Understanding your team.

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Where are the people in your team?

You are assigned a group of people to work with, or perhaps you get to choose them. They become your team. Great! Now you have a team of people to work with. That means that you can share the workload, benefit from a wide range of experience and win a critical mass for change in your organisation. Ah, the benefits of a team! Nothing but good, right? Wrong! The experience of many team leaders can end up being ‘It’s quicker to do it myself!’

There are plenty of tools to help team leaders to develop an understanding of teams and the roles of the participants. Here is simple diagnostic tool, based on a study of micro-politics.

Every team member brings with them two characteristics: power and authority. Power is derived from the official status of the person and the capacity that it gives them to control people, resources or time. Authority is an acquired characteristic. It comes from professional competency, a network of relationships and the degree of esteem that a person is held in by their peers.

It is possible for a team member to have low status-based power but high acquired authority. They may never have risen in the ranks but they are very good at what they do, reliable and looked to by others. Equally, another team member may have high degrees of status-based power but little acquired authority for a variety of reasons, such as being new to the organisation and so relatively unknown, because they do not seem very competent in their role or because they have a poor performance record.

Draw a quadrant with two axes: low to high status-based power, and low to high acquired authority.

Plot the members of your team on the quadrant.

  • High power and high acquired authority? This is a person who must be brought on-side with your leadership of the team. Once they are you can distribute leadership to them.
  • High power but low acquired authority? They will probably expect responsibility within the team but it’s probably best to take a collaborative approach. Resistance from this person can make life very difficult.
  • Low power but high acquired authority? This person could certainly tip the balance in your favour and you may want to devolve tasks on a delegated basis, where you can monitor progress and outcomes carefully.
  • Low power and low acquired authority? This is the person that you may be able to really develop within the team but, while their acquired authority is low in the team, the activities need to be on a directed basis.

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