Thursday, 21 March 2019

Are you leading a team or a cult?

I frequently hear of leaders who have taken their staff on ‘team building’ exercises.  Some of these are as simple as a night of bowling so that people get to interact with others in a non-work environment. At the extreme there are outdoor adventures in which staff members learn to depend upon and trust others in physically and mentally testing conditions.

In general I am not opposed to team building but it is important that the purpose is always kept front and centre.

A highly functioning team is one in which all the members are focused on a common goal or purpose.  This objective is not one that members have chosen but it is one in which they are willingly supportive and prepared to contribute their best efforts to achieve.

In these circumstances it is important to remember that:
-         Each member brings unique competencies; that is, each has different skill sets and experiences.
-         Each member brings unique capacities; that is, each has a different level of motivation and commitment.
-         Each member brings a unique character; that is, each comes with a slightly different moral, ethical and legal compass.

It is the leader’s responsibility to meld these three-competency, capacity and character – so as to achieve the maximum results and accomplishments. 

Individuals are allowed, indeed expected, to hold different opinions; to see different solutions; to have different levels of engagement.  And as long as these are exercised with respect for others and with a view to achieving a common purpose, the team concept is fully functioning.

Where I see an issue with team building is when the leader is less concerned about achieving a common goal and more concerned about creating a common mentality.  It is no longer an issue of purpose but of process. 

In these instances, ‘team building’ is really an activity intended to stifle the individuality of each member.  Conformity is the key message regardless of how that impacts the competency, capacity and character of others. 

The ultimate objective of the leader is control.  In the end, it has nothing to do with team and everything to do with cult.

Today we see this played out particularly in the political arenas around the world.  But the business community is far from immune.

It takes a person of strong character to speak out against this type of leader.  Speaking truth to authority often has consequences and is therefore not for the weak of heart.  But failure to do so also has consequences that ultimately are perilous not only to the individual but to others as well.

So my message is twofold. 

If you are someone who identifies with the control option above, you need help.  You are not leading.  Your actions are self –serving and destructive.

If you work for someone whom you characterize with the control option, you need to understand that you are in peril.  Perhaps it is not physical danger but your mental well- being is at risk.   You need to protect yourself or leave.

Effectively and authentically leading people is a privilege and an awesome responsibility.  You can gain great satisfaction when the team delivers results that are above any beyond your expectations because your leadership empowered them to excel. 

Just remember that ultimately it was the combination of their contributions that resulted in the success of the team.  You were the conductor of their instruments… but they made the music.

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