If you are like most organizations (those companies not actively engaged in ongoing culture shaping processes), the company culture you have now is a relatively fixed quantity. It’s stable, consistent. Sir Isaac Newton – who coined the elegant Three Laws of Motion in the 1680s – might even say it’s “at rest.”
Whoa, did we just throw a physics reference into this team leadership article? You bet your asymptote we did! Hang with us. There won’t be any math required.
Newton’s First Law, the law of inertia, says: “If a body is at rest (or moving at a constant speed), it will remain at rest (or keep moving in a straight line at a constant speed) unless it is acted upon by an outside force.”
Your culture is the way it is – day after day – because of inertia. One way to think about the process of strengthening organizational culture is that you have to summon enough force to overcome and disrupt the inertia of your organization.
Now, organizations can be relatively big things (“massive” even). And to change the inertia of an object with significant mass takes a significant amount of force. And that brings us to our main point: It takes a significant amount of energy to make a positive change in an organization’s culture. That challenge is made much easier (and the likelihood of success skyrockets) when the effort is shared by a team of aligned leaders working together.
“It takes a lot of energy to make a positive change in an organization’s culture. That challenge is made much easier when the effort is shared by a team of aligned leaders working together.”
What does team leadership look like?
The concept of “team leadership” refers to having a group of leaders who are aligned in how they answer this question: “What does it mean to be a leader in our organization?” Leadership and culture building are team sports. When leaders across a system are aligned in their view of leadership, enabling them to actively support one another, they will accomplish much more than they will otherwise accomplish alone. A team of leaders will create a healthier company culture, a better employee experience, and ultimately a more successful business.
BetterCulture recommends leaders focus on bringing our Seven Principles of Leadership© to life. Let’s examine how operating as a team of leaders amplifies any one leader’s ability to vitalize these Seven Principles.
Principle #1: Leaders maintain a never-ending focus on mission, culture, and the pursuit of excellence.
- Good communication between leaders will enable a Leader to make sure their team understands how its unique work contributes to the organization’s overall mission and success.
- Workplace culture is defined as the attitudes and behaviors that a group of people come to expect from one another. A single leader will be aided in their efforts to instill a distinct, identifiable culture if other leaders, with whom their employees interact, are setting similar expectations.
- All leaders within a system will be more effective at holding employees to a high standard of performance (excellence) when there exists consistency of expectations across the enterprise. All boats rise together only when no boats are allowed to sink.
Principle #2: Leaders create an environment where staff feel proud of their company – and know that their company is proud of them.
- Leaders are better equipped to help their employees feel proud of the work they do – and proud to be part of an amazing organization – when they sense their achievements are being shared with others and they are frequently made aware of outstanding things being done by employees in other parts of the organization.
- When it comes to employee recognition and appreciation, it is obvious that direct managers need to be effective at consistently (and creatively!) expressing their appreciation of their employees’ efforts. But what is so often missed is the outsized impact made when that employee receives a compliment on their performance from a respected leader who oversees a different department or division. Leaders who have non-direct-line supervision responsibilities can do so much to help employees in other divisions feel seen, valued, and appreciated. It often takes no more than a thoughtful comment.
Principle #3: Leaders work hard to help staff be successful at work and in life.
- When a team of leaders are jointly committed to the success and development of all employees, the opportunities for employee growth compounds. Cross-training, mentoring programs, coaching relationships, interpersonal linkage on issues important to employees outside of work, and much more become possible when a team of leaders collectively commit to helping all employees (not only the employees they supervise) become stars at work and in life!
Principle #4: Leaders protect the right of good staff to work with good staff.
- It is mostly the responsibility of direct line supervisors to handle attitude and performance problems within their team. However, there are some opportunities where having performance messaging come from other leaders in the organization can be highly effective. Here is just one example: When an employee is promoted from peer to manager, there may be one or two employees on the team who refuse to respect or give appropriate deference to the newly appointed manager. In those instances, the new manager, even with their best efforts, may struggle to garner the respect or compliance of what often is a jealous and resentful co-worker. The best solution to this situation is to have a higher-up leader in the organization have a conversation with the wayward employee. The short version of that conversation goes like this: “Your new manager is in his position because I want him in that position. If you have an issue with that selection, or with the work he is asking you to perform, your issue isn’t with him. It’s with me. So I’m going to check in with New Manager in 2 weeks. If I hear these issues remain, you and I will be having a follow-up discussion.” This team approach is a hugely powerful asset to new manager and is far-and-away the best method to send an effective message to the underperforming employee.
