The role of the team leader in highly effective teams

The role of the team leader in highly effective teams

What are teams?

It’s helpful to have a working model of what we think is going on in team development. In this post we touch on what it takes to become a highly effective team, and the role of the team leader as the key differentiator in creating high-performing, high-learning teams.

A working definition of ‘team’

First, to our working definition of a team:

A number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, performance goals, and approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable.

It’s a short definition, but with a lot in it.

In the CharacterScope platform there are resources to give you many different angles and approaches to working with your team and helping the team develop, but they are all in the service of helping you create:

  • a common purpose
  • commitment and motivation
  • clear performance goals
  • a disciplined approach to performance and development
  • complementarity between team members – people willing and able to get the best from each other
  • willingness to be held accountable to each other

What are the characteristics of highly effective teams?

If you achieve this, the evidence clearly shows that high performance teams are the engine of the agile, fast-moving organisation. They’re characterised by:

  • Achieving more and faster – scaling greater heights
  • Increased quality of decision-making and implementation
  • Increased creativity
  • Creating self-sustaining vitality and energy
  • Creating camaraderie, a strong sense of belonging and people working for each other
  • Greater than the sum of its parts
  • Strongly developmental for all team members
  • Highly effective external relationships with colleagues and stakeholders

What are the characteristics of bad/ineffective teams?

Yet it’s not simply a one-way street with everything being good news.

Poorly managed, poorly led teams show consistent and troubling problems:

  • High risk of poor decision-making and judgement
  • Team meetings and processes are expensive and slow
  • The team together is less creative than the individuals in it
  • People can feel their weaknesses are exposed unhelpfully
  • Loss of credibility of team leader and a sense of mission-drift
  • Slow down individual accomplishment – diffusion of responsibility
  • Damaged relationships and eroded trust
  • Within-group friction, and individuals feeling left-out
  • Competitive, dismissive relationships with stakeholders and other teams

The team leader as a catalyst of high performance

What makes the difference? Why do some teams deliver on the promise of teams whereas others are plagued by the pitfalls?

Again, the evidence is clear: the team leader plays the key role in creating and sustaining the performance of the team. Sure, the capabilities of the team colleagues matters but right at the core, good leadership is the key differentiator.

As the leader of your team, you may find this an uncomfortable realisation. But it highlights the importance of your own leadership development and why CharacterScope ties together your individual leadership journey into the developmental journey for your team.

Your continuing development will fuel the development of your team and the team’s development will push your personal development along. It’s why we see good leadership as creating win-win’s: good leadership creates leadership in others, which in turn creates work-places where people work productively and flourish personally.

7 Insights on Good Leadership

7 Insights on Good Leadership

When we and others around us lead well, life is better: we are more productive, more engaged, more open to learning, more fulfilled. But what is it that is happening? What is our understanding of leadership?

Here are CharacterScope’s 7 Insights on what good leadership is, distilled from decades of coaching and teaching leaders and helping organisations in creating leadership cultures:

  1. First, what it’s not. Leadership is not a role (‘the Leader’), something reserved for a few, but a set of activities that everyone can play their part in. 

  2. Second, leadership involves doing things that help create the system (connections of individuals, relationships and groups) in which people can work productively together and flourish personally as they work.

  3. Third, the following hallmarks will help you know whether your ecosystem is being collectively well led (thanks to Prof J Richard Hackman at Harvard University for these):
    • the individuals, relationships and teams become more capable over time
    • the team and stakeholders around them take satisfaction with what they produce (their work-output is high quality and effective)
    • the individuals in the team get more personal learning and fulfilment from team membership than frustration and alienation

  4. Fourth, there are many, many kinds of leadership contribution – it is for everyone to find what theirs is and then to develop to be the best they can be. Our role at CharacterScope is to give you the tools and support that help you develop the strengths of character and habits that are the foundation of your leadership.

  5. Fifth, we all know good leadership when we see it in others, but it is often more difficult to recognise it in our ourselves. CharacterScope is about learning to recognise, develop and celebrate what it is we do that will be experienced by others as good leadership.

  6. Sixth, good leadership creates good leadership – there are no winners and losers. If we can help others lead well they will help us lead well. Collectively, incrementally you will do the things that make the relationship or group or team or movement better – healthier, more effective, a place in which people flourish, better able to adapt, to shape their collective future.

  7. Seventh, the art of leadership can probably never be fully mastered but the results of trying will be good leadership.
The 9 Questions Model of Team Effectiveness

The 9 Questions Model of Team Effectiveness

The high-performing, high-learning team

Where do high-performing, high-learning teams come from?

If you believe the status quo, it’s a simple question of starting with the right people, a bit of social ‘team building’, and then hours clocked working together… and hey presto, a High-Performing Team.

