Leadership Within Teams

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Leadership

Leadership can be defined as “a process through which an individual influences others towards achieving a common objective” (Northouse 2007). A person is able to succeed as a leader through the application of leadership skills and knowledge. These are acquired as part of a process that includes learning and experience over a period of time. There are a number of factors that could have an influence on the leadership knowledge and skills of a leader. These include: values, ethics and beliefs. Such attributes are what sets different leaders apart as they give individuals a set of characteristics that make them unique.

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There are four approaches to studying leadership. The trait approach seeks to define the characteristics of successful leaders. The behavioral approach examines the benefits of different behavioral styles used by leaders. Examples of such styles are people oriented and task oriented. Situational approach identifies the crucial factors which make a leader important or less important. The contingency approach links the characteristics and behaviors of leaders to situations where they are most suitable (Arvey et al 2006).

In essence there are four factors that are involved when talking about the concept of leadership (U.S. Army 1983). First, there should be a leader who has a very clear understanding of the capabilities, skills and knowledge that they posses. Secondly, there should be followers who work under the leader. It is the responsibility of any leader to know the people he/she is managing in terms of their ability to do their work. The third factor is situation. A leader faces many different kinds of situations in the course of carrying out duties. He/she must carefully use proper judgment to choose the best course of action for each and every one of these situations. The fourth factor is communication. The only way that a leader could lead subordinates is through two way communication between him and the people he leads. Thus it is necessary that for one to be a leader, they should posses’ excellent communication skills. Importantly, this means that a leader should know how and what to communicate to people as this will determine whether he will be able to build or destroy the relationships between him/her and the followers (U.S. Army 1983).

Teams

A team in the management sense is a group of people working towards a common objective, which is usually complex in nature with accompanying multi disciplinary but often interdependent tasks (Katzenbach et al 1986). Forming a team usually involves bringing together people with complementary skills with the aim to coordinate their efforts and benefit from the resultant synergy. Teams serve a strategic purpose to organizations due to the fact that they give better output. This is made possible through the dynamic nature of teams which allow individual members to complement each other by working on tasks that match their skills. Such a setup makes it possible for members to maximize their strengths and to minimize any weaknesses that they may have (Blanchard, 2005). This goes a long way in contributing to the success of organizations as the members of staff working within these teams are able to achieve their true potential.

The most appropriate size for a team is likely to vary depending on the nature of the tasks at hand. Most management thinkers estimate that the most suitable size for a work team would be between five to twelve members. This is so because, a very large group may be ineffective or slow in dealing with some types of tasks or challenges while a very small team might be too stretched to solve some of the typical tasks that emerge in a workplace setup. When an organization or a manager wants to form a team, the main factor to consider is balance. This should be established between the homogeneous and heterogeneous skills and capabilities. Such balance would allow enough time for the team to be cohesive and yet at the same time have enough differences within it to foster creativity and innovation from the members. (Wheel, 2010).

The different types of teams usually set up by organizations include: “independent teams, multidisciplinary teams, interdependent teams, self-managed teams, project teams, interdisciplinary teams and the most recent type of team known as a virtual team” (Wheel, 2010).

Leadership and Teams

Traditionally whenever teams have been established, an individual among its members has always been selected to serve as its team leader. Once selected, the person becomes different from the rest by virtue of appointment. As the team leader the individual is tasked with the responsibility of guiding the team by clarifying its goals, mission and the team approach (Bodwell, 1986). Another option could be having a team where leadership roles are distributed among the team members. The most recent trend is a situation where a team could be self managed. In self managing teams many leadership functions are delegated to the team itself.While such teams have a number of advantages they require the development of group process skills and social relations in order to operate effectively (U.S. Army 1983).

