In an era of turbulent change in health care, to whom do we turn for leadership? Is there a single guiding principle or person to guide us? Research on teams suggest it's not one person who makes the difference. It's leadership teams.
Many will say, “but I'm not inspired by a team; I'm inspired by a person! I don't remember Martin Luther King's team, I remember him!”
I completely agree, yet I also wonder how his leadership of the civil rights movement gained traction? Did Dr. King execute the plans? Did he even craft the plans?
Those who have studied effective leadership teams suggest the following: No leader can “make" their team great. Under the principles of complex adaptive systems, a leader can create the circumstances under which a team can thrive (the farmer metaphor). What are those circumstances? The Center for Public Leadership at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard suggests the following:
There are six conditions that, when in place, dramatically increase the chances of team effectiveness. There are three essentials and three enablers. So it might be easy to just list these and get on with it, but implementing these conditions in a specific organization is the art of creation in local circumstances. Let me outline the approach, this is a nuanced and complicated process, but I do believe that thinking things through in a framework that others have shown to be effective is worth the exercise.
Three Essentials: A real team, a compelling direction, and the right people
Summarizing a complex subject, a real team is interdependent, bounded, and stable. I am intrigued by the “bounded” concept. In the author’s research, they asked CEOs and team members about the size of the senior team. Astonishingly, the perceptions of the team and of the CEO were usually different!
A compelling direction sounds simple, but the researchers found that leaders frequently over challenged individual members and under challenged the team. The result is often that the members view the team meetings as a waste of time, so they give the team little energy and time.
Finally, the concept of the ‘right people’ has been the subject of many business books, probably most notably Jim Collins in “Good to Great”, who said the research on effective organizations suggests getting the “right people in the right seats on the bus” is the most important step for a team, even before you drive the bus anywhere (figure out your strategy).
Some teams will use formal measures of work types to balance themselves, or choose members, or understand how work types influence the work a team does. A couple in common use are the Meyers Briggs personality profile, the DISC profile, and the Hay Groups emotional and social competency survey. I have completed these surveys and find that they provide important insights for ourselves and our teammates in getting work done and valuing the diversity of thinking on a team to get to good decisions.
Three Enablers: A solid structure, a supportive organizational context, and competent team coaching
Enablers of effective teams, according to the Center for Public Leadership, include a solid structure, a supportive organizational context, and competent team coaching. For structure, the important features are choosing tasks widely, having clear norms of conduct, and staying small, especially for decision- making teams.
More than seven people dramatically increase the number of linkages and potential problems keeping the team on track. A supportive organizational context includes good information, education, and resources, in an environment of rewards. And finally coaching: we all need effective ways of giving and receiving feedback; coaching formalizes feedback with a trained facilitator.
All of these ideas apply to any team. We know that leadership exists at all levels of an organization, so models for effective teamwork can be applied in senior teams, middle management, and front line teams.
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