Leaders: Do You Have the Courage to Work on Your Teaming Skills?

Lecturing on teaming in an Executive MBA program for eight years, I’ve seen how managers often struggle to team. While these talented, mid-career, senior managers and executives enroll in the program for a variety of reasons, many share a common “productivity” mindset – quickly assess a problem (class assignment), structure a process (break-down and assign tasks to be completed), and achieve the targeted outcome (a grade of “A”). No doubt, this efficient, structured, results-oriented approach has generally served these highly motivated leaders well to this point in their careers. Yet, as these students work in a peer team of successful leaders, challenges often arise in the form of structure at the expense of flexibility, a push for consensus at the expense of diverse thinking, silence at the expense of speaking up, or ego at the expense of vulnerability. It takes courage to try experimenting with new teaming behaviors or taking your skills to a new level. This risk is worth taking to expand your capabilities.

Teaming skills are increasingly essential to effective and ethical leadership. More and more, work is being conducted outside traditional organizational structures, with teams formed to tackle problems or opportunities and just as quickly disbanded when the mission is accomplished or changed. In such a fluid environment, the ability to rapidly and effectively team becomes an important asset. Without the right teaming skills and behaviors, managers may realize achievements, but end up with less than what a high performing team could achieve.

Managers must be willing to step out as learners to work on new skills and behaviors – new skills and behaviors that may seem at times to them counterproductive to what has made them successful to date. That said, the very skills that make for effective teaming will do likewise for leading:

Trust – Be vulnerable, go first, seek connection, gain perspectives.

Listening – Know your listening style and how to recognize different contexts such as listening to understand perspective, being empathetic, appreciating, and assessing.
Speaking-up – Be open and honest with teammates, speak-up to give feedback, confront dysfunctional conflict, express values.
Reflecting – Observe and understand teaming dynamics, become more aware of one’s impact on team members – what works/could be changed.
Flexibility – Be creative, open-minded, calm, assertive, collaborative.

What teaming skills and behaviors would you like to learn and grow?