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Leadership Point of View – Teamwork!

Alcide DeGagné

In my first post in this series on a Leadership Point of View – A Framework, I argued that a “leadership point of view”, solidly anchored in our own experiences and integrated with our personality, is essential for understanding how we influence others. In the follow-up post, I suggested that a personal “leadership point of view” is a logical stepping-off point for a meaningful discussion of “teamwork”, and a necessary step to building a “team leadership point of view”. 

Human Tower building in CatalanTaken together, we are able to access the spheres of influence that matter most in our working life – our colleagues who work in groups up, down, across, and on the periphery of our organization.

In this blog, I want to revisit how the nature of teamwork itself has changed the way groups influence – and are influenced – in our post-modern world. 

Leadership Then and Now

So, how does leading and working today vary from the world of our mothers and fathers? 

Larry Hirschhorn, in his book Reworking Authority, identifies a critical change in how people work -- that they are expected to bring more of themselves psychologically to the job. In fact, I would probably take this a step further, and say that most people in the work force today are seeking opportunities to do work that is, first and foremost, psychologically important to them. Isn’t that just the logical outcome of Maslow’s hierarchy

In an earlier work – Managing in the New Team Environment – Hirschhorn contrasts working then with working now as follows:

Old Team Environment New Team Environment
Person followed orders Person comes up with initiatives
Group depended on manager Group has considerable authority to chart its own steps
Group was a team because people conformed to direction set by manager. No one rocked the boat. Group is a team because people learn to collaborate in the face of their emerging right to think for themselves. People rock the boat and work together.
People cooperated by suppressing their feelings. The wanted to get along. People cooperate by using their thoughts and feelings. They link up through direct talk.


The central idea of this radical change is conveyed by the phrase “people cooperate by using (both) their thoughts and feelings”. 

And because work today requires people to use both their thoughts and feelings, managing relationships – along with setting strategic direction – has become the primary task of organizational leaders. 

OK, so why is effective teamwork so rare…

In the ideal, the new team environment described by Hirschhorn holds enormous promise. Patrick Lencioni describes the power of teamwork eloquently, 

If you could get all the people in an organization rowing in the same direction, you could dominate any industry, in any market, against any competition, at any time.

If so, there should be lots of examples of effective teamwork, right? In fact, study after study and tons of anecdotal evidence point to the fact that really good teamwork is the exception and really great teams are rare. 

In my experience the challenge of teamwork hinges on Hirschhorn’s 3rd point above:  

  • For most of human evolution, the “group was a team because people conformed to the direction set by leaders. No one rocked the boat.”
  • In our era, however, the “group is a team because people learn to collaborate in the face of their emerging right to think for themselves. People rock the boat and work together.”

The hard part is that collaboration is something to be learned, and for a lot of us that is not easy. Lencioni, in The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, identifies the following root causes of ineffective teams:

  • Absence of trust—unwilling to be vulnerable within the group
  • Fear of conflict—seeking artificial harmony over constructive passionate debate
  • Lack of commitment—feigning buy-in for group decisions creates ambiguity throughout the organization
  • Avoidance of accountability—ducking the responsibility to call peers on counterproductive behaviour which sets low standards
  • Inattention to results—focusing on personal success, status and ego before team success

What Lencioni, Covey, and others demonstrate is that our innate human qualities – aka, habits that enabled us to survey in hostile environments – inhibit our ability to learn the collaborative skills needed for effective teamwork. 

Why? Because to be effective requires that “people rock the boat and work together”!

Some leaders misinterpret boat rocking as a personal challenge which , causes them to revert back to the old model where “the group is a team because the group conforms to the direction of the leader”. 

That might work in crisis situations, but generally breaks down fairly quickly. This leads to pressure to adopt a more flexible style... The outcome is often a team that’s ineffective, and avoids meeting whenever possible. 

At their core, successful teams have no option but to rely on their ability to use both their thoughts and their feelings to bring about meaningful and effective teamwork. Radical leaders welcome passionate discussion of ideas as the real work of the team. 

And that means confronting and resolving all of the team behavioural dysfunctions –starting with Trust. 

Don’t wait; start rocking the boat!

'Human Tower' Credit : jurvetson via Compfight cc

'Big Waves' Credit: Defence Images via Compfight cc


That’s because this is the era of ideas. Employers hire for them and because they are essentially free—no patent, no regulations—they are pure profit and for the very long term. Piece of cake!

By Janet Hudgins on 2014/11/02

Thanks; Good point Janet.

By Alcide on 2014/11/10

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Posted by Alcide DeGagné
Posted on October 29, 2014

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Categories: communication, culture, hr & talent management, leadership, management, organizational development, teams