People First HR Services

Leading team different from managing individuals

Colleen Coates

There are some vital differences in managing a team as compared to managing individuals. The art of creating, managing and nurturing a team — whether assembled for a specific construction project, pulled together to solve a business challenge, or to serve in an ongoing multidisciplinary effort such as a football team — can be a challenge, but one that offers great rewards for the entire organization.

Some managers may believe their only role in building a successful work team is to put together the right people, then stand back and let them do their thing until the task is completed. Not so.

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers have a recent video that depicts the team gearing up for the win against Toronto. It starts off with the question, “What does it take to be a team?” and provides the following definition: “People working together in a committed way to achieve a common goal or mission. The work is inter-dependent and team members share responsibility and hold themselves accountable for attaining the results.”

What’s missing from this statement is the importance of leadership. While the team will have its natural leaders, such as quarterback Buck Pierce, it’s head coach Paul LaPolice who is at the helm of the ship. Strong leadership is key.

So what can you, as a leader, do to benefit the work teams that you manage?

— Leverage the differential knowledge and varied skills of team members. The sum of knowledge of your team is greater than that of any one individual. Use this to the team’s advantage by encouraging them to explore any differences in perception and support them as they fill in gaps in expertise.

— Create an environment to express and accept diverse approaches. Each team member brings unique experiences to problem solving, so encourage the group to make the best use of everyone’s contributions. Even if it creates a few minor disputes, differences of opinion lead to team growth.

— Manage, but don’t micromanage. By standing on the sidelines, yet close enough to observe and offer support, a leader can help the team minimize or avoid negative behaviours. Steer them clear of “group think” mentality, allowing one member to dominate and getting sidetracked from reaching their intended goal.

Writer Susan Heathfield has compiled what she calls the “Twelve Cs for team building,” a helpful checklist for managers who want to keep their team on the track to success or else diagnose why it may have fallen off the rails:

1. Clear expectations — From the start, leaders need to make known its expectations for the team’s purpose, its performance and its expected outcomes.

2. Context — Team members must each understand why they are participating and how working as one unit is the most effective means of getting results.

3. Commitment — Make sure all members want to be at the table, that they believe in the team’s mission and that they are committed to accomplishing it.

4. Competence — Is the team confident that they most appropriate people have been assembled and have the right knowledge, skill set and capabilities to succeed?

5. Charter — Even though you are overseeing the team, they must be able to define goals, set timelines, organize hierarchy and design process on their own terms.

6. Control — Without relinquishing too many boundaries, empower the team with enough freedom and accountability to gain a sense of ownership necessary to fulfil its charter.

7. Collaboration — To co-operate optimally, the members should be working together interpersonally, starting by fully understanding each other’s roles and responsibilities.

8. Communication — As important as it is for members to understand their purpose and priorities, they need to give and get feedback to improve performance along the way.

9. Creative innovation — The organization that supports the team must be ready to accept new ideas and prove time and again that it values creative thinking and the importance of change.

10. Consequences — Members should be accountable for their actions and decisions, but at the same time, realize that there are rewards for taking risks and finding resolutions on behalf of their company. Consider the recognition they will receive for their efforts.

11. Co-ordination — Allocate resources to support the team and assist them in seeing how their achieved results will be incorporated into process in alignment with organizational goals.

12. Cultural change — Finally, the organization must recognize that a team-based, collaborative approach is an effective and empowering way to do business and is radically different from a traditional, hierarchical organization. Is yours ready?

By being attentive as the team fulfils its purpose, you are authorizing the team to “own” their success as well as that of the organization. In fact, they may become so effective as a team, it will appear that leadership was practically invisible during the process. That’s when you know you’ve truly been successful.

— With reporting by Barbara Chabai

Colleen Coates, CHRP, CCP, is a Practice Leader with People First HR Services Ltd. She can be contacted at


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 27, 2011 H2