kevin P. Dincher
Your team can’t describe its mission? Then maybe you are actually leading a “group” masquerading as a “team.” Calling a group a “team” doesn’t make it so – and if you are a leader, knowing the difference between a “group” and a “team” needs to be more than a case of semantics. “As a leader, it’s important to make this ‘Groups v Teams’ distinction. Your approach to leading each will be completely different. For managers to make better decisions about whether, when, or how to encourage and use teams, it is important to be more precise about what a team is and what it isn’t” (The Discipline of Teams, Harvard Business Review) . In other words, knowing whether you are leading a “group” or a “team” is critical to your success. (Are You Leading a Team – or a Group Masquerading as a Team? (I))
Leading a team is much more complex than leading a group. Team work is rooted in a shared mission, focuses on collaboration, and progresses through developing interactive relationships. Therefore both communication and conflict take on different qualities when you are leading a team—and require a different set of skills if you are to effectively facilitate the web of relationships between team members and between the team and its collective outputs.
Managing communication within a workgroup is difficult enough—but compared to managing communication in a team managing a workgroup’s communications is a walk in the park. Communication in workgroups tends to be about information flow—getting information to the people who need it. But teamwork occurs through complex, collaborative relationships and progresses through discussion, dialogue and even conflict.
- To be a successful team leader you need to develop your facilitation skills. First of all, you must to be able to effectively facilitate a dialogue among the team members that leads them to a shared commitment to their common mission–or else they will never become a genuine team.
- The collaborative nature of teamwork requires ongoing consensus building among team members; as a team leader you need consensus-building skills.
- Good active listening skills are the key to promoting dialogue and to building consensus. Active listening skills enable you to help team members to express themselves. These skills also make it possible for you to uncover unspoken assumptions among team members and clarify nuances in meaning. Perhaps most challenging, the nature of teams as collaborative relationships means that you need to listen for and respond to underlying feelings as team members develop relationships, discuss their work and work towards decisions.
Conflict in workgroups tends to be more personal rather than professional. One employee’s behavior or attitude is annoying to other employees or is interfering with other employees’ ability to get their jobs done. When group leaders become aware of the conflict (and decide to do more than hope that it will eventually blow over), resolving the conflict is a matter of dealing with a difficult employee’s behavior: you consult with HR, follow procedures, and struggle to manage the behavior of the employees involved.
Conflict in teams is a very different kettle of fish. Of course it may have a personal element at times, but conflict in teams is more often professional. Conflict is inevitable in collaborative relationships among a group of diverse professionals with varied strengths, experiences and perspectives. Conflict over strategies, tactics, processes, etc. are bound to occur. Conflict in teams, however, is not just an inevitable bump in the road; conflict and conflict resolution are important parts of the collaborative, consensus-building process. Team leaders need effective conflict resolution skills to resolve conflicts while eliciting new insights, generating creativity and innovation, leaving all members of the team feeling satisfied, and keeping everyone working toward the same goal.
Leading a Team Requires Additional Skills
The mission focus and collaborative work process of team makes them very different from workgroups with their focus on task and independent work processes. As a result leading a team requires a different level of communication and conflict resolution skills. What other skills do you think are needed in order to be a successful team leader?
Kevin Dincher is an organization development consultant, professional development coach and educator with 30 years of experience that includes not only OD consulting but also work in adult education, counseling psychology and crisis management, program and operations management, and human resources.
LinkedIn: Kevin Dincher