When The Economist magazine recently asked 180 leaders what the major influence on future organizations would be, two-thirds of them said it would be teams and groups. Clearly, the John Wayne model of leadership won’t work. What is needed today is a different kind of leadership. People who think they can do it by themselves are somewhat deluded. Despite these kinds of statements the cult figure of the Chief Executive Officer still exists. They are enshrined, and probably celebrated too much.
This is partly an American phenomenon. However throughout Europe there are beginning to be reactions against these icons for companies and these are ominous signs for the future of figureheads. Groups, teams, communities, partnerships, stakeholders, colleagues, collaborators signal the end of the “Great Man,” the death of the John Wayne myth. As the business world becomes more complex and interdependent, executives cannot afford to lead in isolation.
Instead, they must tap into the collective knowledge and expertise of their colleagues by creating real teamwork at top levels of the organization. They need to build truly effective leadership teams. Successful management in today’s society are forever trying to seek out the most competent individuals to employ in specific roles within a business environment. The criteria on which an individual is selected are widely recognised as the common attributes of a leader.
These qualities would include; intelligence, forcefulness, sensitivity, patience, decisiveness, the person would be reflective and dynamic, a good communicator as well as being a good listener. The list of desirable traits continues to describe the perfect leader-manager who would be effective and most probably flawless. In reality this person could not exist, simply because many of the characteristics seem to conflict with one another. It is unlikely that someone could be both forceful and particularly sensitive.
The inability of a single individual to possess all the skills that are sought after, presents the opportunity for the development of a team that certainly could. Teams also have the advantage that if a single member of a team is unavailable, then the productivity of the team may not be impacted significantly, whereas if a single person had full responsibility for a task and then was taken ill for example, any progress due to be made on the task would be halted.
Another problem with focussing on training individuals to a high level and therefore becoming somewhat reliant on that person is that, if that person decided to leave to take a position with a competitor or to take early retirement to spend time with their spouse then the business is left trying to adjust for the loss. By focussing on teams the business is somewhat less exposed to these potential problems. However the development of teams to provide protection against competitors ‘poaching’ personnel, has become less effective, especially in the service industries.
An example of this kind of activity occurring was seen in November 1999 when a team of Merrill Lynch & Co. telecom analysts defected to Credit Suisse First Boston (CSFB). This forced Merrill to reshuffle its depleted research effort just as the firm’s telecom bankers were positioning to land the mandate on what could be the biggest initial public offering in history. The highly regarded telecom analysts Dan Reingold and Mark Kastan left Merrill for CSFB on 22nd November, taking with them a group of five other analysts – almost Merrill’s entire U. S. telecom research team.
With such an emphasis on the formulation of effective self-managed teams, the question of whether leadership is actually required arises. It has been suggested that to organize genius and to have a great group, the fine art of herding cats must learnt. This analogy is used to demonstrate the difficult skill of persuading members within a team to carry out tasks they may not particularly want to, and feel good about doing it. This ‘soft skill” is very important if a group is to have a member in a leading capacity. Some leaders have managed to succeed without having great people skills.
Examples include Steve Jobs at Macintosh Computers, Walt Disney, Kelly Johnson at Lockheed’s Skunk Works, and John Andrew Rice at Black Mountain College. In fact they have been described as having herded their cats with whips; and yet still produced phenomenal results. Leaders typically provide direction and meaning that resonate in the heart, soul and mind. But many leaders of great groups are abrasive, if not downright arrogant. Another analogy used to describe these people is that they are all alchemists. They are creating something out of nothing.
They are creating something magical. They are creating an object of enchantment. An explanation given for why these team leaders were obnoxious at times was that when believing that they were involved in a group that would change the world, they could be afforded the opportunity of being a “son-of-a-bitch” for a time. If a group can be created that thinks they can “make a dent in the universe,” as Steve Jobs told the team that created the Macintosh computer, one’s personal foibles, losing one’s temper, one’s style become less important.
If the team feels transported, and part of the excitement, the thrill and the electrifying feeling of doing something that nobody has ever done before, arrogance on behalf of the leader can be excused. Undoubtedly this aggressive style of team leadership producing outstanding results is the exception to most group situations. The charismatic nature of the people involved probably had more to do with the eventual result rather than the manner in which they lead. Charisma is intangible, difficult to assess, and cannot be taught, yet can override all learnt skills of good team leading.
However there have been studies that suggest that the personality of the leader may adversely affect the team”s performance. Mary Fontaine, head of the Hay/McBer’s competency practice, a U. S. management consulting group, carried out a study that found that team leaders with a variety of managerial styles-authoritative, affiliative, democratic and coaching can be successful as long as they encourage dialogues. However team leaders with a coercive managerial style were found to be far less successful at promoting dialogues.
