Accountable Team Roles

What is a team?

The label 'team' is often inappropriately used to describe a group of people. However, teams are distinct from groups of people because the level of co-operation and integration required from each member is on a much higher plane. A team can be defined as "An interdependent group of people, working to a common goal and approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable".

A team:

  • Has reason and purpose for working together
  • Needs the contribution of the different members on the team to create an output of value to the customer
  • Needs each other's experience, ability and commitment to attain goals
  • Believes that working together will lead to more effective performance
  • Wants to be successful
  • Is held accountable by the larger organisation for results

The team players

Five key players need to work together to secure success. In summary these players consist of:

  • The business leaders who are responsible, as a cross-functional team, for creating the right environment to perform.
  • The team sponsor who initiates the team, and is accountable to the business for achievement of the goals. The sponsor provides resource, removes obstacles to progress and keeps the team connected to the business it is there to serve.
  • The team leader who guides the team to high performance by keeping them focused, aligned, organised and energised.
  • The team members who hold themselves mutually accountable for achieving team goals in the most effective and efficient manner possible.
  • Stakeholders who need to make the time to support and understand what the team needs from them, make clear their requirements and needs, and contribute to team progress.

The role of the sponsor

For permanent work teams, the sponsor is typically the hierarchical line manager. For temporary, cross-functional teams the sponsor may be less obvious and require selection. The sponsor, in taking on the role, accepts overall accountability to the business for the achievement of the goals. This does not detract in any way from the team's accountability but instead provides teams with someone who will 'fight' for them, and clear the path of any obstacles which are beyond their ability and authority to overcome.

Core role:

  • Ensures that the team has viable goals which are agreed to by the business
  • Communicates the value of the team's work to the team and the wider business
  • Selects the team leader
  • Supports the team leader in developing the skills and attitude to fulfil the role of high performance team leader
  • Motivates the team leader and team by recognising progress and success
  • Builds team success into the team leader's annual objectives
  • Helps to remove obstacles to progress
  • Formally approves and reviews the team's work
  • Supports the team in their efforts to secure committed and aligned stakeholders
  • Seeks to influence line managers, so they support participation of their people on the team
  • Regularly meets the team leader to review progress, listen, offer advice and give feedback
  • Authorises changes to the team brief in the light of changing circumstances or new insights

The role of the team leader

For the high performance team leader, giving direction, instruction and making decisions remains an integral part of the role. However, these activities are a deliberate, as opposed to continuous intervention, based on the needs of the team and task.

In start up situations many teams need the leader to provide direction and make decisions. This need will also arise at different points in the life of the team, for example at times of crisis, when significant changes are required, or if the team changes in composition. However much a leader enjoys or can fulfil this directional role, this leader's goal is to get the team informed, confident and skilled enough to step up to the challenges inherent in belonging to a high performance team and going after the task. Once this is achieved the leader's next goal is to help the team progress from independence to true interdependent working.

Fostering interdependence can be progressed by:

  • Having common goals
  • Giving assignments which require team members to work together
  • Making visible the connections between people
  • Encouraging team members to assist and coach each other
  • Helping the team understand the limitations and strengths in themselves and others
  • Creating reward and recognition systems which provide a greater stake in the work produced by the team than the individuals within it.

What does the high performance team leader focus on?

First, it is important to note that this leader's focus is upon others not him/herself. The leader adapts his/her style to ensure that the team has the right level of support and direction to work effectively together to achieve the task. This leader constantly asks, "What does this team really need from me to achieve high performance?"

The high performance team leader role is a combination of:

Inspiration and visionary - Making sure the team and the wider business is aligned, focused and committed to a common direction. The leader makes the case for change and engages people in overcoming resistance to it. Through communication, involvement and personal commitment the leader gives the people the strength of conviction in the benefits of change, which ensures that they do not fall at the first hurdle.

Innovator - Encouraging the team to try new ways of doing things, take risks and experiment. Creating an environment where 'failure' results in learning not blaming.

Long range strategic planner - Keeping the team connected to the business strategies. Constantly gathering and analysing information on changing customer needs and marketing environment.

Resource provider - The leader is there to be a resource to the team by removing barriers, supplying tools and providing information, and asks, "What do you need to perform?"

Resource manager - Helping the team to manage resources and set priorities

Coach - Raising other people's game. Taking the time and having the talent to help raise individuals' understanding, motivation, skills and confidence. This also involves accepting personal coaching and support from the team and encouraging team members to learn from each other.

Counselor - This leader takes responsibility for creating consciousness in the team about what is really going on. It is about surfacing the games that are regularly played out within and between teams and other parts of the organisation.

Once games are surfaced the leader helps the team put things into perspective, deal with issues and close down unhelpful and destructive behaviour. The leader works alongside the team, helping team members to develop positive relationships and face up to their own contribution to issues, conflicts and misunderstandings.

Observer and evaluator - The leader is constantly alert to the full situation; everything that could impact the achievement of the task. Observing and diagnosing what is going on in the team and between the team and its stakeholders. So if there is tension on the team, enthusiasm is ebbing away or a team member is quieter than usual, the leader is quick to identify this and work with the team to resolve it.

Active team member - Treats team members as true partners, not followers to be commanded and directed from the sidelines. This leader does not stand apart but works with the team. However the leader is very aware of the danger of becoming too task focused, such that the process and people aspects of the team are neglected.

