Team norms exist, whether you like it or not. Any team that works together develops a certain set of norms over time.
These organically developed norms, which are often unspoken, help team members know how to behave and interact with one another. While some norms help the team function more effectively, other norms might erode the team’s effectiveness.
One norm (which I liked) from several teams I worked with gives team members the freedom to voice out differing opinion, even if those opinions are contrary to the team leader’s opinion. One norm I often observe (and don’t like) is that of keeping quiet during meetings because “it’s not going to make any difference!”
As a team leader, if I could have a set of constructive team norms that help my team work more effectively together, and not have any norms that might negatively impact the team, I would have a better team. I would then have more time to lead and empower the team and spend less time dealing with misunderstandings and mismatch of expectations.
Leadership is not just about skills, it’s also about your mindset.
I learned about leadership, at least initially, mostly by observing leaders in real life and, sometimes, from novels, movies, or television shows. The qualities I observed resonated with me, and I told myself that I’d like to be an effective leader like those I have observed.
The problem, though, was that most of those leaders I sought to imitate often seemed perfect. Perhaps they were not actually perfect, but they do seem that way.
When I started leading teams, I began to realise that the leader I aspired to be is likely not attainable. Trying to live up to my image of leadership resulted in me feeling stressed out.
As I tried to lead and as I learned more about leadership, I realized that some of my mindsets and expectations were putting unnecessary pressure upon myself. Instead of helping me be a better leader, they actually prevented me from being effective; worse, they have a negative impact on my team!
During my training workshops, I often have participants telling me that, “I used to think I needed to <do something, think a certain way, or have a certain expectation>, but now I realised that I don’t have to be like that anymore, and I feel liberated!”
Like these workshop participants, we think that an effective leader has to think a certain way or behave a certain way.
Some of those mindsets or expectations might be true, but many are actually unhealthy. In fact, having certain mindsets or expectations can prevent us from leading effectively.
Leading a team is not an easy task; that is if you want to lead effectively!
A leader has many responsibilities: setting direction, formulating strategies, planning, aligning stakeholders, motivating, being a spokesperson, being a change agent, developing team members, etc. Unfortunately, we can’t do all of them well; even a super talented person has his limit.
Fortunately, we don’t have to do everything on our own.
One way to ensure all the leadership responsibilities are well taken care of is to have a smaller group within the team, a core team, who can share the load with you. Some might call this a leadership team, or an inner circle, but the idea is to have a smaller group of coworkers within the larger team to help you lead effectively. Their role is not just to share your leadership responsibilities, but also to keep you focused on what’s important.
As a team leader, I would always have a core team to help me lead well. When I was an Operations Director (many years ago) with more than 20 people on my team, I had a core team of three people (including myself) who helped ensure that the team functioned effectively. When I was overseeing my church’s youth ministry, I had a leadership team of eight senior members of the ministry, and from that eight I had a core team of four leaders. Even when I was leading a smaller team, I would usually have another person who would work with me more closely.
The size of the core team might vary, but I will always have a core team.
Having a core team is not an uncommon practice. Having an effective core team, though, requires some careful considerations.
The word “Team” means different things to different people.
When I work with team leaders and their teams, I often encounter different notions of what the “team” really is. One team leader may use the word to refer generally to everyone who works under him, while another might refer to a specific group of people.
Even within a team, each member might have a different understanding of what the “team” is; this might even be different from the team leader’s understanding!
One leader I worked with kept saying that his “team” was not working together, and as a result, he had to do most of the work. As we talked, it became clear that he had a very different idea of what the team is, compared with members of the “team”; in fact, some members of the “team” didn’t even know that there was a “team”!
Getting a team to move towards fulfilling its goals involve numerous decisions.
But right from the get-go, there is one important decision that a leader needs to make. This decision will shape the leader and the team in a profound way. It will affect how he or she leads, how the team interact with the leader, the culture of the team, etc.
When I first started leading a team, it took me no time to realise that my responsibilities go beyond just making sure that my team delivers. I was responsible for the team’s direction, plan, budget, tasks, morale, discipline, motivation, development, internal relationships, external relationships, etc.
I could not possibly do everything, even though I was responsible for them. My strengths and personality allow me to do certain things well but would struggle at other things. When I looked at other leaders, I begin to realise that leadership looks different on different people, and I can’t just copy what another leader does.
If I want to lead well, I need to make an important decision.