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Breakthrough Leadership – Turning Responsibility on Its Head

Teams are living social systems not machines. As in nature, all living systems have an inherent intelligence and capacity to self-organise in responding to change creatively. So can teams. Teams have the ability to control, organise and manage themselves, only if allowed to do so. That is, treat them as a self-organising social system. Let them decide what they will deliver and how to do it in the context of their team identity, not management. When people are given the responsibility to be the master of their destiny, miracles happen. Self-organisation offers hope for a simpler and more effective way to accomplish work successfully in teams. Self-organised teams are designed to speed products & services to market and internal projects to completion by removing unnecessary bureaucracy and decision-making hierarchies.
Treating teams as a living system introduces a complete break from the traditional way of thinking how to manage them. It forces a new mind-set of truly empowering people with responsibility. That is making members responsible to set their own targets and organise themselves to achieve it as a team.
Five time tested practices can lead to effective execution resulting in process gain vs. process loss. The Intégro equation is; Performance result of any team equals the potential of the people minus process loss. Process gain can therefore only happen when process loss is reduced. The following five practices will reduce process loss;

1. Persistent Shared Leadership – The powerful, untapped resource in every organization is the leadership potential of rank and file. Enabling team members, as well as managers, to clarify their understanding of how they can lead and how they can follow need to take place. If not, it potentially can fall prey to dysfunctional team processes, individual impatience, organisational mediocrity and maintaining the status quo. Create opportunities for team members to lead. That requires effective shared leadership. The original team purpose and vision should be kept strongly alive and top of mind to provide critical guidance for long-term success. Team leaders must identify (a) areas where leadership contributions are needed/desired, and (b) who in the team offers, or has the potential, for making a contribution in these areas, in order to encourage them and benefit from their contributions other than that of the official team leader.

2. Conditions to Facilitate Change – Create opportunities for team members to engage in conversations to discover what they believe are the energizer (positive) and barrier (negative) forces of what should change and how they can participate. Real change inculcation is not fluffy or optional. It’s tangible, quantifiable and critical to driving sustainable adjustments and adoptions. Many areas can be tangibly measured such as how well a stated future vision & purpose are communicated or understood, how much people buy-into that vision and purpose and their readiness to change from the current state. These measures can be translated onto a change management dashboard with green, yellow and red colours pinpointing where things are going well and where targeted efforts are needed to improve awareness, readiness or capabilities.

3. Manage What You Measure – “What gets measured gets done”, a popular and well known maxim. The obvious follow-on question is: What exactly should be measured? Applying metrics and measurements to behaviour can have profound positive effects. Consequently the link between behaviour and continuous improvement is essential. The most important areas are; (a) deliverables, (b) effectiveness, (c) interdependencies, (d) customer satisfaction and (e) individual contribution. To encourage cultural change, these metrics should also align with incentives that drive the right behaviours for continuous improvement.

4. Let Information Guide the Way – Relevant information is the nutrient for effective self-organization and process improvement. Techniques to separate facts from assumptions and speculation, such as effectiveness assessment, gap / cause and effect analysis, 360º surveys, customer feedback, individual contribution and interdependencies assessments are essential to boost the chances of success. The key is developing and using a consistent and repeatable approach to the process of improvement.

5. It’s Not What You Do, But What you Undo – The creation of knowledge increases all the time due to the rapid growth of information technology. As knowledge increases though, people must specialize in narrower slices of it to achieve mastery. Consequently, for almost any given problem, more people’s contributions are required to find the best solutions. Doing it right, first time, all the time is easier when the process is simplified with shared responsibilities. Too many initiatives can prove to be counterproductive as members’ attention and motivation dissipate from initiative overload. It’s a case of undoing what’s not important. So how do you decide which work is unimportant? Ask the customer, the client. Many people do from 60% to 80% the wrong work. This doesn’t mean they’re doing the wrong thing. It’s just that the right thing has a lot of wrong parts in it. However, those parts are invisible until you take a closer look only.

Sources: Intégro Learning SA Team Specialists Consulting; Johan Cronje Specialist Team Performance Coach; Margaret J. Whaetley, author of the book ’Leadership and the New Science’