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Your leadership style and the three levels of team effectiveness

In these straightened times, when more and more are striking for their slice of what is popularly held to be a limited, even diminishing pie, what should be foremost in our minds is the effectiveness, and therefore productivity, of our teams. For with resources that are severely stretched, it is the innovation and wealth creation that arises from inspired teams that will pull us out of our economic quagmire and increase the size of the pie.


Gauging team effectiveness

Here’s a method of gauging the level of team effectiveness that is completely made-up; conceptual; with no physical measurement necessary. To apply it to your team, requires only gut instinct, and your willingness to be straight with yourself. The level of your team’s current productivity can be indicative of your leadership style which will determine your future productivity.


You may have been asked to take on a ready-assembled team in your organisation, comprising already, the skills or abilities needed to get its task or project accomplished. Or, if you run your own operation, perhaps you compiled your team because you can’t or don’t wish to do everything yourself, so that your team comprises the skills or abilities that you can’t or don’t want to use personally.


The three levels of effectiveness

Either way, how do you know whether your team is as effective as it could be? One way is to regard it as operating at one of three levels of effectiveness: below the sum of its individual capabilities; at the sum of them, and at their product:

  • Level 1: the team performs at a level below that which would be expected from the sum of the skills and experience represented within the team, and so it is dysfunctional. Leadership is wanting and morale is unlikely to be high.

  • Level 2: the team is performing as expected, given the levels of skill and experience. In other words, at a level equal to the sum of the skills and experience of its members. Leadership is adding little and morale can be ‘good enough’ but unlikely to be much better.

  • Level 3: the team’s performance and productivity is in excess of what would normally be expected from the combination of its members’ skills and experience, and is, actually, at a level of the product of the skills and experiences in the team. At this level, as ‘product’ implies, the team members interact with each other, amplifying their individual skills and experience through communication and collaboration, to achieve higher levels of innovation and creativity. The leader is likely to be in charge rather than in control and is a catalyst for action. Morale is high and team members experience personal fulfilment in their lives.


Team leadership determines the level

What determines the level at which the team operates? More than anything, the quality of its leadership and in particular, the style of its leadership.


If the leader operates by telling people what to do, this fear-based command-and-control style will achieve little more than compliance from team members. Telling people what to do, even if you pay them, is an abuse and, as in all relationships, they will respond in kind. They will do their jobs as asked - but give little more, and the team is likely to operate at level 1, below the sum of the skills and experience represented.


Many, many, many teams operate at this level, at the cost of their productivity, their profitability, our economy, and everyone’s pay packets.


Other leaders may be aware of Command and Control’s limitations, and be more caring and thoughtful, but have yet to learn a different leadership style. With this ‘enlightened’ command and control, where, despite the leader’s compassion and altruism, he or she still operates from this limiting style, the team may achieve level 2 performance – all skills and experience are utilised, as directed by the leader - and team morale may be quite good – as good as can be expected, anyway.


Purpose is the cause

But it’s where teams are led by conscious leaders – these are servant-leaders plus - in which the team’s purpose, vision, and mission, inspire activity. All the team’s stakeholders are served by emotionally and spiritually intelligent leaders, so that performance in excess of the skills and experience represented in the team can be achieved, utilising and enjoying high levels of innovation and creativity.


In such level 3 teams, members feel safe enough to say, and are valued for, what they really think. The climate is one of communication, collaboration, and creation, in pursuit of their common cause and it’s that creation and innovation that arises in these inspired teams that leads to the novel ways and processes that can yield increased productivity and exponential performance improvement.


Where those ideas are spawned is in formal, yet relaxed creation meetings that are characterised by ‘Psychological Safety’, a culture or climate in which team members are free to be who they want to be and free to say what they really think, without fear of reproval. Creation meetings are not about gathering information but about utilising the team’s collective intelligence in pursuit of innovation and creation.


In such a climate, the whacky and seemingly stupid ideas that have so often taken humanity forward, can be voiced and followed through, with fellow team members reciprocating, and bouncing off the original whacky ideas and brainstorming them until practicable innovations are discovered.


How you are, your team is

Your accountability, as leader, is to create a level 3 team with this climate of psychological safety so that all team members can help create and innovate their way to achieving the team’s vision.


Gauging the level of a team is intuitive rather than rational – a quality a good leader should have developed. The levels of team effectiveness are a simple concept which can point to what we all might aspire to when trying to increase productivity in a time of scant resources.

Level three teams are innovative and creative because their empowered atmosphere gives the entire team access to its collective intelligence - supercharging the distributed intelligence of individual team members - rather than relying on the singular intelligence, or not, of the team leader.


Effective leadership creates the culture and climate of team members being there for each other in pursuit of their purpose. This collaboration enables level 3 innovation and creativity to take place, leading to high performance; high productivity; high morale, and high individual fulfilment.


The money’s run out. It’s time to start thinking.



By Christopher Jones-Warner


Further reading:

Teaming - Professor Amy C Edmondson.

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