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!
Management 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.