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Strengths of a group with a defined leader

A team would have the following advantages by having a clearly established leader within its ranks. The leader of a team helps to build the confidence and commitment of its individual members by encouraging them to take risks and challenging them on a regular basis so that they can keep learning and improving their skills on a continuous basis. The team leader also handles the responsibility of managing the team’s relationships with any outsiders such as managers, committees and suppliers. To this regard, the team leader continuously communicates the goals, the approach and the purpose of the team to those members of the organization who might help the team to achieve its goals or those who might act as a stumbling block to its success of the (Bodwell, 1996).

The leader also blocks any outside interference that may have a negative impact on the working of the team. Another advantage of having a clearly defined leader within a team is that he/she helps to grow the team by providing and sharing opportunities among its members. Also the leader distributes assignments and tasks accordingly based on the skill sets and abilities of its members. This serves to save time and improve performance (Margerison and McCann, 1985). Another strength that a team can derive from having a well defined leader is that the team leader creates a vision for the entire team in consultation with the members to establish the direction towards which they should head and then motivate the rest of the team to move towards fulfilling that aim (Margerison and McCann 1985). For example in a newly set up manufacturing business, it will be necessary to initiate teams in the various functions such as production, human resources and business development. Important decisions such as which market to target for initial growth, how much to keep as inventory and how much to produce will eventually fall on team leaders. It will be up to them to determine the path that the rest of the team will follow in trying to achieve success for the new business.

Weaknesses of a having a defined leader within a team

One major weakness of leadership in a team set up is that leaders tend to select individuals who are similar to their own image to join their team. For example in a cross functional design team within a car manufacturing plant, if the team leader is an engineer then chances are that whenever chances for new members to join the team open up then the leader will prefer that an engineer join the team. This creates an imbalance with so many people with the same skills and similar abilities forming the bulk of the team. The outcome of this will be a situation where a team is unbalanced, with the members feeling that their knowledge, skills and abilities are not being utilized appropriately. Also in a small highly skilled team, a leader will serve as disruption to its members as they are highly professional and motivated, with a preference for minimum interference in their work, the presence of a leader might serve to break the harmony and synergy that can be harnessed from such a group (Daniel, 2007).

Another fact is that a leader who does not understand their own strengths and capabilities may only serve to lead the team towards the wrong direction, especially if he/she is making unilateral decisions (Margerison and McCann 1985).

The need of the hour is for self managed teams which can take the initiative and responsibly work towards their objectives with minimum disruptions due to lack of leadership. Self managed teams have become more popular due to the fact that most companies are becoming leaner by the day and the members of staff who are being retained after the now regular “layoffs”, are talented, highly focused, skilled and motivated. They are thus expected to have an understanding of their abilities, skills, responsibilities and tasks and know exactly how to go about achieving their goals without regular supervision or guidance (Northouse 2007).

In regards to leadership, in a self managed team there is no one member with a clear authority over other members of the team. Here responsibility and decision making is handed to the team unlike in the traditional management processes where it is tasked upon a leader. The motivation behind this concept is that a group will make better decisions as compared to an individual (Wellins, 2010). In comparison to situations where individual leaders sometimes make unilateral decisions in traditional teams, decision making in a self managed team is done by consensus either through voting or brainstorming and narrowing down the options until the best ideas are selected. But in some cases self managed teams work under external leaders who though not involved in the day to day running of the team, will provide support, motivation and coaching for its members. These external leaders will mostly be called upon when the team encounters a problem that they cannot handle (Wheel, 2010).

Also, unlike in traditional management, no single individual is accountable for the decisions or outcomes of decisions in self managed teams. This falls upon the entire team, the advantage here is that it reduces pressure on the individual members of self managed teams. Also, most self managed teams draw their membership from staff holding fairly senior positions within an organization. The daily responsibilities of such employees include managing very complex projects. Thus each and every member has some experience as a leader and can responsibly handle tasks without being managed by someone else. But as in all other areas of management self managed teams need support from senior management within the organization in order to operate successfully (Kimball & Amy, 1997).

