Team: Value the Loose Network

In business, there are teams and then there are “teams.” Teams are those formally assigned to and accountable for the work of the team. “Teams” consist not only of traditional teams but expand the envelope to include the loose network of stakeholders around the team who are invested in the outcome of the team’s effort.

Many leaders, when they assume leadership responsibility for an initiative, organization or team, invest to establish relationship and rapport with those formally on the team. Those on the team are up to speed; they understand the background, mission and details.

Often, they are immersed in the initiative and have tribal knowledge of where it has been. As such, the leader draws the formal team members “close.” The leader includes them in communications and updates -- in writing, in person, in meetings -- seeks their input and counsel and includes them in team-building efforts.

When new actors are introduced (or raise their hand to engage) as an extension of the team, the team and the leader often remain invested in those already plugged in. It makes sense and frankly, is easier that way. New actors are often told, “you don’t understand my business,” which translates to “you can’t add value because you’re not familiar with the specifics” or “I don’t have time for you.” As the leader works to establish team dynamics by focusing on those formally on the team, does s/he consider the team’s and their own gaps in capability, knowledge or perspective?

Consider, for a moment, the value that new actors could potentially bring to your effort and team as part of the loose network of the “team,” despite their other commitments and the fact that they are not formally or have not been historically on your team:

  • Do they have experience in other similar (analog) industries, situations or organizations that could prove insightful?

  • Do they have valuable relationships or influence with key stakeholders?

  • Are they particularly creative problem solvers or story tellers?

  • Do they bring an outside perspective to challenge your thinking or provoke new ideas?

  • Are they skilled “connectors” able to help people build relationships to leverage?

  • Are they skilled at identifying, developing, inspiring and helping talent succeed?

  • Are they established “influencers” – do they inspire followership in others and promote initiatives of importance to them?

  • Are they an “organizational whisperer” able to navigate the complexities for the broader organization and stakeholders?

  • Does excluding them from the “team” have potential downside effects?

At times, leaders won’t know the answers to these questions.

But, what if? Are leaders shutting out people who could be potential assets to the effort? And if not, does the act of excluding them alienate them to create potential detractors or introduce liabilities to their effort? While the natural tendency is to seek to add valuable people to the formal team, actors may already be committed, have other priorities or have broad scope of responsibility that precludes them from being on the team formally.

At my prior companies, as we acquired more companies and businesses, we grew our portfolio to span an increasing number of business segments. Every time we made an acquisition, I inherited leaders and experts, well-established in their business segment, to my team. As a leader with members of my organization a part of or leading the cross-functional team and as an executive leader of the company, I had a vested interest in the success of those teams and their business segments. As a potential member of the loose network (“team”), I heard, “you don’t know my business” (whether they knew that was true or not, I might add.) After developing relationships with my new reports, teams and extended teams, I coached them on the secret to leading through influence: treat everyone like they’re on your team. Pause for a moment and think about it.

By being inclusive, leaders have the opportunity to build advocacy and capability at best and avoid establishing antagonists at worst!

The corollary is equally important – put your arms around anyone who will listen, metaphorically speaking; as in, include people as a member of the loose network of “team,” being generous with information, education, insight and curiosity. Leaders must create an inclusive environment that applies to the extended network by providing updates/information, seeking guidance, engaging the actors with the team when appropriate, etc. Yes, it takes a little more effort – to establish a relationship, to educate them on the essentials, to communicate, and to be open to input, but aren’t the potential benefits they may bring worth it? What if???? I’m just saying…think about it.

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Lisa Andrade is founder and CEO of M33, an executive coaching and leadership development company proven in both the “executive” and “coaching” in executive coaching. M33 leverages the art of leadership and advanced leadership science to create an executive blueprint tailored to you and your organization. For an initial consultation with Lisa, contact M33 at ClientServices@M33LLC.com.

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