A-Team Dynamics

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They say that in any situation, you are only as good as your weakest link. But the fact remains that without good leadership, a team, no matter how good, will not get very far and its potential will be depleted along the way without proper guidance and direction. Find out how you can forge your team members, good or bad, into an A-team.

“In every team, someone has to take up the task of creating a set of common goals. That is the role of the team leader,” says Stella Wong (BBA 1986), Head of Human Resources at the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Limited.

Many of us today would be required, at some point, to head projects and deliver results. And, very often, these would have some implications on our career path, a rite of passage of sorts. Or it would be part of our job scope as we rise up the management ladder to take on more and more responsibility in heading teams and leading initiatives.

Therein lies the challenge; people need to be led and managed, so as to get the best out of them when they work in a team. This, it would appear, is very different from when they work on their own.

Converging Different Personalities within a Team

According to Stella, even good and capable individual workers can have a counter-productive effect on team members within certain team dynamics. This is where good leadership becomes absolutely vital. Stella recalls an incident where this occurred and the head of the team had to step in and steer the team in the right direction. “Very often we inherit a team, we don’t form one from scratch. So it is about how we develop the team to do what is required,” she explains. “If certain behaviors within the team are not acceptable, then it is your right as a team leader to put a stop to it,” she advises. “When you do so, you have to take an objective approach by focusing on changing the behavior, and avoid an bias or pre-conceptions toward the person,” she cautions.

In that particular instance that Stella was recounting, the leader pulled the team together in three basic steps. Foremost was to make it very clear to the team what their collective purpose was. It had to be explicit to everyone. The next step, after having set the purpose, was for the leader to establish the values that the team needs to embrace and accept. The leader had a long discussion with the team to determine what their shared value system should be. Even though the leader had entered the meeting with a predetermined set of values, it was put up for discussion, It took almost four hours to finally arrive at something that everyone agreed with; but because everyone had a vested interest in the decision, it was more acceptable. “Even the leader eventually acceded that the final outcome of the group discussion was better than the leader’s original ideas,” Stella recalls. Finally, the leader determined what would be considered acceptable behavior within the team. “The leader highlighted certain behavior and conduct that would no longer be tolerated,” Stella explained. The outcome of all these was that the team began to function much more efficiently, and the leader was able to achieve results more smoothly and with less resistance. What was more heartening was that “the original detractors in the group later admitted that they preferred the new working style,” recalls Stella.

Finding Right Fit in an Unorthodox Way

When forming a team from scratch, Stella’s advice is ” to pick the right people, who may not necessarily be candidates that have the most working experience”. She explains that “even if a candidate has a wealth of experience, he would not be helpful to the team if he is unable to fit well into the role that he is supposed to play within the team”. Her experience has taught her that “sometimes the right people for the team may not conform to the standard requirements of the job at first glance. However, they may have the right skill sets that are just waiting to be tapped”. She recalls a position she had to recruit people for. “I picked someone who had never been in that role, but her CV showed that she had been functioning in a way that showed she had an aptitude for the job. She was swimming along marvelously in the job within one month.”

It is also important, when recruiting for a position, not to miss the woods for trees. Stella related what transpired when a company decided to change their specifications for a design engineer’s job. We used to take fresh graduates in, and put them through an intensive 2-year training program formulated specifically for design engineers. When they graduate from the program, one of their roles would include presenting the design concepts to customers. At one juncture, management decided they wanted to hire extroverted people as their design engineers because those personality profiles would be better suites for sales,” she relates. However, when an extrovert was recruited for the job of design engineer, he quit the job after three months. At the exit interview, he told Stella, “This job is killing me.” He went on to becomes a sales engineer elsewhere. “The company didn’t realize that they had allowed the one percent requirement for an extrovert to perform the sales function to override the ninety-nine percent personality profile required for a design engineer’s role.” explained Stella.

Rising to the Role of Rallying Your Potential A-team

The role of a team leader is not easy, but it seems to come with the turf as people gain seniority in their jobs. As Stella explains, “The majority of leaders today are managerial leaders; it’s part of their job and they want to do it right. During leadership training, we remind them that leadership is a choice; they have asked for that position – as in vying for that promotion – and they have obtained it. Subsequently and consequently, it is their job to accomplish their team’s objectives.”

Stella reveals that an informal leader might often emerge in a team. “These are the stronger personalities, who could exert influence over the rest. Or they would be more experienced so the others may naturally defer to them,” Stella explains. She advises, “A good team leader would bring the quieter members out of their sell, and ensure that the strong personalities don’t become disruptive.”

“Never put people in a team just because they are available. They should have an interest in the project and the ability to contribute effectively and constructively,” Stella advises.

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