ACCORDING to author and leadership expert John Maxwell: “The speed of the leader is the speed of the team.” While that is true, it is important to remember that the leader sets many agendas in addition to speed.

Consider this phrase: The _____of the leader is the _____ of the team.

Now pick any of the following to fill in the blanks:

* attitude

* enthusiasm

* focus

* service

Rarely will team members rise higher than the standard set by the team leader. As I often share with my audiences, team members pay more attention to what the leader does than what the leader says.

Ideally, there should be congruence between the words and the actions of the leaders. Wherever there is incongruence, followers choose to believe in actions.

Are you giving your team members something to live up to? Or are you a limiting factor in your team’s success?

Where to start?

While working with a telecom company recently, I was reminded of a couple of points about teamwork that are seldom addressed but critically important.

Firstly, teamwork isn’t always the best means to an end. There is much organisational work that is better done by an individual. Trying to bring teamwork to bear on every process and activity is likely to create something that has a scary resemblance to the dreaded “management by committee”.

To make teamwork work, it is necessary to answer the question of “where”. Where should you form a team, partnership or both? What areas will be improved by applying a teamwork approach?

Secondly, it isn’t enough to sell the benefits of teamwork if you can’t identify the opportunities. This is related to my previous point. Start by asking where in your organisation teamwork is most needed. Rather than applying a general and vague team approach, target specific areas. Once momentum is gained in those important areas, you can increase the scope of teamwork.

I wonder how many team efforts crashed and burned because nobody ever asked if teamwork was desirable for the type of work being done, or identified where the opportunities for teamwork were greatest.

Start from the top

One of the most common mistakes I observe is what I call “middle-down teamwork”. That occurs when upper management thinks that teamwork is a great concept for everyone in the organisation except them.

Here is what happens: Someone in leadership gets inspired by an article in a business magazine about the organisational benefits of teamwork. That usually results in a mandate to create teamwork that is directed to middle management.

Middle management is expected to put their people through prerequisite training and take the steps necessary to “make it happen”.

Often, during the initial training, it becomes painfully obvious to those involved that upper management neither practises nor supports the concept of teamwork, and if teamwork were to happen, it will happen from the middle down.

Evaluations of the training include comments like: “Why wasn’t upper management involved in the training?” and “I hope our leadership takes these lessons to heart.”

For teamwork to work, it must be embraced, in principle and in practice, by everyone in the organisation. But, in my opinion, the best place for a teamwork initiative to start is at the top.

Once employees see leaders practise what they preach, it becomes significantly easier to get acceptance throughout the organisation.

A successful team is made up of team members who:


are interdependent.
They are willing to ask for help when they need it and offer help when they can provide it.


compete outwardly, not among themselves.
There are three things you can use to create healthy competition: a competitor in the marketplace, a team goal to be achieved or a common problem to be solved.


are self-starters.
Since they understand the big picture, they don’t need to be told what to do.


share rewards and sacrifices.
Don’t expect people to make sacrifices if they won’t get to share in the rewards later.

The best thing to strive for is not a team with a great leader, but a team of leaders.