Karen Schmidt, Let's Grow!
Karen Schmidt, Let's Grow!

The simple act of defining what teamwork is can help ensure an organisation's leaders aren't working at cross-purposes, according to a leadership specialist.

Some leaders will think, "I'm being a really good team player; I'm working well with other team leaders", but if their colleagues have a different definition of teamwork, they could completely disagree, Let's Grow! founder Karen Schmidt tells an HR Daily Premium webcast.

To illustrate the vast differences in people's thinking, one exercise Schmidt often does in her consulting work is to ask every leader to draw a tree, and then share their work and discuss how different the results are, despite everyone receiving identical instructions.

"If you don't define what a tree looks like, everybody has their own idea; if you don't define what teamwork is, everybody will have their own idea," she says.

Every leadership team should have a few simple statements that define how leaders should work together, along the lines of "as a team we do this" and "we don't do this".

"Can you honestly say you have properly defined what teamwork is? And I don't just mean some statement full of management speak that's written up on a wall – it's behaviours that you can actually measure."

Key behaviours might include always running an idea past at least one colleague before raising it in a meeting (to avoid wasting others' time), or checking in once a week with a colleague to see if they need help with anything, Schmidt says.

Another useful exercise is to ask every leader to anonymously list three ways the group can improve its teamwork, and look for recurring themes in their answers, she adds.

"We need to get down to behaviours that we can actually measure, rather than vague mindsets that we want people to have."

Such behaviours could be measured in a leadership team's regular meetings via questions such as, "What have we done lately to demonstrate our teamwork?" Schmidt says.

Identifying strengths

When leaders come together as a team, they're better able to leverage each other's strengths, Schmidt says.

Certain exercises can help leaders identify their strengths in cases where their self-awareness is low, and in doing so bring the team together, she says.

One of these involves taping a piece of paper to each leader's back and asking colleagues to write their strengths on it. Another activity is to ask leaders to reflect on a time they have been successful and what skills were involved.

HR Daily Premium members can click here to watch the full webcast, which outlines the importance of developing a leadership team, not just leaders, and how to garner executive support for leadership development, while free subscribers can upgrade here for access.