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Your Leadership Team: A Unified Force or a Gathering of Individuals?

The word "team" is on every leader’s lips these days, from corporate leaders to small business owners. Yet, far too often, these so-called "teams" are nothing more than individuals sharing a team name rather than a true collective force.

Linda Hill and Kent Lineback provide a compelling definition in the Harvard Business Review, describing a team as "a group of people who do collective work and are mutually committed to a common team purpose and challenging goals related to that purpose." These words – "collective work," "mutually committed," and "common team purpose" – are not just powerful; they are the cornerstone of what makes a highly effective and contributing team.

Consider the difference between a vague corporate mantra and a razor-sharp team purpose statement. The latter clarifies what the team does, who it serves, and the impact it aims to have. Picture a team that declares,

"We are relentless in our pursuit of innovative solutions to keep our organisation at the cutting edge."

Crafting such a purpose statement is often an exhaustive process, and it's no wonder that teams breathe a sigh of relief once it's agreed. They celebrate and then dive back into the daily grind. But as time passes, the initial euphoria fades, and they find themselves grappling with unexpected challenges. They've overlooked the essence of their purpose – the need for collective action and mutual commitment.

Patrick Lencioni's concept of the five dysfunctions of a team paints a stark picture of what happens when these elements are missing:

  1. Absence of trust leads to guarded interactions and a lack of openness about one's limitations.

  2. Fear of conflict results in silent agreements and unvoiced opinions to avoid discomfort.

  3. Lack of commitment manifests as indecision or the pursuit of personal agendas over the team’s greater good.

  4. Avoidance of accountability sees missed goals excused and responsibilities shirked.

  5. Inattention to team results breeds internal competition and prioritisation of personal or silo’s gain over team success.

For a team to transform from a nominal group to a genuine unified entity, it must achieve:

  1. Universal agreement and commitment to the team's purpose.

  2. A clear understanding of what mutual commitment entails, including the necessity for honest and sometimes challenging conversations.

  3. A strategy for collective work, defining when collaboration is essential and how team members will interact both in meetings and beyond.

The ideal of being "one team" is a vision many leaders aspire to, yet the reality often reveals a different picture. Teams may appear united, but their dynamics suggest otherwise, both in and out of the meeting room. The discrepancy between the ideal and the reality can drain a team's energy—emotionally, mentally, and physically—hindering their ability to achieve meaningful outcomes aligned with their common purpose. But what if that energy could be redirected towards truly serving that purpose?

Every member of a leadership team, not just the team leader, could contemplate the value of evolving into a real team. What would it mean for your team to genuinely coalesce around a common purpose, to engage in work that truly matters in a way that optimises the energy of each individual and the team as a whole? Imagine the ease and flow that could be achieved when a team operates as a single, cohesive unit.

The question then becomes, what is it worth for your team to transform into a real team? A team that not only plays to a common purpose but does so with a sense of unity and efficiency that elevates the entire organisation.

It's a goal worth striving for, a transformation that can redefine what it means to work together towards success.

Additional reading: At the Top, It's All About Teamwork - Bain & Company


Grace Thomas, PCC, believes that leadership team culture and effectiveness shape the entire organisational fabric. Enhancing leadership team effectiveness drives positive change and outcomes. Senior executive leaders, leadership teams and emerging leaders in complex, global, multi-national and Australian organisations work with Grace to enhance and accelerate their leadership growth and impact in their work, life and ever-evolving world.

Grace is open to genuine requests to connect on LinkedIn as we never know how and when paths cross. Allergic to sales pitches or spam!


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