Let’s talk about the role and selection of the team leader.  I see the team leader as the primary point of contact between the team and other parts of the organization.  The team leader acts as the spokesperson to higher levels of management and resolves conflicts between supervisors and managers.  If you think about a traditional organization chart, the team leader is at the top and the team members report to the team leader.

Whereas inside the workings of the team, the team leader is more coaching, inspiring, and enabling the team to “want to do the work that must be done.”  In this case, the leader is at the hub of the team vs. the top!

role and selection of the team leaderManagement typically appoints the team leader if the team is just forming and members don’t know each other well.  In a few cases, management doesn’t yet have a high degree of trust in the team’s decision-making process and therefore finds it necessary to appoint a leader at the onset.  They typically appoint the process expert or senior member to lead and represent the team at management briefings.

Management must choose an individual who has demonstrated facilitative leadership skills, or they should be prepared to train the prospective team leader.  The team leader should be well-respected by the team and other stakeholders, be technically competent, and have the best interests of the team and the overall organization in mind.  Some organizations use an assessment instrument or a simulation to forecast how well the potential team leader will interact.

The team may decide who the team leader is going to be.  Typically, teams select the obvious “leader,” (most senior, most knowledgeable, most outgoing, etc.), but for management to be truly comfortable with the team’s decision, the team should decide its leadership based on specific criteria as mentioned above.  In this way, management will feel more comfortable and confident with the team’s decisions.

It is not unusual for an informal leader to emerge mid-way through the team development process.  The informal leader usually complements the formal leader’s spokesperson role by ensuring open and clear communication, cooperative relationships, and effective decision-making.

Rotating Team Leaders volunteer or are assigned the leadership role for a specific task and within a specific length of time.  This ensures balanced participation and allows team members to learn new leadership skills and sharpen their team skills.

Set some ground rules on how the role will rotate: 

  • Will everyone rotate into a leader role?
  • For how long?
  • Will any additional training be needed?
  • Will responsibilities change depending on the leader’s knowledge, skills, and abilities?
  • For self-directed teams, will there be additional compensation?

All teams need a team leader to focus their efforts, set guidelines, and deliver results.  How you go about selecting your team leader depends largely on the mission, management, organizational culture, and development of your team.


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As your team comes together, it is important to define the roles and responsibilities beyond the sharing of team roles.  Most people want to know where they belong on the team — why they are there and what is expected of them.  Take the time to clarify their roles.

Ask team members to share their:

Expectations.  Ask what they expect from the team and how they might be able to contribute to the team’s success.

Job Description.  Let team members describe, in their own words, what their job is, the work that they do, how they do it, who they work with, and what they are responsible for.

Action Items.  Clarify action items and responsibilities.  Ensure team members have a clear understanding of what the task is, and what the team expects them to do.  Agree on how the members will let the team know the task is accomplished.

Definition of a Good Team Player.  Clarify the definition of a good team player.  For example, he or she contributes meaningfully to the team, shares knowledge and expertise, participates in all meetings and discussions, and carries out assignments between meetings.

Balance Task and Maintenance Behaviors.  Less tangible, but just as important, are the team’s interaction skills.  We all think we are great team players, committed to getting the job done with others.  An effective team demonstrates a wide range of task and maintenance behaviors:

Task behaviors enable the team to work on a specific task.

Some task behaviors include:

  • Initiating.  State the purpose or objective.  Offer opinions and ideas.  Offer facts, examples or relevant information.  Suggest a procedure or method for the team to follow.  Suggest resource people to contact.
  • Asking.   Ask others for their opinions and ideas.  Validate others’ ideas.  Ask others to clarify their opinions and ideas.  Bring in others who may not speak.  Poll the team for a consensus.
  • Clarifying.  Clarify or explain reasons.  Provide concise examples and illustrations.  Point out relationships between facts and opinions.  Pull ideas and suggestions together.
  • Refocusing.  Refocus the team when joking, personal stories, or irrelevant talk goes on too long.  Refocus the team by redefining goals, problems, or outcomes when things become hazy or confusing.
  • Summarizing.  Summarize progress or discussions.  Summarize alternatives and issues facing the team. Celebrate small successes.

Maintenance behaviors ensure the team is working well together.