That’s what we find most team leaders do: put together or join a team, book a team-build, maybe run through a psychometric if you’re a fan of data, and then get down to business. Even if you’re holding regular retrospectives, you’ve probably found these focusing on the tasks the team performs, rather than the effectiveness of the team itself.

At CharacterScope, we see team development as a continuing journey, one that is unique to each team, and delivers real and significant performance benefits. It can be enjoyable, frustrating at times, and deeply rewarding. We find the 9 Questions Model of Team Effectiveness is both a perfect starting point for teams keen to develop themselves and become a high-performing, high-learning team, as well as a continued roadmap on the journey. It’s a way of providing structure and direction to your team development.

The 9 Questions model builds directly out of the 9 Leader types from the CharacterScope framework, so the more familiar you are with the CharacterScope framework, the easier a team will find it to orientate its development. But even in its own right, the questions asked by the model can turn a team’s focus to what is important to develop right now.

The 9 Questions

So, we have 9 straightforward questions to ask you and your team:

  1. are we disciplined in working to improve our effectiveness and performance?
  2. do we know where we are going and believe we are doing something meaningful?
  3. do we know how to achieve our goals?
  4. do we get the best from each other?
  5. do we push through obstacles and setbacks?
  6. do we know who to influence and how?
  7. do we spot and capture opportunities along the way?
  8. have we brought our purpose to life and feel motivated?
  9. do we create and innovate?

If you have got clear and positive answers to all of them, and if the rest of your team and stakeholders agree with you – congratulations! You’re already a guaranteed high-performance, high-learning team. Of course, there’s plenty you can do to keep honing your edge as a team, finding ways of keeping yourselves sharp and finding routes to break-through performance.

Let’s explore the different elements…

Team disciplines

We often find ourselves returning to the central question in the model: to the team disciplines. These are disciplines that form the core of team performance and development. 

Why disciplines? Quite simply, if you watch any sports team, music group, theatre group or any other performance group you will see one clear difference to most business teams. It’s that they rehearse, practice and train together so that, come their performance, they are as united and as effortless in playing together as possible.

By contrast, most teams in business and organisational life focus the vast majority of their time on performing the task at hand and very little on the disciplines of development: working at getting better at working together.

New teams

If you’re a new team, or new to team leadership, the chances are you won’t know the definitive answer to the 9 Questions yet, so we would usually recommend you focus your energies initially on the ‘foundational four’ questions:

Exploring these questions will help you rapidly create a team that is clear what its purpose is, feels motivated to achieve its goals, has a good enough idea how to reach these goals, and has set a foundation of inclusion and valuing of each team member’s contribution.

The performing team

If you’re a team that’s been together for a while, there’s a good chance you’re already clear about your goals and what you need to do to get there. You may also be clear about each team members’ role and contribution, how the team can get the best from each other. In other words, the ‘foundational four’ questions are clear to you.

But you may feel that there’s a performance break-through your team needs to achieve, in which case the ‘central three’ questions could be just what you need.

The established team

If your team is well established and has been performing strongly for a while, it may be time to shake the team up a bit and see if it can find new opportunities, new innovations, new energy to take itself to the next level.

Exploring these four questions will guide you as a team to find fresh energy and inspiration.

Team Effectiveness Review

A structured way to start is with what we call a ‘team effectiveness review’: it’s a quick way of getting your team’s views on the 9 Questions and serves as a diagnostic as to where your team should focus its development. You can answer as team members, but also ask customers and other stakeholders outside of the team whose opinion you value.

At its simplest, just rate each question on a scale of 1-10, then go back and pick a single question which you think represents a key strength that your team should cherish, and finally pick a single question which represents the area the team most needs to improve. Where is there consensus amongst respondents? What are the different perspectives?

You can visualise the results in several different ways. Here’s an example that shows the spread of responses you might get:

Why wait?

The 9 Questions Model of Team Effectiveness is designed to give you a comprehensive road-map to creating a high-performance, high-learning team: a team that combines Team Unity (having a united and strong identity) and Team Fluency (being great at playing to each others’ strengths).

Starting with a team effectiveness review, holding a workshop to explore the results, then choosing an area to focus on is a great way to kick-start your team’s development. If you’re already a CharacterScope member, take a look at the 9 Questions Model playlist to begin, otherwise try a free 14-day of CharacterScope Teams and get started on your own team journey.

Benefit of the doubt? The Innovator and Self-belief

Benefit of the doubt? The Innovator and Self-belief

I was lucky recently to interview Shaun Pulfrey, the creator and owner of the Tangle Teezer company. I was struck by how important his story about self-belief has been to the creation of the Tangle Teezer products. Having struggled with formal education, along with receiving messages about respecting your elders and betters, it would have been easy for Shaun to doubt himself. But his desire to innovate and create products that wouldn’t damage hair was too strong and, at first single handedly, he set about turning his ideas into reality. 

