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Leadership Commitment to Teams

By: Deborah Mackin

Leadership at all levels must support team efforts openly and without reservation if it expects teams to succeed. Yet managers and supervisors sometimes feel threatened and may even take credit away from their teams when improvements are made. They often fail to realize that their own involvement in team activities will promote trust and cooperation between them and their subordinates and will enhance their own reputation as effective managers.

Typcally, we have seen newly-formed teams repeatedly look to upper management to test the organization’s commitment to the new team structure. Leaders must take special care to reiterate their belief in the team’s future and to check critical offhand remarks or statements of frustration. Leadership must also avoid the “on-again/off-again” syndrome, in which they value teams when everything is going well but take time away from team meetings and team decision making when pressures rise.


Leadership must also see teams not only as a “tool” but also as a way of thinking and being. When teaming is marginalized to being “just a tool,” it becomes optional whether to pick up the tool or not. In actuality, teaming is a cultural change in addition to being a tool; in a team environment, we must change the way we think and approach tasks. It is no longer “people watching people watching people.”


There is a firm belief that every person at work is a responsible adult, capable of thinking for himself or herself and making effective decisions about his or her own work. When adults are encouraged to use their knowledge, experience, and skill, a shift in attitude occurs and something magical takes place.


Let’s look at the key benefits and drawbacks of teams.

Key Benefits
• Improve productivity by 15 to 20% in six months, and up to 30% in 18 months
• Drive accountability and responsibility to all areas within the organization
• Create a highly-motivated environment and better work climate
• Share in the ownership and responsibility for tasks
• Prompt a faster response to technological change
• Result in fewer, simpler job classifications
• Elect a better response to the less formal values of a younger generation of employees
• Result in effective delegation of workload and increased flexibility in task assignments
• Improve buy-in and common commitment to goals and values
• Encourage proactive and often innovative approaches to  problem solving
• Improve the self-worth of the workforce, resulting in improved interpersonal relationships
• Increase four-way communication
• Allow for greater skill development of staff cross-training in rules and responsibilities
• Promote an earlier warning system for potential problems
• Excite greater and faster interdepartmental interaction, reduced “silo” thinking
• Result in more time for management to work on strategic issues rather than day-to-day firefighting
• Reduce absenteeism, as well as the overall number of accidents and defects
• Improve housekeeping and efficiency


Key Drawbacks
• Require long-term investment of people, time, and energy
• Appear confused, disorderly, and out of control at times
• Can cause role confusion; members have difficulty leaving “hats” at the door
• Are viewed negatively by “old school” people who like order and control
• Require one to three years to be fully implemented
• Require people to change, especially managers, who must learn to trust and let go


Researchers have found that the effectiveness of teams is greatly influenced by members’ attitudes about the organization. If team members feel support and commitment from management, they will exhibit high productivity. If team members are angry because of a lack of organizational support, they will limit their efforts.

Excerpted, with permission of the publisher, from The Team Building Tool Kit by Deborah Mackin.
Copyright 2007, Deborah Mackin. Published by AMACOM. For more information, visit www.amacombooks.org

About the Author(s)

Deborah Mackin  is president of New Directions’ Consulting in North Bennington, Vermont.