Some maintenance behaviors include:

  • Encouraging.  Accept, praise, and agree with the contribution of others.
  • Harmonizing.  Smooth out differences and relieve tension between team members.
  • Reconciling.  Search for common elements in conflicts.  Get others to explain differences of opinion.  Admit they could be wrong.  Offer a compromise.
  • Compromising.  Constructively manage areas of disagreement.  Aim to resolve conflicts by admitting an error, enforcing ground rules, or meeting others halfway.
  • Gatekeeping.  Manage airtime ensuring all participate and no one dominates.
  • Observing.  Observe group process and team dynamics.  Provide feedback to the group to reinforce strengths and evaluate possible areas for improvement.

These task and maintenance roles can both help and hinder discussion.  It’s important to have a balance of all of these behaviors for effective teamwork.

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When you watch a high-performing team in action, you realize that they have some habits, rituals, and ceremonies that support the team’s work.

So what’s the difference?  I defined habits in an earlier blog post as “an acquired behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary,” and a ritual as “a series of actions or type of behavior regularly and invariably followed by someone.  A ritual is a custom or tradition that defines who they are as a team, reinforces positive team behaviors, and contributes to the team’s culture and philosophy.”  I’ve also come to realize that there is another category – I’ll call it “ceremonies” that extend beyond the team level and are performed at the organizational level.

Many of these habits, rituals, and/or ceremonies are created in the moment, by the team leader or a team member.  When they go over so well, the team wants to do it again….and again until it becomes second nature!

Andy Duke Group Director of Creative Designs at  Stickyeyes says,

“A successful ritual needs to be something out of the ordinary, something that lifts people out of the day-to-day aspects of their job and puts them in a different mindset.”

Here are some examples that I have seen effective teams establish to create a certain purpose and put them in a different mindset:

  • Solidify relationships – take the seriousness out of work and focus on coming together because you want to and getting to know each other beyond the daily tasks unlocks creative power.
    • Meetings – “Check ins/outs,” icebreakers, Attitude of Gratitude, breathing exercise, company salute/special high five, 5 min Monday morning stand-up meeting/team huddle.
    • Team time – a set time in the day to gather and chit-chat
    • Walk a Mile – go for walking meetings vs. standing meetings!
    • Desk Swap! – Once a quarter, everyone sits in someone else’ digs for a week
    • Coffee Dates – Random coffee dates where everyone in the company gets assigned a random person to go have coffee with on Wednesday to chat and get to know each other
    • Scheduled Events – Weekly happy hours, morning huddles, team building activities, escape rooms, trivia nights, weekly trips to a local coffee shop, movie night, Wonderful Wednesdays, Fabulous Fridays
    • Non-Holidays –  Celebrate non-traditional holidays – or invent your own!
    • Food – Break bread with your brethren and bond over food – breakfast, lunch, cooking together, free snacks, and coffee in the break room. Discuss one thing you’re excited about and one thing you’re worried about.
    • Storytime –  Have an annual story night where you retell the history of the team or company and let people tell their favorite stories, too.
  • Recognize/Navigate Transitions
    • New hires – Welcome them in a special way: assign a buddy to take out to lunch, decorate their workspace, hold a special huddle to welcome them
    • An employee starts a new position
    • Anniversaries – 5 years, 10 years, etc.
    • Birthdays/anniversaries – A cake or quirky dessert, decorate their cubicle or door, give them something funny to wear (a hat, shirt or necklace), sing a song, bring a cake
    • Retirement
    • Layoff/firing
  • Promoting/Gaining New Skills and Knowledge
    • Regular debriefs, lessons learned, lunch & learns, and intensive training programs done together
    • Micro-learning sessions and discussions after everyone has done the training
    • Performance reviews, coaching activities
    • Setting monthly or quarterly goals
  • Celebrate Success when the team has achieved something together
    • Project completion – gift cards, pizzas, certificates of appreciation, t-shirts, drinks, cake, email announcement with a picture, bell in office, shoot a gong with a nerf gun, statue, create a trophy or symbol/prop to award for something and then award it to someone else the next month
    • Customer comments – send an email, best comment cake
  • Develop/Enhance Creativity
    • “Daily Drawing” – start the team meeting with a drawing – any kind at all as long as the pen is moving across the page!
    • The Weekly Question to ponder/respond to
    • “Round Table” – tee up a non-work topic to discuss
    • Book club to discuss a chapter in a book each week

The key to any of these activities is that the team habits, rituals, and ceremonies are done together as a team.


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