Team Leadership


By Qaiser Abbas (Author of best-selling book ‘ Tick Tick Dollar’)

Have you ever been the part of a high-performing sports team where the captain was changed, and the new skipper devastated the team spirit? Team performance went down and nobody was happy with the overall situation. What was the reason? Simple. Teams aren’t simple. In order for a captain, manager or supervisor to lead a team successfully, he/she should be able to understand the basic dynamics of a team. It is important to understand what is a team?   Failure to do so can produce devastating outcomes for individuals, the team and business.
The renowned team expert Mark Sanborn defines basic elements which make a team.  

  1. Firstly, he defines a team as being composed of a highly communicative group of people. Poor communication means no team.
  2. Second, he suggests that a team must have members with different backgrounds, skills and abilities so the team can pool these things to be effective. In other  words, a team with no diversity in it will be unlikely to work in an innovative fashion.
  3. Third, and perhaps most importantly, a team must have a shared sense of mission.  Whether we  are talking about a temporary work improvement team, or a branch, all members must share the sense of mission.
  4. Fourth, a team must have clearly identified goals.  A team must be able to gauge its success and know what it is trying to accomplish.

Leaders should also be able to understand the difference between a team and a simple work group. Sometime managers ask me ‘Is there really a difference? Does difference of this sort actually exist? We thought there is no much difference. ’

Yes, difference exists and it is on many elements.


Teams and work groups can be differentiated on the basis of their perception of competition. Work groups tend to compete inwardly, with their own team members. They are competing against each other for favor, recognition, etc.  On the other hand, outclass teams compete with those outside the organization.


In work groups, members devote energies on their own hidden agendas. They tend to be task-oriented and focused on personal interest. Outclass teams are goal-oriented, working towards the achievement of the team goals and agenda rather than pulling in different directions.


If you enter a work group, you can sense that they are autocratic and hierarchical in nature. Teams, on the other hand, tend to be participative and self-steering within the goals of the team.


You will also notice that in a work group, members tend to ‘tolerate’ each other. While teams tend to enjoy each other, appreciate and value the presence of other members in the team.  It doesn’t mean that there are no differences in teams, differences do exist but members welcome and encourage them. Differences are considered as resources whereas in work groups, differences are considered as ‘deficiencies’ that’s why disagreements are suppressed.

While facing a tough situation, teams do a quick analysis of the situation, gather energy from each other, and show full commitment to take well-calculated risks. On the other hand, work groups tend to avoid risk and maintain the status quo.

  1. My observation has repeatedly taken me to the same point. A CEO, who has been with us in a team building program puts it this way. “It is unfortunate that many managers want to stimulate the development of high-performance teams, but do not see  themselves as active players in the process”

It happens because of the mistaken belief that a team should be self-contained and owned by the team members. There is no problem with this belief but we need to add one more thought to this and that is ‘the manager, formal leader or supervisor has the major role in setting the climate for the development of teams’

I can’t overstate this point that’s why my answer to the managers is always the same. “If you want to encourage team functioning, it is very likely that you, yourself will have to change.  If you don’t, any team approach is doomed to failure”.

  1. If you really want me to define the role of a manager in a team context, I see it as a catalyst, a force that causes things to happen for other people and the team.

Managers would again ask me some burning questions. “How my role as a manager will evolve as team grows”

My reply looks like this “Not only is the manager’s role critical, but it changes over the lifespan of the team-building process.  In the beginning of the process of team-building, the team members may need a good deal of help developing their mission and purpose, identifying what they want to accomplish, and, more importantly, with the development of interpersonal and group skills such as conflict resolution, meeting management, etc.  They may also need constant reminder that the manager is serious about the team meaning that its activities and decisions or recommendations will be implemented wherever humanly possible.  The manager may even be called upon to act as a mediator, when conflict cannot be resolved by the team members. As a team grows and matures, the manager might become an equal team member, or may find that the team does not require ongoing involvement”

Tool Kit of Leadership.

All managers must exhibit high level of leadership skills to ensure long term sustenance of team. Team building process and its success largely depend on some important leadership factors.

  1. Team leader should be able to understand some basic psychology regarding what makes people  commit to and perform.
  2. Must recognize the importance of balancing between tasks (getting the job done) and  people (ensuring that team members are satisfied with the process of getting the work done).
  3. Leaders must have a      preference to listening and understanding rather than controlling and talking.  Willingness to listen and ability to      communicate is a fundamental trait for leadership position.
  4. Leaders must commit themselves to the team and not give up when the going gets rough, or  success is slow to come.  All top quality leaders show loyalty of  purpose.
  5. Leaders must behave i a consistent manner regarding team work.   Leaders who sometimes  encourage team process and sometimes bypass the team confuse the hell out of everyone.  When this happens, nobody takes teams seriously. Therefore, leaders must show consistency in their behavior.

The team will take its cues from its leader, or the manager.  You can not break inter-personal rules, not listen, and use autocratic privileges, and expect members of your team to believe that you REALLY value working together. Whatever you want the team to do, as a leader you model it yourself first only then you can expect others to do the same.


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