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But this is not to say that self managed teams are without weaknesses associated with lack of leadership. Without an appointed leader to act as a motivator within a team a sense of enthusiasm might lack among members especially when a member is facing difficulty in performing assigned tasks. Also in carrying out their tasks, members of a team might lack a sense of urgency as there is no leader to point out to them on a regular basis what is expected of them. Another fact is that, without clear rules of behavior set forth by a team leader, discipline within the team might become a major issue. Important aspects such as meetings might be taken for granted by members who feel that they are not answerable to anyone within the group. Another major weakness is that without a point man to shield a team from outside pressure and interference, the performance levels of the entire team might be compromised as whenever there is a crisis, even a minor one, all the members will have to sit down and deliberate. If such issues are persistent there might come a time when most of what the team does will be settling one crisis after the other. Also teams need a leader who makes the members feel like they are growing together at the same time, as it is, the leader who tasks it upon himself to distribute fairly any opportunities that arise for team members. In situations where there is no clear leader then opportunities will be up for grabs a situation that could create disharmony and ill feelings within a group (Northouse 2007).

Recent developments in the area of information technology have resulted in the emergence of a type of self managed team known as the virtual team. This type of team is unique in the sense that members interact electronically with minimal or non existent face to face contact. Such teams are made up of people who work across geographical, organizational and time boundaries by using the latest technologies to communicate. Virtual teams do not have an appointed leader and they are likely to be found in Multi national companies with operations spanning across the globe. Virtual teams are usually cross functional in nature with members from different cultures and countries across the world. The unique factor about these teams is that members rarely ever meet face to face (Kimble 2000). There are several kinds of virtual teams: project teams. These teams are usually created to attend to a specific task. The members are selected based on skills and knowledge in performing that task. Executive teams: this type of team is made up of manager’s who are selected to join the team due to the position they hold within the organization. Community of practice team: made up of support people who are in the same profession or sharing a common task. While there might be some difficulties associated with setting up virtual teams, some of the benefits that be gained by an organization include: an increase in the ability to initiate and complete projects, it assists in developing and spreading best practices faster within the organization and can serve a very crucial role as a knowledge sharing network for the company’s professionals.

But in order for an organization to be able to effectively set up virtual teams they need to consider a number of factors. First, the management has to be trained in new management techniques. Also Organization structures might have to be modified to accommodate the new set up. The management processes required for the development of such teams have to be designed and team members have to be trained in news ways of working.

Virtual teams are becoming quite common place in organizations. It is time that managers stopped viewing them as being special and instead create strategies for their effective and efficient use if firms are to truly gain from their existence (Kimball & Amy, 1997).

References

Arvey, R.D., Rotundo, M., Johnson, W., Zhang, Z., & McGue, M. (2006). The determinants of leadership role occupancy: Genetic and personality factors. The Leadership Quarterly, 17, 1-20.

Blanchard, K. (2005). “Go Team! Take your team to the Next Level.” San Francisco, CA.: Beret Koestler publishing Inc.

Bodwell, D. J. (1996). High Performance Teams. Web.

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Daniel, L. (2007). Group dynamics for teams. (2nd edition): Sage Publications.

Katzenbach, J., & Douglas, K. (1986).The Wisdom of Teams: Harvard Business Review Press.

Kimball, L. & Amy E., (1997).Zen and the art of facilitating virtual teams, ODN annual conference proceedings.

Kimble, K. (2000). Effective Virtual Teams through Communities of Practice (Department of Management Science Research Paper Series, 00/9), University of Strategical, Strategical, UK.

Margerison, H. and McCann, J. (1985). How to Lead a Winning Team: MCB University Press.

Northouse, G. (2007). Leadership theory and practice. (3rd edition). Thousand Oak, London, New Delhi: Sage Publications, Inc.

U.S. Army. (1983). Military Leadership. Washington, DC: U.S.: Government Printing office.

Wellins, B. W. (1991).Empowered Teams: Creating Self-Directed Work Groups That Improve Quality, Productivity, and Participation. New Jersey: Jossey-Bass.

Wheel, S. (2010). Creating Effective Teams: a Guide for Members and Leaders. Los Angles: SAGE Print.

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