Motivator - Pursuing performance and promoting individual fulfillment performance and the personal fulfillment of team members, are not treated as trade-offs. Both are pursued with equal rigour. Why? Because to obtain the levels of performance this leader is seeking demands the presence, attention and commitment of the whole person. The attitude, "This is not my job" has no place on this team. High Priority is placed on engaging the whole person, as the more engaged each member is the better the results. It is this emotional engagement and spark that sets high performing teams well above the rest.

This emotional commitment helps a team to:

  • Achieve what can appear to others, as an impossible feat
  • Keep going when the going gets tough and problems are experienced
  • Still believe in the team when others turn their backs

Facilitator - From one-on-one to one-on-team management
The traditional leaders spends a high proportion of their time managing one-on-one interaction or very large groups. In both these situations it is easier to control the communications, direct the outcome and avoid unified opposition. These one-on-one interactions are most likely to take place in the leaders' office with the status of a desk to reinforce the relative positions.

By contrast the high performance team leaders seeks opportunities for the team to come together to discuss progress, resolve issues/conflict, solve problems and plan together.

Process provider - The team leader ensures that a healthy balance is maintained between the demands of the task, what - the team has to achieve, and the demands of the process, how the team goes about tackling the task. Attention to process is typically underestimated, yet the key to task success is sound and clear processes.

Interface Manager - The team leader ensures that the relationships and understanding between the team and the rest of the business are open, positive and conducive to success.

Belonging to a high performance team

You are not the only one with a changing and more demanding role to play. Belonging to a team which is trying to achieve high performance is likely to make a different, often tougher, set of demands upon its members than the traditional team.

Belonging means being held accountable by the team to perform, meet commitments, contribute, challenge and work effectively with others.

The role of team member

Team members are expected and encouraged to:

  • Lead the team when their skill and talent makes this desirable
  • Contribute across the whole team
  • Feel a sense of ownership and accountability to the team, not just the specific part they play
  • Accept ownership for decisions, whether in personal agreement with them or not
  • Care
  • Sell the team and the goals
  • Alert the team to issues
  • Have views and express them
  • Assert their needs
  • Coach and support colleagues
  • Admit when they need help or have made a mistake
  • Work through differences and conflict
  • Openly share information and expertise with others
  • Give and receive feedback
  • Operate within the agreed norms and rules set by the team
  • Participate fully in all relevant meetings

How to be an ideal team member

  • Give the team no nasty surprises. Alert the team to all actual and potential issues/threats as soon as you become aware of them
  • If you see a problem which you think is beyond your ability to sort, bring it to the team's attention
  • Don't present the team with "we must have an immediate answer/decision"
  • If you want an answer to a complex issue, provide full explanation and unbiased data. You may have lived with this problem for some time; others have not
  • Try to see your work in the context of the business and team, not just your part of it
  • Be prepared to make sacrifices for the good of the team
  • Present alternatives and options, not just the one idea you want progressed
  • Be passionate and believe in your views, but once a decision is made, adopt it as if it were your own

The challenges of membership

Like the leader, some team members may feel that too much is being asked of them when they join the team, or feel uncomfortable with the demands of the new role.

Some of this discomfort can arise from:

  • The person's need and comfort in being led and directed
  • No previous experience of taking on leadership tasks
  • Not wanting to be integrated into a team, but preferring to make individual contributions and leave
  • Being unsure how to work with others
  • The increased level of accountability
  • The expectation placed on them of contributing beyond the functional area of expertise
  • Having their functional contributions challenged rather than accepted as expert input
  • Being asked to surface and deal with issues that historically would only be bitched about
  • Having colleagues assess and give feedback on their performance and behaviour
  • Being asked to give feedback to colleagues and the leader
  • Concern with how far they can perform this role
  • Concern how far they will be accepted
  • Having to deliver!

Stakeholder rights and responsibilities

The typical stakeholder is someone who expects to be informed of, and (where appropriate) is allowed to influence, the direction and decisions taken. In this sense the word Stakeholder could be and often is exchanged for customer, as some of them may establish the requirements to be met, influence the output and receive the work.

The cry from many team leaders is that stakeholders often operate as if they had rights but not responsibilities and thus act like the 'child' in the relationship; demanding influence and a voice but feeling no obligation. A dangerous situation for both your team and the business.

Stakeholder rights

  • To be informed in a timely manner about changes which affect them
  • To have concerns and issues listened to
  • To be supported when taking up new skills
  • Their emotions and distress to be understood and managed in a non-inflammatory way
  • To hear about the personal impact of any changes before the information is publicly disclosed
  • To be given choices wherever possible
  • To be credited for good ideas and contributions to the success of the team

Stakeholder responsibilities

  • To respect and uphold the need for confidentiality
  • To share the relevant information and expertise with the team which could promote the work or avoid problems, whether this information is requested or not
  • To be explicit with the team about personal issues and concerns connected with the work so they can be dealt with
  • Never to do anything which will undermine the work
  • To offer suggestions for improvement
  • To be tolerant of error and changes to plan - everyone is human
  • To be accessible to review work and attend to communications
  • To meet any commitments made to the team
  • To take the time to understand what is being said and done
  • To attend meeting which were agreed to
  • Not to jump to conclusions or assume the worst before the facts are revealed
  • To be prepared to trust the team