In contrast to the success of the individuals and their organisations mentioned earlier it was found that it wasn’t the best and the brightest who excelled. “Sucking the oxygen out of the room with excessive charisma or with an intimidating intellect and self-confidence was often detrimental to team efforts,” Fontaine says. “The truly outstanding leaders frequently were those whose contributions were less visible, who worked behind the scenes to create structures and arrange for organizational supports that made it easier for their teams to excel.
There seems to be a threshold level of team skills required to be a competent leader, and above this level charisma can either make an average leader-manager into someone special or more likely hinder the groups performance. The ideal that leaders are not born, but make themselves supports this theory. A person may develop to be charismatic, however in order to grow as a leader they must learn the necessary people or ‘soft” skills. These are the hardest skills to learn. They are the things that will make the biggest difference in organizations.
Bob Haas, CEO of Levi Strauss, has said the hard skills are not getting the pants out the door. The hard skills are creating the work force that will be motivated to be productive. So, the soft skills are the hardest skills. It seems that there is still a place for leaders within teams, but not in the traditional sense. Leaders are purveyors of hope who suspend disbelief in their groups. They represent the group”s needs and aspirations. They don’t know that a task cannot be achieved.
Most individuals are hungry spirits, and any leader who can dangle a dream before them usually gets their attention and the collective talents within a team make that dream a reality. Today the one thing that the majority of professional people want is to be inspired. For many years the qualities of individuals have been studied, and the successful characteristics copied. However the successful features of a management team are less well understood. A team has proved more difficult to study than a single person.
However there has been recognition of some of the main elements of what makes one team more successful than another. A number of studies have been carried out to try to depict the foundations of teamwork and the complimentary relationships between members. The format of the team and the relationships within seem indicative to whether the team is successful. It is not necessarily the ability of individuals within the team. Given a free choice of members and the need to form a high-powered management team to solve complex problems, it would seem sensible to select members who have sharp analytical minds.
This would suggest creating a team composed entirely of intellectually clever people. These types of people would be equipped for coping with major projects and big decisions. Creating a ‘Think-Tank’ would initially appear to be the best solution for high profile managerial teams. However, studies carried out by Belbin concluded that the grouping of highly intellectual and similarly analytically minded people within a team in general does not produce the expected high performance.
Belbin championed the result as “Apollo Syndrome”, named after the team consisting of the intellectually clever people that carried out the executive management exercises he designed. The analysis of these highly intellectual ‘Apollo’ teams illustrated some of the flaws within the group interaction. A large proportion of each individual’s time was engaged in trying to persuade the other members of the team to adopt their own particular, well stated, point of view. No one seemed to convert another or be converted themselves.
This was largely due to the ability to spot weak points in each other’s argument. There was, not surprisingly, no coherence in the decisions that the team reached – or was forced to reach. Subsequent to the eventual failure of the team, finishing last in the exercise, the aftermath was marked by mutual recrimination. If having a team consisting of homogeneous people with respect to members’ demographics, cognitions and high intellect does not create a successful group, then the obvious alternative would be to create groups of heterogeneous individuals.
Scholars have carried out studies to investigate the various types of diversity within a group. Diversity differentiates individuals by the degree to which they are directly related to the task at hand. Job relatedness is one form of diversity and is an important property because it determines whether a particular type of diversity constitutes an increase in a group’s total pool of task-related skills, information, and perspectives. The magnitude of this pool, in turn, represents a potential for more comprehensive or creative decision making. This concept has been studied by Milliken and Martins.
The idea of having a diverse team to provide a wide spectrum of views has been used as a starting point to formulate teams. However, teams do not just happen when people get together. At the start, a team is just a collection of individuals. And, like most collections, it is only as strong as its weakest member. The optimum number of individuals within a team is a major issue for discussion when creating a team. This figure would to some extent depend on the amount of work that needs to be performed. In general the larger the group, the greater the unseen pressures that make for conformity.
These pressures may impinge upon an individual to the extent that in mass meetings, congregations and assemblies they feel anonymous. Behaviour within the group is further complicated by group structure. The stronger the structure, the less tolerance there is for dissenters or for any form of deviant expression. Where groups are unstructured, for example large numbers of people meeting for a purpose but without any imposed constraints, studies have shown that rather than the individual recovering a sense of mature individuality, they are likely to revel in the anonymity which size offers.
Investigations have discovered that large gatherings of people has the effect of either their constituents becoming excessively passive or, if full self-expression is permitted, inclined to irresponsible behaviour, aggressive verbal declarations, or even acts of destruction. In a team building situation this type of behaviour would clearly not promote the synergy and effectiveness that is sought after.
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