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A leaderless team – whats in it for you?

, February 10, 2015, 0 Comments

leadership team-marketexpress-inOf late, a friend of mine started burning the midnight oil at work. She confessed that, with the recent exit of her boss she had started taking on the additional work in the hope that her fortitude and hard work would be recognised. We often come across scenarios where a team is in transition. There is a temporary void within the team or at the top. Is it an opportunity for you? Definitely, but with some riders!

Schools assign team based projects with the intention of getting children to work together to produce the desired outcomes. My young daughter recently learned a valuable lesson in team work during the course of such a project. Seeing total lack of interest in completing a team project amongst fellow members she decided to take it slightly easy too. ‘Why should I always work extra hard to compensate for them?’ was her refrain .I knew what the result would be .I knew how she felt about winning but decided to keep silent. They barely planned, didn’t do much pre-work; the project was a total disaster! What happened here? The team had no assigned leader. Each member was either too lazy or too diffident to take up the responsibility officially and they all wanted to be leaders. The entire team wanted to function as equals.

Desire to be a leader aside, in this team too, as in the corporate world there were team members at varied levels of competence, capability and interest levels. What if one or two of them had stepped up to the cause? Divided work, assigned responsibility and accountability, plodded on irrespective of the general lack of interest? Hopefully the kids learned a valuable life lesson on the functioning of teams which holds good in corporate life too.

A lackadaisical attitude towards lacunae in a team can prove costly to the very existence of the team itself, our own growth, future opportunities for the team and ourselves and can impact current team performance and spirit.

Taking the initiative in a leaderless team can manifest itself in the form of

  • Volunteering to take up more work
  • Gradually taking on more and more assignments
  • Helping team members who are falling back, in the absence of leadership (of course without compromising on the quality of our own work).
  • Stepping in as a temporary bridge with higher management to sort daily issues, tasks, resource allocation etc. . . .
  • Basically assuming a leadership role in spirit if not in title

The resultant positives of taking initiative to be a leader

  • The teams performance will remain unchecked
  • The team bonding increases .Such teams perform better.
  • You might be earmarked for greater opportunities within the team
  • The incoming leader will want your buy in
  • You earn the trust of your team members and management.
  • You could be promoted as leader

The pitfalls of stepping into the leader’s shoes

It all sounds great. But there are always two sides to a coin.

  • Beware of being used as a potential fall guy, a la Kiran Bedi. If things go right, someone else takes the credit .If things go wrong, you  shoulder majority of the blame.
  • Don’t fall for flattery or airy promises which could be used as means to extract extra work without any resultant benefits.
  • Don’t portray yourself as a selfless do-gooder ( who others will just exploit )
  • Stepping up might be recognised but might not necessarily result in a promotion. Don’t be disappointed. Acknowledge and recognize the other benefits in terms of lateral growth, additional learning, bonding etc.

As far as my friend goes, she got the promotion she wanted. But the management was supposedly so impressed with her talent to multitask that they decided not to fill her earlier position. The role was enlarged to encompass her earlier responsibilities too! So looks like her hours will be longer, for a while more.

Stepping up is a wise choice. Simultaneously evaluate and try to ascertain   the organisational climate, the management’s plan, external and internal factors etc. All of these impact you and the team.

Take initiative as a positive realist (with awareness and realistic expectations) not as a foolish optimist (hoping against hope for the best)!