In attending a small company’s customer appreciation day during the Christmas season, the body language and interaction between the team members signaled a team in name only. They appeared to deliver on individual responsibilities, but demonstrated lack of trust and passion to lead a shared mandate, little desire for co-creation, innovation or new collective thinking.
Shared leadership is gaining prominence as an indicator of team effectiveness. Inspiring instances of this are evident in nature: a pack of dogs that work as one to ward off an intruder, or a swarm of bees working together to outmaneuver pesky predators. Studies of migrating birds emphasize the profound role of the leader, but equally highlight the followers’ roles. The flock has a shared purpose, with each bird knowing its own contribution to how that purpose is to be achieved. Their connection and inter-dependency make them fly closely together in formation, and enables any bird to communicate information to the flock, that they will all action.
In the work context we can produce more than the sum of our parts, unlock collaborative intelligence and create shared leadership through:
Purpose – More than just articulating the strategic or business plan, individuals have to find their own purpose linking together and providing meaning to their individual efforts, that of their co-workers, and the overall team purpose/effort. This keeps the team focused in times of change and challenges, while simultaneously delivering business as usual, and rebuffing a toxic team climate.
Connections – These are the spaces between the staff based on what team members need from each other and the team; what they can contribute; and holding each other accountable in the course of their work. Because these are not social connections, it is irrelevant whether team members like each other or hang out socially. Where connections work well, the leader does not have to be the initiator or escalation point for most routine decisions because team members liaise directly with their relevant colleagues. This is where the team leader must willingly abandon the traditional ‘cog and wheel’ model where he or she is at the center. This can be daunting and uncomfortable for the leader, but the benefits of nurturing the team to connect together organically and positively enables quicker decision-making and greater team agility.
Communication – In this context, this is dialogue that unlocks creativity and innovation to transport the team to newer levels of co-creation, collaboration and new ideas beyond what an individual would have singularly created. Team members will operate responsibly in a space where differences can be expressed and respected; stay focused on the team’s goals and objectives and forego their own unique agenda; let go of pre-conceived notions; and work with what emerges from the discussions.
In teams where there is effective shared leadership there is synergy, enthusiasm, passion and excitement around the purpose, rigorous discussions where challenges and support are equally expressed to create new and dynamic thinking and commitment towards company success.