So, let’s distinguish an Innovator from an Entrepreneur. An Entrepreneur starts by looking out into the market – where is there a gap? Or where is there an existing product I can apply to a parallel market (Netflix is a subscription service that existed for films and TV, which Audible piggy-backed on with its subscription service for audio books)? Or how can I put two products together (Uber Eats uses Uber cabs to deliver food to people’s homes)? Entrepreneurs wouldn’t dream of starting unless they knew where the market opportunity was.

Innovators on the other hand see stuff differently and are prepared to risk challenging the norms. They want to create things that either don’t exist but would just be interesting to design, or that solve a real problem regardless of whether there is a market opportunity for what they design. The idea comes before the sale. 

To be an Innovator you have to have the courage to believe enough in your idea that you will risk following it through, even when it might fail. And certainly, the innovators we talk to describe their relentless desire, or the itch they have to scratch, which means they can’t stop creating wherever they are or whatever is going on around them. 

But they also describe that sense of self-doubt or fragile self-belief that means any criticism from others, or just the feeling that they haven’t done justice to the idea that was in their minds, can often lead them to back off or just give up.

While low self-belief is very common for Innovators, developing much deeper self-belief is key to being able to bring the great ideas to fruition and launch them to the world. Shaun talks about the moment he decided that his product was good enough and his decision that he didn’t need to listen to the voices of his elders who had doubted him. He could believe in himself and make this work.  Our founder, Mark Loftus, at CharacterScope similarly talks about how he has learned and is still learning to trust in himself and his ideas so that even if they are not ‘perfect’ he can believe that they are so much better than not having them out there at all.

What we have come to realise and is personified in Shaun Pulfrey is that when innovators have high self-belief alongside high humility it is a particularly powerful combination. As Shaun says, you have to get close to the people giving you feedback, to really hear what they are saying and to take their feedback into your creations. For feedback not to cause you to give up but to serve as the inspiration to improve and spark the next creation.

Listen to Shaun’s full interview here.

Visit Tangle Teezer.

The Engaging Leader

The Engaging Leader

Engagement matters

Most organisations know that engagement matters. To take one example, the Gallup organisation has measured engagement for decades with their framework (Gallup q12) and tracked the impact of engagement on business performance. Their 2016 analysis included data on 1.8 million employees across 82,000 business units and showed that top-quartile business units outperform bottom-quartile units by 10% in customer engagement, 21% in profitability and 20% in productivity.

There are only a small number of factors that drive engagement, such as working for an organisation that has a deep sense of purpose. And key amongst these factors is the quality of the relationship an employee has with their immediate manager.

So, this leads to the question: what is it about some managers that means they get higher engagement scores? What is the distinctive pattern of their strengths?

Engaging or charming?

Who comes to mind when you think of a charismatic leader? Maybe the great orators? But also, maybe those who charm their way out of tough situations, who seem able to get people to like them even against their better intentions. We talk about a magnetism in their character, an ability to pull people towards themselves and their ideas. Engaging? Definitely, but in a particular way.

If we work for a charismatic person, we find their charm can soon cloud if they have a need to stand in the sun all the time, to be the centre of attention, for everything to be a reflection of themselves.

In our CharacterScope data set we see a quieter, less egoistic and more deeply engaging version of the charismatic character: that of the Charismatic-Servant leader.

Their spirit is nicely captured in this quote attributed to Queen Victoria, contrasting her experience of working with two of Britain’s key political figures of the 19th Century:

When I left the dining room after sitting next to Mr Gladstone, I thought he was the cleverest man in England. But after sitting next to Mr Disraeli, I thought I was the cleverest woman in England.

The charisma of Disraeli is turned back from himself into the other person. Rather than a need for his audience to find him interesting, he invests in finding what is interesting in the other person and thereby helps them believe the best of themselves. It’s an experience we can’t help but find engaging at a level that goes far beyond immediate charm.

Where are your Charismatic-Servant leaders?

The Charismatic-Servant profile is a combination reasonably frequently seen in our data-set, but do you know where they are in your organisation? The chances are you won’t, because they are not likely to post their achievements in neon lights on the wall behind their desk.

The Charismatic part of their profile means that they enjoy pulling people towards them, that they enjoy engaging and even charming people. The Servant part of their profile brings a really interesting balance: they get their own ego out of the way and focus instead on the team and people around them. So yes, they engage people, but engage people around shared goals and people’s strengths, rather than around their own ego or personal needs.

When we work with someone with this combination, it’s hard not to be engaged! But there is a quietness to the profile that means they will often be off the radar of senior leaders looking for indicators of future talent, which often bias towards more obvious indicators such as having a quick mind, self-belief, and a strategic outlook.

Instead, if you really want to find where they are in your organisation, just take a look at your engagement scores. Of all the Leader types, the Charismatic-Servant leader has the strongest correlation with high feedback scores on ‘Engages people’ and ‘Creates trust’.