Principle #5: Leaders encourage and promote open discussion and analysis as a predicate to decision making.
- When leaders operate in a silo – and their team subsequently largely operates on an island unto themselves – they put themselves and their teams at an informational disadvantage. When leaders are comfortable that their team members can have open access to leaders from throughout the organization, it provides both employees and the organization with additional avenues for information flow. More and better ideas will flow up the chain. And perhaps most important, employees will better understand the bigger organizational considerations that played into decisions that were made at higher levels.
Principle 6: Leaders deal effectively with conflict.
- Intellectual conflict is a sign of a team populated by individuals who care about getting things right. Interpersonal conflict, in contrast, is sludge in the gears of any organization. And where it is at its worst is when conflict forms between two groups, teams, or divisions – it is called intergroup conflict. When conflict between team or departments exists, it makes building a great culture hard. Actually, it makes it near impossible. Those situations are almost always driven by a lousy relationship between the managers or leaders at the top of those respective groups. Camps form, accusations fly, communication breaks down, and functionality sufferers. If good team leadership exists at the top, the chance of dysfunctional patterns forming is slim. And if those conflicts begin to smolder, good team leadership will douse it quickly!
Principle #7: Leaders encourage others to enjoy their work.
- When it comes to energy, positivity, fun, and enjoyment in the workplace all boats rise together. It’s difficult for one team to develop a culture of warmth and laughter when the division in the cubicles next-door has a manager who thinks kindness is irrelevant and fun is the opposite of work (p.s. it’s not!). Having even one fun-sucking leader who gives people the side-eye for enjoying their work can do a lot to stifle positive vibes.
- Enjoyment is a hallmark element of a positive employee experience. Employers who are seeking to improve employee experience should empower and highlight their fun people. When you have those piped pipers of fun, good team leadership will make sure you don’t restrict their positive impact to one team!
Now that we’ve established the importance of team leadership, let’s talk about what it takes to actually achieve it.
Five steps for achieving team leadership
Here are five steps organizations should take to build a better-aligned team approach to leadership.
Step 1: Establish a common vision for what it means to be a leader in your organization. This means defining the values, behaviors, and qualities that you expect from leaders throughout your organization. This common vision should be communicated to all leaders, and should guide their decision-making and behavior. BetterCulture strongly advocates for the use of our time-tested Seven Principles of Leadership© as your unified vision for leadership.
Step 2: Know how to spot leadership potential. Not every high-performing employee is a fit for a leadership role – heck, many great performers are not at all suited to lead humans. BetterCulture Clients use our list of 22 Characteristics of Amazing Supervisors to make better manager hiring decisions and to coach existing leaders on areas of possible improvement.
Step 3: Set leaders up for success by teaching them the specific leadership skills and knowledge base they need to be successful. BetterCulture’s On-Demand MindSet Leadership Program is a great place to start! And if we can help with more tailored solutions, don’t hesitate to reach out.
Step 4: Establish a common/shared language for leadership. It’s important for leaders to have a shared language and understanding of key concepts and terms related to leadership. This will help to create a sense of consistency and to reinforce the team nature of leadership across the organization. It will also improve communication and collaboration among leaders. Doing step 3 (leadership development and training) as a leadership team is a great way to lay the foundations for – or build upon – your shared leadership vocabulary.
Step 5: Do the work! Put your skills into action. Once you establish a common vision, identify the characteristics of a strong leader, provide the necessary skills and knowledge, and establish a shared language, it’s time to put these things into action. This means actively using these skills and qualities in your day-to-day work, and continuously striving to improve and develop as a leadership TEAM.
By taking a team approach to leadership, you can create a stronger, healthier company culture, a better employee experience, and ultimately a more successful business. This requires a commitment to continuous learning and improvement, as well as a willingness to collaborate and work together towards a common goal. By following these five steps, you can lay the foundation for a team of leaders who are aligned, growing, thriving, and working together to achieve success.