Hersey and Blanchard developed a Situational Leadership Model of management and leadership styles in order to present the ideal progression of a team from immaturity (stage 1) through to maturity (stage 4) during which management and leadership style progresses from directing(1), through the stages of increased management involvement of coaching (2) and supporting(3) to the final stage where the manager becomes relatively removed – delegating (4). This is the point at which the team is almost self-sufficient and possibly contains at least one managerial/leadership successor.
I have applied a Hersey-Blanchard type questionnaire to determine my own leadership style. The analysis of the responses showed that I have a slight tendency to be directing above supporting and delegating with a lesser inclination towards a coaching style of management.
Four situations where different leadership styles would be appropriate for your team
Directing style – this is generally applied when staff in the team are highly motivated to do their work but do not have much experience. It is characterised by the manager providing close supervision and giving specific instructions on what needs to be done.
This style would be suited, for example, to a new starter to the team who may need considerable guidance relating to the processes and procedures which the team applies in the first instance.
Coaching style – this is most appropriate when staff have begun to develop in their roles and hence have grown in confidence which has possibly lowered their level of motivation. In this instance the manager takes on a more consultative persona, asking for questions and ideas, but ultimately makes the final decision.
I would expect to apply this leadership style to staff who have perhaps been in their role around 6 months, trying to draw thoughts and ideas from people to show that their opinions make sense and are valid.
Supporting style – applied when staff have progressed to a higher level of competence and also have key ideas and input which they like to be heard. However, these staff may still lack confidence with respect to taking making decisions. This style is represented by a reduced level of supervision and the manager becoming more participative, forming part of the group and allowing the group to reach its own decisions and implement them.
I would apply this leadership style when staff have progressed to being fully competent in their role, but perhaps there is still some self-doubt to take the final step to make a key decision – i.e. they still require a level of re-assurance that the actions they are taking are the correct ones.
Delegating style – this is used where staff are highly competent and are also solid performers, where the team is self-managing, i.e. it can plan its own work, work through its own problems and take its own decisions.
This style is appropriate when the team have reached the stage of being high-performers. This would be the point where I could step-back from day-to-day management of them, considering strategic management instead, and even think about progression to the next step in their/my own careers.
Feedback from others using appropriate leadership model
As I currently do not have any direct reports (vacancy being progressed). I requested 3 of my colleagues to complete a similar questionnaire (responses were anonymous). The analysis of the responses was quite varied as follows:
First respondent suggested a balanced use of all of the 4 styles;
Second respondent suggested “directing” was my least-preferred style and that I predominantly preferred a “supporting” leadership style;
Analysis of the third respondent’s questionnaire showed a strong preference towards “directing” and “coaching” styles with the others to a much lesser extent.
Possibly, these responses are not straightforward to analyse, as these individuals are not my direct-reports and had to use only their knowledge of my behaviour from working alongside me to determine how I would react in different situations suggested in the questionnaire.
I suggest that my own hypothesis of a “directing” leadership style is (semi-) supported by the analysis of my collegues’ responses. Certainly, it has been an approach I have used when conducting Management System audits in the past.
How leadership behaviour can be improved in the context of the model
One area I need to develop is an appreciation of the benefits to be gained from being able to switch from one management style to another depending upon the situation (i.e. a particular task, project or challenge). A directing approach, if applied too frequently can be demotivating in that staff may feel that they are unable to be left alone to get on with their work, and also that they are also not asked to come up with their own ideas.
My own leadership behaviour could be enhanced if, where the situation merited it, I took a more “consultative” or coaching approach to try to draw ideas out of the team and make them feel as if they are making a positive contribution. Eventually, I would like to reach the point where I am applying a “participative” or supporting approach – i.e. still being the leader of the team but with a greater degree of integration so that planning and decisions are made collectively. The biggest shift that I need to make is away from a mindset which says “no-one can do the job as well as I can” and micro-managing people so that they deliver products to my exact specification and towards a philosophy where I give staff more freedom to think for themselves and come up with their own (possibly better) solutions.
Understand how to build the Team
Recognised model to explain how groups are formed
Tuckman (1965) devised a model to explain the behaviour of groups of individuals in a variety of environments. The model suggests 4 unique stages that all groups experience and furthermore Tuckman states that a group has to experience all 4 phases to operate at their maximum potential.
