Leadership: a tale of two teams

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Prioritising your time and attention at work can be a challenging business – the people who really need your focus might not be the ones you first think of.

If you are in any sort of leadership position, you will almost certainly be part of two teams. There is the team that you lead, and the team that you are a member of. The latter is the one led by your boss and made up of a number of your peers - but which team is the most important?

If I said that in order to improve the overall performance of your organisation significantly, you had to split your time, attention and energy unequally between these two teams, which would you choose?

I’ve asked this question to hundreds of leaders over the last five years and they always struggle to answer.

Why you need to choose

The main challenge with answering this question is that we have an intuitive sense that both teams are equally important, so we fight against making a choice.

Let’s make it a little easier by clarifying the question.

Accepting that both teams are important, the question now changes: if you had to allocate 55% of your energy, focus and time to one team and the remaining 45% to the other, how would you split it?

If you have healthy and effective working relationships with your peers, those who work for you will see this and be more likely to collaborate cross-functionally themselves.

Would the team that you lead get 55% or 45%?

Now for the answer.

I believe that your peer group team is marginally more important. Here’s why.

If you are part of a genuine team, as opposed to a work-group, then your ability to deliver the results you are responsible for will be impacted by your peers.

There will be a degree of inter-dependence, meaning that what your peers do affects your ability to do what you need to do and vice versa. The same will be true of those who work for you.

Modeling the desired behaviours

If you have healthy and effective working relationships with your peers, those who work for you will see this and be more likely to collaborate cross-functionally themselves and become better 'team players'.

When you have strong, trusting relationships with your peers that are free from personal agendas and politics, you will naturally create a better working environment for your team.

The flip side is when there is low trust between you and your peers. This creates an environment where individuals seek to advance their own career or, make themselves and their teams look good, often at the expense of others, which can then cause relationship breakdowns in teams.

Husband or father?

My own family provides a great analogy to further explain my point.

My wife Jo and I have been married for nearly 14 years and we have a wonderful seven-year-old daughter. You could consider my wife and I to be members of two teams.

Together we form a ‘peer-group team’, which is the original and longest standing team in the Morton Family Ltd.

It’s hard to focus on doing all that we can to ensure the team that we’re a member of is rock solid.

We also both lead a team with one incredibly high potential ‘direct report’ who is destined to be the future CEO. That direct report is our daughter - and I admit I may be a little biased about her ‘potential’.

So, let’s consider my question again.

Should I allocate 55% of my energy, focus and time to our daughter, or to Jo?

We can get to the answer by asking two further questions:

  • What will have the greatest impact on my daughter’s wellbeing and happiness?
  • What will have the greatest impact on the family (business) as a whole?

I’m convinced that I should place marginally more attention on Jo. If we have a fantastically strong relationship, that enables us to work together to support our daughter, then everything gets better.

When we are tight, we are better able to role model the same behaviours, communicate in a consistent manner and provide a great example for our daughter to follow.

Focusing your attention

This isn’t easy at home or at work. The tendency is always to place more focus on the team that we lead. I’ve spent three years trying to ensure that I’m as good a husband as I am a father and to be honest, I think I come up short a lot of the time.

Even when we have the insight that I’ve shared with you, it’s still hard to focus on doing all that we can to ensure the team that we’re a member of is rock solid.

Unfortunately, that’s why there are so few world-class teams out there. If it were that easy, everyone would be world-class.

Interested in this topic? Read Multi-team membership: good or bad for business?

About Ben Morton

Ben Morton

Ben is a best selling author, accomplished keynote speaker and sought after leadership mentor who has worked with senior leadership teams in the U.K, US and Australia.

Ben’s work as a leadership mentor is based upon three fundamental beliefs:

  • Leadership is less about the tools and models and more about understanding what it really means to be a leader.
  • The best leaders put the interests of their people and organisations ahead of their own.
  • Leadership is both a great privilege and a great responsibility.

As a graduate of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst he completed two tours of duty in Iraq as a Captain in the British Army. He then moved into business as Global Head of HR, World Challenge, later part of Tui Travel and followed this with a period in the Tesco Leadership Academy.

Alongside his military and corporate career Ben has also led expeditions around the world to places as diverse as the Himalaya’s, Malaysia and Mongolian Stepppe country.

He now works exclusively with senior and executive teams to help them be the most effective version of themselves as individual leaders whilst also becoming a genuine, high performing team.


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