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No Formal Team Leader? Step Up!

No Formal Team Leader - Step UpI was talking with a friend recently who was complaining that she was serving on a team that had no formal team leader identified. The vice president who pulled the team together did so based on the skills and experiences the team members have, but did not assign a team leader. He asked them to work together to come up to a solution to a problem within the organization.

My friend’s complaint was that without a team leader in place, it seemed a bit chaotic overall. Everyone was moving in different directions and, while there seemed to be a number of great ideas (mainly shared between a few members of the team,) no one seemed to be pulling the ideas all together to come to a decision on how to move forward with a plan. Additionally, team meetings were a mess! Members either didn’t show up at all, showed up late, or did other work during meetings. Nothing was getting accomplished!

My friend is a natural leader. She was frequently stepping up to a leadership role on many initiatives on which she served so I was surprised to hear her complaints. I asked her why she didn’t just step in to a leadership role to get the team moving forward. She mentioned that she asked the vice president about putting a team leader in place and he told her that he felt teams did better when no leader was assigned and rather the team worked it out among themselves. His experience was that a team leader tried to control too much and inhibited the team overall.

Therefore, my friend felt it wouldn’t make sense to step up into a leadership role because that was not the desire of the vice president. She misunderstood. He didn’t say she couldn’t take on a leadership role, he simply responded to her request that he assign a team leader, which he didn’t want to do.

Bottom line – I told my friend to reach out to the others and ask if a meeting might be held to move the project forward. Provide a number of options for dates and times to meet and provide a preliminary agenda. Ask the other members of the team to add to the agenda. Focus the agenda for this meeting on the following:

  • Clarifying the problem to be solved (basically to ensure everyone understands the problem in the same way.)
  • Brainstorming ideas to solve the problem.
  • Narrowing the ideas down to a handful of viable options.
  • Pulling together smaller sub-teams to move forward and evaluate options further.

A second meeting will then be held to have sub-teams report on their progress.

As a best practice, don’t be afraid to step up to a leadership role when you are working on a team that does not have a formal team leader assigned. Someone has to step up! You can take a “softer” approach as suggested above. You aren’t dictating in this situation, rather you are putting forward a suggested approach to move forward and asking for input. If others have input, they will provide it.