The progression is Forming; Storming; Norming and Performing.
As a team matures in terms of its development and ability, the team dynamics change as do the inter-personal relationships between the team members. The leadership style of the team leader also modifies to suit, this has close parallels with the Hersey Blanchard model discussed earlier.
I will relate examples of the formation of Central Assurance Team for Investment Projects to each stage of the Tuckman Model, as an illustration The team was formed as a consequence of a re-organisation of the whole of the Health, Safety, Environment and Quality (HSQE) function within Infrastructure Investment (now called Investment Projects), approximately 18 months ago. It is a combination of four sub-teams – Audit, Systems, Reporting and Licensing.
Forming stage- Team places high level of dependence on its leader for both guidance and direction, including the aims and objectives of the team. The roles and responsibilities of the team members at this stage are unclear. The leader may be frequently questioned on what the team’s purpose is and its relationships with key stakeholders. The team members often test the tolerance level of the leader and they may also ignore process. As is suggested in the Hersey-Blanchard model, the leader applies a directive management approach.
The forming stage for the Central Assurance Team (CAT) can be related to a four-day team building exercise which took place off-site, the purpose of which was for everyone to get to know each other and to understand what the role of the team was going forward. At this time, there was a certain amount of wariness between team members with respect to which role each individual was in the team for and indeed, as time progressed, some of these roles actually changed.
Storming stage- The team members try to establish a pecking order within the group with respect to each other and the team leader, they may even challenge the leadership of the group. The team’s purpose becomes clearer, however there is still underlying uncertainty. The team may split into cliques and power struggles ensue. The leader will adopt a coaching style of management to focus the team on its goal and avoid unproductive distractions. Very often progress may require compromises.
The CAT at this point, was trying to understand a strategy of how they would deliver what was expected of them from the Investment Projects Programmes. The four sub-teams spent time drafting up strategy and functional-plan type documents to clarify their own roles and objectives. People were keen to get started on the day-job.
Norming stage-The leader adopts a more participative style at this stage, and his/her main task are to facilitate and enable. The team starts to experience both agreement and concensus and their roles and responsibilities become clear. Big decisions are made by agreement between the group, smaller ones are delegated to sub-groups within the team. The team is highly committed and there is a sense of togetherness, processes are developed as well as a way of working. The leader is generally well respected at this point and some of his responsibilities are shared by the team.
For the CAT, this was doing “business as usual”. As part of the audit team, this meant drawing up an audit plan (in-line with the strategy), producing a briefing pack, designing audit protocols and the forms and templates which form part of our day-to-day work. Then there was the actual auditing activity itself, working with the Programmes to ensure that the activity was adding value and learning lessons from each audit so that the process was improved each time.
Performing stage- At this stage the team has strategic awareness, i.e. it understands not only what it is there for but why. The team has a shared vision and is independent of its leader. The team take most of its decisions in line with the criteria set by its leader, they also focus on over-achieving on their goals. The team is highly autonomous and disagreements are dealt with in a positive manner, often resulting in changes to processes and structure. The team works towards achieving its goal but also concentrates on style and process issues whilst doing so. The leader’s role is to delegate and oversee tasks rather than instructing and assisting directly.
With only 18 months of experience behind it, it is difficult to say whether the CAT has actually reached the performing stage in its development. As far as the audit team goes, we are still developing a long-term vision and assessing how the audit plan will be adapted to the customer/stakeholder requirements year on year. Without doubt, each member of the team is committed to producing high-quality work, it is a question of harnessing this towards a common direction.
The benefits of understanding preferred team roles
This was an area explored by Belbin in the late 1970s. He demonstrated that a balanced team, consisting of members of differing capabilities would consistently perform better than a less-balanced team. Belbin identified 9 roles, which, if they are all present in a team, provide good balance and increase the likelihood of success.
An individual’s team role(s) can be determined by the use of a Belbin-style questionnaire, examples of which are available via the internet. It is not necessary for the team to consist of 9 people, each one filling a single role, but for all of the roles to be represented by the team.