The twist

Not only is the psychological make-up of the Charismatic-Servant leader one which means that they tend not to promote themselves, our data-set shows that they are significantly more likely to be female than male, by a ratio of 2 to 1. Gladstone, in his compulsion to demonstrate his intellect, is probably more typical of male leaders, and Disraeli the outlier. Yet if engagement drives business performance, and the particular pattern of strengths of the Charismatic-Servant leader drives engagement, it’s worth wondering why more models of high potential aren’t explicitly built around their distinctive strengths.

For now we’ll pick out two signature strengths of Charismatic-Servant leaders: their Zest and Other awareness.

Perhaps men feel less comfortable with the outward display of enthusiasm and positivity that is the hallmark of zestful people, but we’ll save that for a further article on the gender differences in our data. What is clear is that all leaders can improve their ability to be an engaging leader by building these key strengths.

So if you have a CharacterScope account, dig out your Solo and Viewpoints reports and take a look at where these strengths lie, and think seriously about signing yourself up to the Zest development plan.

If you’re not yet a CharacterScope account holder, just ask yourself this single question: being outwardly enthusiastic about life is as natural to a seven-year old as liking ice-cream; where did your zest go?

Beautiful, Critical Data

Beautiful, Critical Data

Beautiful data, critical to understanding people and teams

We live in a truly fascinating and complex world. People, in particular, never cease to surprise us – both in good and bad ways! At CharacterScope we embrace the complexity and diversity of people, and we’re naturally curious about what data can tell us about them. We can’t help but look at a network diagram of our viewpoints ‘universe’, below, without wondering what causes the patterns and trends that we can see clearly emerging before our eyes. (Click on the image to explore it in full 3D)

3D network visualisation of the CharacterScope Viewpoints Network. Click the image to explore in full 3D.
Beyond curiosity, there are also pressing, urgent questions that our work asks of us. Challenges that we face around performance, diversity, and growth. And often, the answers lie in our people. But figuring out the right answers as business leaders can sometimes feel like divining for water. It’s so tempting to look for clear-cut answers. But genuine data on real people is rarely clear-cut: it’s rich, nuanced, beautiful, and subtle. Trends and correlations tend to be modest. Rather than shouting at you, the data whispers. But by listening carefully, with an open mind, it can give you a significant edge. Not clear-cut answers, but a 20%, 60%, or 70% edge.

Diversity of teams

We work with a lot of teams, and naturally we get to see a great deal of diversity and richness. We see ‘teams’ which might perform better as separate cohesive sub-teams; teams oozing diversity but lacking a shared foundation; teams with a clear set of shared values but lacking resilience and diversity in an environment where it’s clearly needed. Data, whether it be a team solo or viewpoints report, a visualisation or bespoke analysis, prompts the conversation and leads to action where it’s needed.

Showing a team their ‘similarity’ network, like the one below, is truly fascinating. It’s a chance for a team to have a conversation about their specific diversity – a conversation grounded in fact. What does the structure of the team feel like? I look like an outlier; what does that mean to our team in practice? We’re thinking about hiring X; how would that look, and what would it mean for us as a team? Network diagrams like this are great for showing clusters, cohesion, diversity and outliers. Like the greatest teachers and coaches, well-presented data won’t give us easy answers, but it can prompt us to ask the powerful questions that need asking.

Network Similarity Diagram for the CharacterScope Core Team

This is the ‘similarity’ network for our core team at CharacterScope, simply showing members who are more similar in character as closer together, and those more different as further apart. You might say that the team is grounded at one end by our key founder, Mark Loftus. But there are so-called ‘outliers’ – like Lisa and Dan, who work quite differently, with different and complementary sets of strengths. This team functions well because of that diversity. Interestingly, we have noticed that dissimilar pairs tend to work remarkably well within a team (a subject for another time)!

Organisational insight

Stepping up a level from teams to the organisation, we get a different perspective. Teams become points of reference, individuals become anonymous but crucial ‘data nodes’, and we can look at our people in a number of fresh ways. As business leaders, we can start to ask questions about the relationships between teams and, crucially, about the effectiveness of our organisation as a whole. What are our key strengths? Our gaps? The violin plot below gives an example of how we might understand our organisation’s critical ability to maintain direction, compared to another division or organisation.


Spot the difference – a violin plot comparing ‘Sets Direction’ across two organisations
The power of data

Exploring data, especially in a visual way and with an open mind, can truly open us up to insights and lead to effective action. We know that it grounds us in reality, and if we stay honest, it can give us the ‘brutal facts’ (to coin James Stockdale’s phrase) that free us to actually make the best decisions. That might mean adjusting the way you hire, re-imagining your performance review process, having fresh conversations as a team, or deciding to take your own personal growth in a new direction. At least with the right data, the power is in your hands.