How to Create a Team Dynamic that Actually Works

In traditional leadership structures, power is seen as something hierarchical. The greater your position, the greater your ability to effect change. The primary issue with this is that it is simply incorrect. Just because power is not being used, does not mean it doesn’t exist. Hierarchical leadership structures are ineffective because they rely on the illusion that those at the top have all the power, all the knowledge and all the significance. If people believe the illusion, they will act accordingly – as a disempowered team.

Lisa Gill uses the terms self-organising, self-governing and self-determining to describe teams where each person is jointly responsible for the sustainability of the company. Power is seen as conditional, moveable, depending on the task. Whether your team is dubbed self-organising or not, leaving hierarchical principles behind can help make your team function in its true potential.

From hierarchy to true leadership

“A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.” – Lao Tzu

In hierarchical structures, those with a high position can easily default to assuming responsibility (and sucking up the power) in any and every situation. This tendency can leave them burnt out from fixing everyday issues, without the capacity to address vision and opportunities that cannot be seen from the chaos of the corporate trenches.

When a leader with position trusts those on their team, the leader becomes free to work on developing a system that enables their team to thrive. They can address structural issues rather than transitory ones. They may appear to have less power to a casual observer, but their abilities are put to much better use.

From hierarchy to collective intelligence

“Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

Another pitfall of hierarchical thinking is that leaders who are not in the top-tier view their role as staying close to and pleasing the top-tier. Approval seeking has many pitfalls but its effect on team dynamic is to reduce communication to “this is what the boss says”. When communication is weighted top-down, those further down the ladder can feel isolated and undervalued. The opportunities and problems they can perceive from their unique vantage point will rarely be articulated to those at the top.

If however leaders caught in-between see themselves as communication links, listening to both ‘top’ and ‘bottom’, then a sense of team can be created. If they are less dependent upon approval from authority they can listen to and value all, using collective information to diagnose problems and spot previously unseen opportunities. If they know that they have power to effect change, this can all take place with minimal effort from the directors and heads of an organisation.

From hierarchy to collaborative ownership

“So much of what we call management consists in making it difficult for people to work.” – Peter Drucker

Finally, if those without authority buy into the hierarchical mindset, they will see themselves primarily as survivalists. Trying to get by, hit the next target, avoid criticism and get the promotion they need to no longer be in this frustrating condition. If they perceive a system problem, they may feel powerless to do anything about it. Their tendency may be to blame those at the top and just ride it out, all the time feeling pretty bitter about the whole affair.

But if they don’t buy into hierarchical mindset, if they believe they have power, then they can see their role for the valuable part that it is. When this happens, they feel a sense of ownership in the company as a whole (even if they have no official ownership whatsoever) and will feel able to contribute their full intelligence to the company.

Making the shift

All of these mindset shifts require both personal and structural realignment. There is responsibility to be shared in growing as a team. It requires coaching. It requires humility from those at the ‘top’ and passion from those at the ‘bottom’. No matter how hierarchical a team has been in the past, there is a way forward. It takes work but the result is that everyone can feel fulfilled and the organisation can become something far greater.

Want more insight on how to move forward? Get in touch with us to find out how we can help.