Often underestimated: the importance of team leaders

Team leaders are old fashioned in agile organizations. At the same time, the „need“ increases for (good) leadership. This post deals with the question how team leaders can contribute to the development of your company.

Especially from a global perspective: there is no uniform definition of the team leader role. The range of tasks of team leaders in the companies is wide. In addition to management tasks, more and more elements of personnel management (e. g. promoting employees) or disciplinary management (e. g. perform performance management) are increasingly taken over. No wonder that the leadership span of team leaders is answered so differently. But it is worth looking at the tasks today and tomorrow that team leaders (could) take over.

Team leaders are a source of the organization’s knowledge

Team leaders are in a sandwich role between employee and management. You surely know the picture of the iceberg of ignorance that a Japanese consultant had coined in the late 1980s to analyze the problems in an automotive company. According to his analysis, the top management knew only 4 percent of the company’s problems – to stay in the picture of the iceberg, the problems that were visible above the water. Their direct reports didn’t perform much better, they knew 9 percent. By contrast, the team leaders knew almost 3 out of 4 of the existing problems (employees knew all).

Of course, the figures cannot be generalized, and a good 30 years have passed since then. In my experience, however, there are still three phenomena in hierarchical structures:

  1. The further up the hierarchy you come, the more detached you become of the problems of the employees or the problems the employees know.
  2. Even important problems „silt“ in the communication „upwards“.
  3. And the most important point for me: Above the team leader level, the knowledge of the company’s problems is clearly breaking down or almost lost.

In addition to employees, team leaders are therefore a source of knowledge and potential for improvement in the company.

Personal leadership becomes more important

There are many reasons why personal leadership is becoming more important: the increasing dynamic in business, the need for lifelong learning, and the willingness to change is becoming more important. Besides, for permanent or hybrid home office models, you should find a solution for the decline of personal contacts and social attachment.

Therefore, not only because team leaders occupy by far the largest share of leadership positions in hierarchical structures: their leadership role becomes success crucial for the development of companies.

The companies´ Employer-Branding is decided in your teams

What makes companies attractive as an employer? Of course, it´s important to attract people to your company. Whether employees stay in their companies depends essentially on how comfortable they feel in the teams, how meaningful the work is seen, to what extent one can get involved and how fair and appreciative the treatment of colleagues and superiors is perceived. The nucleus for good employer branding is therefore the team. 

Contribution Corporate Strategy

When companies understand the knowledge of problem breaks from „bottom to top,“ it is reversed in the understanding of the company’s strategy. Here, too, team leaders have a key role to play in explaining the company’s strategy, developing an understanding of it, and in the best case identifying with it.

Development needs in hierarchical and agile approaches

For hierarchical structures, therefore, the team leader role changes. The development of employees, the contribution in the further development and communication of strategy, the identification with the team and the company, the development of a feedback and trust culture and making use of the knowledge of the team leaders is becoming more and more important. In this sense, hierarchical structures become more permeable, more open, more agile.

In contrast, agile teams can do without the classic team leader. Of course, there are good reasons to shift responsibility to a team where the knowledge of the problems and wishes of the customers are. The development topic is delegated to teams, cross-functional competence groups or/and product owners, and feedback formats in the team take the place of a supervisor´s feedback. In practice, however, it turns out that this does not „work“ well. Product owners cannot step into the development topics because of the large leadership span, the feedback formats in teams (such as retros) often remain on the technical level, and self-determined learning also has limitations or at least needs guidance. In my experience, the development of digital future competences in particular is not taking place enough.

There is therefore a need for development for hierarchical and agile organizational approaches, and the further development of the team leader role can become the driver of change in your company. If you work with pulse surveys, I am sure that your data will reveal the discussed aspects.

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