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4D Leadership

4D Leadership – Competitive Advantage Through Vertical Leadership Development

Twenty years ago the accumulation of skills, knowledge and experience (‘horizontal development’) was sufficient for business success. Today, it’s not. 4D Leadership – Competitive Advantage Through Vertical Leadership Development, offers a new approach of ‘vertical development’.

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Unleashing the potential of teams

Unleashing the potential of teams

I’ve been asked a few times about a quote on the cover of my book. Warwick Brady, the COO at easyJet, is quoted on how working with me has sped up the development of his team’s performance – cutting the team building process from five or six years down to just six months. This blog will give you an insight into the team development stages that helped this easyJet team.

As managers progress in their careers, they get increasing responsibility for others. There is a clear expectation in this progression that leaders will be effective team builders and yet, very few receive any kind of formal training in human dynamics or psychology. They are simply not trained in tuning in to other people, nor in how to gel a team. We just expect them to be able to do it, almost by default. They are technically competent in their field – law, finance, marketing etc. – so it is assumed that they will be bright enough to figure out how to make a team work. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Getting a team to work well is a lot more complicated than being trained in technical competence. Human beings are incredibly complex and relationships are not easy to get right – at work or at home. In the UK we have the highest divorce rate in Europe. The divorce rate for second marriages is even higher – it appears we get worse with increasing experience in relationships. It’s clear that it is actually very difficult to get two people to relate to each other in a deep and meaningful way.

Now consider our relationships at work. A team is more complex than a marriage because there are more than two people involved and if we can’t get our marriages right, what hope is there for our teams?

I believe effective teams are the biggest untapped potential in our organisations. One of the first things we do with teams is to explore the seven stages of team development.

Very few execs have even thought about the development or the maturation of their teams, let alone how you would quantify the stages of team development. At the most they will know if a team is working or not, but they pay very little attention to why this is. They may attribute team issues to difficult personalities but there is very rarely, if ever, any considered thought about interpersonal dynamics and the team’s level of maturity.

Our model, that helped Warwick Brady’s team among many others, outlines seven stages of team development.

  1. A collection of talented individuals – people are operating in the same team but they have no common purpose. The team is comprised of people who are there because together they offer managerial span, but the only commonality is likely to be a degree of financial resources or people. There is no real common purpose and therefore no real team at this stage.
  2. Battling experts – at this stage, there is a common purpose, but that’s as far as it goes. Members see a reason for them to come together to decide things collectively, but they fight for hierarchical control of the agenda. The team is dysfunctional with lots of infighting, positioning and manoeuvring – one day the commercial director might win the argument, the next day the ops director scores points. It’s a constant battle. Some leaders like to run teams this way; they like to play one side off against the other, in the mistaken belief this gives you a sharp competitive edge. The truth is you never really unlock potential by inside fighting. You should be focused on beating the external rather than the internal competition.
  3. Dependent experts – this is the first stage of genuine team functionality. The vast bulk of exec teams we see are at this stage of development. You have highly competent individuals, who are dependent on the leader to bring cohesion to the team. You often see the leader of this team acting as a parent; having to adjudicate the squabbles of the children. The leader has to intervene and issues are perpetually escalated to the leader. That’s not to say that the team can’t affect results, but those results are dependent on the leader. If the leader leaves the team flounders. When the leader is absent the team battles over who takes charge. Once again, some leaders like to run things this way as it can inflate their ego. After all, this leader feels important if the team can’t function without them. However, this leader is failing to unlock the potential of the team and everyone is still very isolated in their thinking. No one aside from the leader takes the team perspective and this results in massive pressure on the leader. The move from stage three to stage four of team development requires quality guidance.
  4. Independent achievers – this stage is characterised by proactive team development and the silos begin to break down. There is a huge step change in philosophy as members think about their role and accountability. Team events stop being just about silo reporting. At level three, most team members think team events are largely a waste of time as they have to listen to content they don’t consider relevant. At stage four they realise that these things are useful because they need to know what others are doing. They also start to become less dependent on the leader; the team as a whole can look at how it can achieve business goals that are beyond their own silo. The team starts to glimpse something that is important beyond their silo and they start to work together independently of their leader.
  5. Interdependent pluralists – stage five is another big step up for team development. It’s the first stage of development at which you start to feel the excitement and energy of the team. People proactively look forward to the next team event. They are inspired and energised by each other. Silos are massively broken down. Team members not only realise their dependencies, but they are seeking out interdependencies. They are looking to iron out the creases in the functioning of their team; asking themselves how individual actions help and hinder others. This prompts conversations between team members about how they can collectively make the boat go faster. The team engages in practices that builds stronger alignments and quickens decision making. A stage five team really starts to feel like it’s humming. Unfortunately, you come across very few teams at this stage of development, but the quality of commercial effectiveness of a team at this stage is dramatically different from a team at, for example, stage three.
  6. Integrated pluralists – at stage six the team goes beyond interdependencies and begins to see ways to work in a much more integrated fashion. Team members proactively seek out diversity and alternative viewpoints – the more viewpoints the team can integrate the more sophisticated and nuanced their answers are. They start to engage in practices that promote greater levels of harmony in the team. This would include techniques we teach such as integrative decision-making. Everyone genuinely aligns behind a decision and there is true integration of diverse perspectives. At this stage you have an extremely high performing team.
  7. Executive fellowship – a stage seven team is world class and these are very rare indeed. A world-class team has gone beyond high performance. The team starts to function in an almost semi-permanent flow state. The level of trust is exceptional and the level of interpersonal understanding is deep. Decision-making is very fast, partly because it’s almost as if one executive knows what the others would have said if they had been there. Such is the level of intimacy at this stage. Individuals involved are often highly developed with very little ego; they’re much more focused on the purpose of the organisation and what they’re there to do rather than their own agenda. In all my years of coaching and consulting with executive teams, I have yet to find a team operating at this level.

To move your team to a higher stage of development, you first need a team coach who understands these different levels of development. This team coaching is not the same as facilitating a team, which will just increase effectiveness within a stage. Away days and experiences do enable executives to learn some skills but without the right kind of team coaching, they can’t jump up a developmental level. To significantly improve team performance, you need to develop vertically. Left to their own devices very few teams develop through the levels. If they have a very smart leader, they might be able to move to level four, but they aren’t able to unlock the potential beyond that.

For more on the vertical development of teams, see chapter X of Alan’s book: Coherence: The Secret Science of Brilliant Leadership

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Dr Alan Watkins

Alan is recognised as an international expert on leadership and human performance. He has a broad mix of commercial, academic, scientific and technological abilities.

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