The Spider Moves Where the Spider Needs to Go

As a leader, have you ever felt like time stops when you’re not around? That your team can’t make a decision without you? That you’re mediating petty conflicts between team members more often than you’d like? For whatever reason, despite your “A” team you’re getting C/C+ results at best?

Then it’s time to pause and look at how you’re operating. Even though we resent it, there is something seductive and seemingly powerful about being the glue that holds the team together.

But the reality is, this hub and spoke model of leadership is getting old. And yet I still see many leaders operating this way – spending the bulk of their time in one-on-ones, trying to get the best from the individuals on their team, yet not realizing that this approach comes with downfalls when it comes to team performance.

With each person being lead individually, the focus on collective team effectiveness and accountability wanes. Not only does this model contribute to exhaustion on behalf of the leader, it also contributes to an erosion of trust between and among team members. Though you may be leading high performers, you likely aren’t leading a high performance team.

Katzenbach and Smith, in The Wisdom of Teams, talk about the individual vs. team focus: “Deeply engrained biases towards individual accountability and achievement reinforce the executive behavior patterns that run counter to team requirements. Teams at the top, like teams elsewhere, must develop a sense of mutual trust and interdependence.”

In extreme cases, that lack of mutual trust and interdependence can be devastating. Individual executives are reluctant to rely on anyone other than themselves for results. A subtle drive for individual high performance, often supported by one-on-one leadership from “the boss,” can turn to full-blown competition and cutthroat behavior amongst colleagues. Competition without a solid foundation of trust easily breeds contempt and can break a team. Not to mention the example that being set for the rest of the organization…

The good news is a new model has been emerging where the leader is less at the center, but moves freely to where he or she is needed, with the leadership focus shifting from the individual to the individual as team-member. Roll away hub and spoke… Enter “The Web” — a delicate weaving of relationships, results and shared accountability.

This leader is nimble in his approach – going where he is needed most: coaching, setting strategy, facilitating healthy debate, encouraging team dialogue, front-and-center with the customer. You get the picture.  While also seemingly pulled in multiple directions, this leader is intentional in where he spends his time — he knows when and where to get involved, in best service of the organization and the people. He develops the individuals and cultivates the team.

The other day I was talking to the head of an organization about Hub and Spoke vs. Web Leadership… He paused for a moment and offered this nugget of arachnid goodness: “the spider moves where the spider needs to go.” I couldn’t have said it better myself!

e-musings leadership tips:

  • Lead individuals AND the team. Focus on the inter-dependencies and relationships between and among team members.
  • Get out of the way. Enable your team to achieve success. Coach when needed, give feedback often, celebrate milestones and facilitate learning from mistakes.
  • Hold your team capable of solving problems, jump in only when absolutely necessary (this builds trust, increases capacity for problem solving, and gives you more brain space for strategic thought)
  • Be nimble. Lead others the way they need to be lead. Flex your style to get the most from your people, but be consistent in your expectations of the team.
  • Hold the team accountable for shared success.
  • Remember, it’s not what you expect, but what you inspect that counts. Set team incentives as well as individual incentives.

What tips do you have for cultivating team performance?

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