What is Team Leadership?

Peter Northouse defines a team as “a specific type of group composed of members who are interdependent, who share common goals, and who must coordinate their activities to accomplish these goals.” (2013, p. 287) He goes on to say that good teams fulfill two primary functions, one related to tasks, and the other related to people.  He succinctly says, “Two critical functions of team effectiveness are . . . performance (task accomplishment) and development (maintenance of team),” (p. 299)  In this type of leadership, the role of the leader is team oversight; specifically, to help the team accomplish its goals by monitoring, diagnosing, and acting.  This often involves distributed leadership, which is the distribution of leadership roles and responsibilities to the most appropriate team member at any given time.

Team Leadership Theory is not really about how a team leads, but rather how a leader leads a team.  Hill’s Model for Team Leadership provides a good explanation of this theory.  It begins with the leader’s mental model, which involves three steps in navigating a problem in the function of the team:  identifying the problem, understanding the context, and determining the possibilities.  The model then progresses to the decisions that a leader must make regarding the problem, whether or how to intervene and improve team function.  He must decide whether to simply monitor the situation, or to take action.  He must determine if the issue is internal – in which case he will need to diagnose or repair – or external – in which case he will need to forecast or prevent.  If he must intervene, he must determine if the intervention is for task or relational needs (or for environmental issues), which will in turn effect the actions he must take.

The basic idea is that it is the leader’s responsibility to monitor the team and its activity to ensure that it is functioning well, and if – or when – it is not, to determine what steps to take to address the issue and get the team back on track.  He must be able to see and understand the problem that exists in the team (and whether it is related to task, people, or environment) and determine what is the most appropriate response or corrective action.  Given the value of teams in an organization (which is another discussion), this is an important skill set for leaders.  An understanding of Team Leadership Theory has helped me to become more effective at leading my teams, and I would encourage you to grow in this area as well.

Northouse, P. G. (2013). Leadership: Theory and practice (6th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.



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