01 Jul Leading Expert Teams
The modern world is complex and requires leaders who can leverage the talents of a team of experts to solve problems and gain a competitive edge.
As these individuals will most likely have more knowledge and experience than you in their areas of expertise, getting the best out of them requires a subtly different skillset than you might normally use with your functional team.
It’s important, for example, not to rush to solutions, but rather to harness the full diversity of the team, and this requires patience and tolerance on the part of the leader. The leader’s role will also be more hands-off than operational and this can take time to become comfortable with. Experiment with your style, reflect on it and ask for feedback from team members and colleagues.
Loosen your GRIP
The G.R.I.P. model (Goals, Roles, Interactions and Processes covered in a previous blog http://www.lcnetwork.co.uk/getting-a-grip-on-high-performing-teams) is a useful performance tool for any team, but when working with a team of experts the framework that you set needs to be looser, as you’re really empowering and trusting them to self-organise and deliver. Let’s look at each element of the model as it might be applied to a group who each have their own specialist skills and knowledge. I have tackled the four elements of G.R.I.P. in a different order, i.e. G.R.P.I. to conclude with a few more thoughts on your leadership.
The definition of a team is ‘a group of people working together to achieve a common purpose‘, so the starting point for ensuring all elements of your support team are working effectively is to ensure they have a common purpose. Where the set up is complex and the roles are diverse, finding one specific goal that’s applicable to everyone can be a challenge, so try to articulate a vision that will unite, inspire and motivate. What is the direction of travel, if not the end point, and why is this so important? Tell a story that others will want to be a part of and engage the team in developing the unfolding story.
Whereas in an operational team, clear and distinct roles and responsibilities are important, in this context it may be advantageous to allow greater flexibility. Enabling roles to overlap can be a messy experience, but it’s important if you’re to give the team the freedom to be innovative and play to their strengths.
When empowering a team in this way, it’s necessary to give them the responsibility and authority to deliver. That means providing a trusting framework where the team not only has the resources it needs, but also the clout to make it happen. Where you do need to set constraints, clarity in delegation is very important. For example, which elements are ‘ask then go‘ (where they will need your agreement before taking action) and which are ‘go then let know‘ (where you would like to be kept informed of particular actions)?
As a leader, you’ll want to agree a number of processes, such as timelines, meeting or reporting schedules, with your wider team. But, when working with a team of experts in a complex situation, it’s also important to consider the process by which you generate and develop new ideas.
To get the most benefit from the knowledge and experience of your expert team, you’ll need to avoid oversimplifying an issue or problem before it is fully understood by everyone. This is known as ‘reductionism‘ and is the enemy of creativity. To avoid this, it’s best to open the subject up for discussion in the first instance so that you can get a wider perspective on the topic and generate a range of options. This ‘divergent thinking‘ will result in a number of ideas that can then be explored fully by discussing scenarios and prototyping or testing.
At this point, you can begin to close things down (convergent thinking) and move into your decision-making process. Using decision-making criteria first agreed by the team will help everyone remain objective as each option is discussed.
The interactions will change as the creative and decision making process progresses. Dimensions illustrate the balance that the leader must seek in the interactions.
There are, however, some important ground rules to keep in mind in terms of how complex teams interact. These are an essential element of the team framework and so should be discussed openly.
- Use all of the expertise in the room to play through scenarios.
- Dissenting views should be seen as a constructive challenge rather than a nuisance.
- Conflicts should be surfaced and discussed rather than avoided.
- The team should feel free to question any assumptions that are apparently widely held in order to avoid ‘groupthink’.
Over time, as the team develops, your role as leader may well evolve into providing a helicopter perspective, coming in now and again to review progress and offer an objective viewpoint. There should be no need to be heavy handed, but instead to ask questions and offer your own perspective on what you see. Meanwhile, if it emerges that the team has interpersonal or communication issues, you will need to help the team work through them openly. Your role, as leader, will have changed significantly as the team has developed.
So, how will you adapt your leadership style when working with a team of experts? What is the next opportunity you will have to work with an expert team on a complex project where the outcome is, as yet, unknown?
Posted by Mark Procter