Team Leadership Styles

What kind of leadership style works best for teams? In his book, Leading At A Higher Level, Ken Blanchard suggests that it depends on the developmental stage of the team. In other words for each stage of team development, there is an appropriate style of leadership that results in a high performing team.

When a team is formed, members are generally eager to begin and often have high expectations. They may have some anxiety about their role and how much they can trust others. This is the orientation stage with a high dependence on the leadership figure for purpose and direction. The challenge is to get the team off on the right foot by developing a strong team charter and building relationships and trust. At this stage, a directing leadership style is appropriate. Direction or structure are needed at this stage to provide the information necessary to get the team started.

As the team gets some experience, moral can dip as team members experience a discrepancy between their expectations and reality. This is the dissatisfaction stage. The challenge of this stage is helping the team manage issues of power, control, and conflict and to begin to work together effectively.  At this stage, a coaching leadership style is appropriate. Anger, frustration, confusion, and discouragement can arise due to the discrepancy between initial expectations and reality. Team members need encouragement and reassurance as well as skill development and strategies for working together and for task achievement.

As productivity and moral improve, the team moves into the integration stage. There is increased clarity and commitment. Trust and cohesion grow as communication becomes more open and task-oriented. Learning to share leadership and getting past the tendency to agree in order to avoid conflict are the challenges. At this stage, a supporting leadership style is appropriate. Support and collaboration are needed to help team members develop confidence in their ability to work together.

At the production stage, both productivity and moral are high and reinforce one another. Team members are confident in their ability to perform and overcome obstacles. They are proud of their work and enjoy working together. Leadership is shared and mutual respect and trust are the norms. At this stage, a delegating leadership style is appropriate. The team generally provides its own direction and support at this point and needs to be validated for that accomplishment. Teams at this stage often need new challenges to keep morale and task focus high.

Two variables determine the team development stage: productivity and morale. Diagnosing the level of productivity and morale is a clear way to determine a team’s development stage and understand team needs at any point in time. The moral of a new team is usually high and the performance is low. As the team develops, productivity increases and moral tends to drop before it improves to match the increasing performance.

Building a high performing team is a journey – a predictable progression from a collection of individuals to a well-oiled system.

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