Originally published on the International Association of Emergency Managers September 2021 bulletin. Written by Dan Rector, M.S., CEM, Business Resilience Advisor, Asfalis Advisors.
Leadership and team development are more art than science. The variability of human experiences makes it nearly impossible to assign a one size fits all model to them. What is seen as effective and engaging to one may be viewed as isolating and off-putting to others. While there is no magic button to leadership and team development, there are concepts that leaders can use to develop their style and techniques. These concepts must be delivered to team members through effective communication methods.
Team Development & Communication
Energy, engagement, and exploration are three dimensions of communication that have been shown to affect the performance of teams (Pentland, 2012). Energy refers to how team members communicate with one another as well as the frequency of these interactions. For example, a team that communicates primarily through face-to-face interactions will have more energy than a team communicating strictly via email. In-person interactions correlate strongly to successful teams. Engagement refers to how involved all the members of a group are. A highly engaged team will interact well with every member with no gaps. No one is left out or being ignored. At the same time, all team members of a highly engaged team are eager to contribute. A team with low engagement may have most of their communication happening between a few select groups with groups of other members not participating. The third dimension, exploration, measures a team’s interaction with other teams. High-performing teams are those that reach outside of their circle and engage with other groups. This process of exploration allows for the sharing of ideas and results in beneficial discoveries for all parties.
Smart Practice 1 – Recognize Teams Are Alive
Leaders looking to improve their teams need to remember a core concept of team building: that teams are living things (Hawkins, 2018). Teams cannot be prebuilt, put on a shelf, and then called upon when needed. They evolve as the members evolve. Teams must be nurtured and developed into high-performing functional groups. Leaders need to provide guidance and encourage collaboration. Additionally, they need to find and offer opportunities for self-development. As each individual grows and matures in their role, so too shall the team.
Team development is the perfect time for a leader to practice situational leadership. Situational leadership is the ability of a leader to tailor their leadership style to the needs of the subordinate depending on that individual’s capabilities and desires (Nahavandi, 2016). Leaders must become a mentor or coach, then seamlessly transition to delegating or directing as required due to the subordinates’ current level of development, ability, and motivation.
Smart Practice 2 – Give Them a Why
The easiest way to increase the performance of any team is to give them the “why.” The why is their purpose. It lets them know the reason for the task at hand or even why the team was created. Informing your team why they are doing something will allow them to buy into the process. They will know why what they are doing is important and how it impacts the organization and its goals. To build upon the why senior-level leaders can express their appreciation for the team and offer their support (Hawkins, 2018). By showing members that what they are doing matters and is needed, they will be more likely to engage with one another and take the initiative to connect with other teams.
Two essential planning methods for ensuring alignment between a team and the organizational vision are strategic commitment and strategic consensus. Before forming and tasking a team, an organization’s senior leadership must clearly outline the tasks and priorities at a strategic level. The tasks have to be signed off by the top-level executive, and that person must commit to supporting the teams involved in the effort. This support then has to be directed down the chain so that all senior-level positions are aware. This awareness will create a consensus of what needs to happen and the level of support they should provide (Ateş et al., 2020).
When putting together any team, a leader needs to ensure they have outlined the team’s goals and received approval from all key decision-makers. This approval will ensure the team is given the support it needs to complete its assigned tasks. After this initial planning, leaders need to encourage team members through adequate energy, engagement, and exploration. These three dimensions of communication will set a high-performing team apart and allow them to accomplish much more than their peer.
Ateş, N. Y., Tarakci, M., Porck, J. P., van Knippenberg, D., & Groenen, P. J. F. (2020). The Dark Side of Visionary Leadership in Strategy Implementation: Strategic Alignment, Strategic Consensus, and Commitment. Journal of Management, 46(5), 637-665. doi:10.1177/0149206318811567
Hawkins, P. (2018). Leadership Team Coaching in Practice: Case Studies on Developing High-Performing Teams, 2nd Edition: Kogan.
Nahavandi, A. (2016). The Art and Science of Leadership (7th Edition). Pearson Learning Solutions. https://coloradotech.vitalsource.com/books/9781323330692
Pentland, A. S. (2012). The New Science of Building Great Teams. Harvard Business Review, 90(4), 60-70. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com.perdoceoed.idm.oclc.org/login.aspx?direct=true&db=bth&AN=73561030&site=ehost-live&scope=site
About the author: Dan Rector is a certified emergency manager (CEM) with over 15 years of experience in homeland security and emergency management operations. He is a military veteran with 12 years of active duty experience. Dan has extensive experience conducting threat identification, hazard analysis, training program development, exercise design/evaluation and leadership development.