How to Build Leadership On Teams: Ways to Cultivate Leaders and Create a Healthier, Stronger Team in the Process

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This is the third part in our series on leadership on teams. In the first two parts, we laid a lot of the groundwork by defining what leadership is and what some of the qualities and roles of good leaders are. In this post, we look at how we can use those ideas we talked about earlier in order to build and develop leadership on teams.

What do we mean when we talk about building leadership in teams? It’s an important question to ask because when we talk about leadership training or leadership development, sometimes we tend to think of a select group of people. Oftentimes it’s the management team that gets separate training or a group of high-performing team members.

However, what we want to emphasize here are ways to make leadership more diffuse and spread out among as many team members as possible. What we are talking about is a type of leadership that isn’t separate and isn’t selected, but rather encompasses the team as a whole, providing support and mentoring. We’re talking about a type of leadership emerging organically from within the team.

In other words, we’re talking about creating a culture of leadership, one that involves and benefits the entire team.

On creating a culture of leadership

What are the benefits of this type of approach? For one thing, this places leadership within the general framework of team building. Our approach to team building has always been that teams as a whole benefit from strengthening skills like communication, teamwork, and team unity. Leadership can therefore be a part of this mix of skills that are part of making teams function more effectively.. 

However, there is another argument to be made that is more related to the current situation and what teams are facing. We’ve seen massive shifts to remote and hybrid forms of work, and these trends are unlikely to go away soon. Even if many teams return to office settings, work has already become more online, more independent, and less hierarchical than before.  

Making leadership more widespread and part of all team members’ general awareness is a way to counteract some of the negative consequences of these changes. Gaining leadership skills give team members the ability to see the larger picture and allow them to have a more proactive sense of ownership and responsibility for the progress and unity of the team.

Leadership across the team can also lead to more resilience. We’ve seen how the rapid development of crises have challenged teams over the past two years. In order to make teams more adaptable to these types of crises in the future, cultivating a culture of leadership on teams can help by enabling more team members to take up leadership roles with confidence.

How to build leadership on teams

Ok, now that we’ve explained some of the background and rationale for our approach to leadership on teams, let’s take a look at some ways that you can help create a culture of leadership that will make team members more confident and capable, and lead to greater team unity and resilience.

1. It’s all about trust

The basis of all leadership on teams is trust. Team members have to trust each other and their leaders in order to work effectively. We’ve talked about trust on teams before, and we said that trust is built through communication, psychological safety, and having a clear sense of purpose and goals. 

Having strong relationships built on trust will allow for greater leadership on your team (something that team building is especially good at, by the way). The more team members trust each other, the easier it will be to accept different leaders and different styles of leadership, without creating frustration or unproductive competition.    

In the case of building a culture of leadership, trust means allowing team members to take risks and fail, too. Teams need to have experience dealing with different situations (as well will explain below), and having that level of trust in place will help them deal with difficult or new situations.

2. Mentoring and teaching others

One of the best ways to create a greater culture of leadership on teams is to mentor and teach team members, and pass on the lessons of leadership. A big part of leadership is actually inspiring more leaders, and so mentoring is a tool to strengthen current leaders while also training the next generation.

Mentoring is also useful in amplifying overall team unity and making team members more motivated, too. You want to make team members excited about the future of their team, and give them a buy-in into making that future a reality. Providing more mentorship opportunities makes team members feel that they are being invested in, which will make them more invested in the team in return. 

3. Team development and training

Along with mentoring opportunities, which tend to be one-on-one, you want to also make sure to provide development and training sessions for your whole team. These sessions can be specifically about leadership skills that your whole team can use, or they can be about anything relating to your work and team building.

The important thing is that you get your team to learn together. This will build more trust (see above) but it will also give your team members more chances for interacting and engaging with each other outside of the regular office setting.

This is important, because it’s a chance to see how team members interact in different contexts. You might see certain team members act in different ways, or shine a light on a team member’s skills that you hadn’t noticed before. All of which could affect how team members view themselves as leaders. Basically, give teams the chance to grow together, and you will give team members the chance to grow into leaders as well. 

4. Allow team members to pursue their passions

We mentioned in an earlier post that leaders emerge to fulfill specific goals in specific situations. Often the situations that attract leaders are the ones that they are passionate about. So a good way to build leadership on teams is to let team members pursue their passions at work. 

This doesn’t mean that team members should do whatever they want. Obviously, they are still part of a team and need to have the goals and priorities of the team in mind. But within that there is a lot of leeway for supporting team members’ ideas and projects. Letting team members take charge on projects they are passionate about contributing to can instill a sense of motivation and ownership, which will lead to a greater sense of leadership.   

5. Cultivate situational awareness skills 

Another way to incorporate different leadership skill sets and make the team more open to experimentation and trying new things is by cultivating a greater sense of situational leadership. The situational leadership model posits that, similar to what we said above, different leadership styles are appropriate for different situations. Good leaders should be able to “read the situation” and use the leadership style that fits the best.  

These four styles are:

  • Directing–directly telling people what to do; giving orders.
  • Coaching/Selling–getting people on board with an idea or guiding someone through a process in a clear, but more open way.  
  • Supporting–giving advice or support without directly telling people what to do and with minimal interference. 
  • Delegating–allowing others to accomplish tasks completely on their own. This still takes leadership in terms of understanding who can be trusted with certain tasks, but there is very low support or direction. 

We can easily think of situations where each of these leadership styles is involved. However, it’s a much harder task to actually move between them easily and effectively. That’s why it’s a good idea to give different team members more opportunities to try out these four styles as much as possible. 

Again, team building and team development is a way to get teams into different challenges and situations while providing a low-stakes environment in which they can play around and experiment. 

Team building gives teams the chance to try out these four styles in a way that won’t affect the overall success or failure of the team in the real world, and gives team members the opportunity to try on new leadership roles and styles without the same anxiety as an actual work environment.            

6. Work on resolving conflicts together

Even without team building though, you can still practice leadership skills and different leadership styles through conflict resolution. Conflict happens all the time on teams, and being able to resolve conflicts in a managed way–one in which emotions don’t get out of hand and the conflict is funneled towards productive ends–is an essential part of leadership.

Managing conflicts together, as a team, will create more trust between team members. It will also teach team members about how to act as leaders, and will spread that knowledge across the entire team. Moreover, it will make all team members feel equally invested in the health and welfare of the team, and responsible for making things better.

Concusion

The above are ways that you can inculcate leadership skills and create a culture of leadership on teams. Teams right now need more leadership skills in order to face a work culture that has become more fragmented and disunified, and requires more independence, self-management, and forward-looking confidence. Hybrid and remote teams especially need to train workers that can flow easily between support and leadership roles naturally, and without having to meet in person. 

We therefore believe that the future requires a different view of leadership, one that makes it an essential skill that all team members can possess. But part of this means recognizing that leadership is not one thing only, and that there is no one type of leader. It’s the same way that all teams are different and there is no perfect team. 

All teams, and all team members, can benefit from thoughtful and proactive leadership building. And at Invite Japan, we give you the opportunities to do so, with our highly popular puzzle-based programs and activities, which allow your team to unlock their own unique leadership and team building potential.         

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