When looking at the Central Assurance (Audit) team, it can be seen that, among 5 people, all 9 roles are in existence, although some are “bought-in” from outside of the team to provide the full complement. For example, we utilise “specialists” from outside of the team where we do not have an in-depth knowledge of a particular subject. The “plant” is seen as the senior manager who has responsibility for all four legs of the Central Assurance function as a whole.
The team has a very strong “completer-finisher” bias. This is because the job dictates a great attention to detail and the closure of issues once identified. Additionally, the “implementer” role is in strong evidence as the team must convert an audit plan into reality and one senior member of staff within the team acts as the “co-ordinator”.
Belbin’s study concluded that individuals are more motivated and perform more effectively when they are working in accordance with their own natural style. Hence it is a benefit to the manager to allow individuals to work to these strengths to improve team productivity and the cohesion between the team members.
Know how to handle conflict
What may have caused the conflict
One conflict situation I was directly involved in was during my time on the Network Rail West Coast Route Modernisation Programme on the Lichfield Trent Valley 4-Tracking project (TV4).
The project management team were concerned about whether the Network Rail Field Engineers were signing off a sufficient quantity of Inspection and Test data sheets. The Inspection and Test plan document is effectively proof that Network Rail has accepted the construction contractor’s work as being of sufficient quality and acts as a sign-off document for a particular section of work.
As the Quality Engineer on the TV 4 project, I was responsible for providing assurances that these sign-offs were taking place (or that a sufficient proportion were being completed). In one particular geographical area of the works, it was discovered that very few of the Inspection and Test sheets had been completed by the Field Engineers. One of the reasons for this was that the work was spread over a 2-mile stretch of track and it was very difficult for such a small team of Field Engineers to be in place and witness the works and sign it off before the next section of works began.
I reported the data to the TV4 Management Team and, unfortunately, this caused a conflict between myself and the Network Rail Field Engineers for that area as they saw the exercise that I had undertaken as something of a “witch hunt” resulting in a great deal of criticism of them from senior management.
Effects of the conflict on individual and team performance
The effect that this had was to make me very unpopular amongst the Field Engineering team and also to limit the degree to which they were prepared to assist me in future. They were also quick to make the news known to other staff working on the project! However, the exercise did highlight to management that there were resource problems if they were to provide anywhere near a significant proportion of signed Inspection and Test documents going forward.
Recognised techniques to minimise and resolve conflicts
In a paper called “Resolving Conflict in Work Teams” by the Team Building Directory, the authors state that conflict can arise from numerous sources within an team setting and generally fall into 3 categories: Communication Factors; Structural Factors and Personal Factors (source: Varney 1989). Barriers to communication are some of the most important factors and can be major sources of misunderstanding – as in the example I have given.
The communication barrier that has been noted here is a difference between interpretation and perception – i.e. the team are not producing the required output and are therefore lazy and need to be warned to improve their performance. When perhaps the more likely conclusion was that they were drastically under-resourced to achieve the task required. The approach taken was to enforce the rules and this typically brings about hard feelings towards those who instigate it.
When negative conflict occurs, there a 5 accepted methods for handling it: Compete; Collaborate; Avoid; Accommodate or Compromise (Thomas and Kilman). Each can be used effectively in different circumstances. For the particular example cited, possibly the best technique to apply was a compromise approach where a bargaining position could have been sought between two parties who had differing ideas on a solution but could not find a common ground (i.e. and agreed target for signing the documentation until the resourcing issue could be resolved).
Creating a positive atmosphere and minimising the effect of conflict
Negative conflict can be avoided by examining the 6 potential areas described by Nelson in the paper “Interpersonal Team Leadership Skills” (Hospital Management Quarterly, 1995).
Administrative procedures – a good groundwork for the effective coordination of work
People resources – adequate resources to do the job to avoid some carrying too heavy a load.
Process for cost overruns – proper resources in place so that the team knows what to do when cost becomes a problem and additional funding needs to be sought. This way the problem is resolved before it becomes a problem for management.
Schedules – the project schedule should be visible. The team should work together so that everyone achieves their deadline.
Responsibilties – what areas are assigned and who is responsible for them?
Wish lists – stick to the project in hand, avoid being side-tracked to try to fit other things into it. Do the other things you’d like to after the original project is successfully completed.
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