ROLE OF LEADERSHIP GROUPS IN TEAM SPORTS

 
September 01

We recently completed a number of sessions with leadership groups comprised of 5 to 6 representative members of high performance sports teams. Our discussions were focused on clarifying their role and dealing with the inevitable challenges of the coming season. The group members were identified for their role in the respective teams using a network analysis survey that highlights two critical measures of leadership.

To identify the group, we used a series of organizational / team network questions that reveal certain on and off the field leadership qualities. When considered in total, the results reveal the extent to which individuals have the potential to influence and integrate others. More specifically, the nature of the questions and combined responses highlight the most likely few who are in the best position to communicate team values, motivate others and lead in times of need.  If an individual possessed both qualities, then they would appear to have the most potential to impact team success and they would be considered for formal leadership role or captaincy.

One of our findings over the many years of doing such assessments is the ideal size of the leadership group. The leader to follower ratio we have seen from our past analysis is one to five. On a team of 25 to 30 members we will see 5 to 6 emergent leaders. 

It is this “emergent leadership group”, more so than the coaching staff, that has the potential to improve chemistry in a positive direction.  And, when these leaders are well integrated themselves, we expect others on the team to become more engaged and committed. By identifying them, we can guide the group and be intentional with our effort at building unity, trust and improving performance. We know that waiting for team chemistry to happen on its own is risky. It takes insight and effort to connect and align motivations of players and achieve high levels of performance. This is why great team chemistry doesn't happen by chance. It is rare and cannot depend on a single leader such as the coach or captain. Alone, they simply do not have the close ties with all teammates to truly impact and sustain the high levels of communication and energy required for high performance team chemistry.  

The meetings were unstructured and tended to be more conversational in nature. While reflecting on the sessions several days later, it struck me how similar the outcomes were, despite the lack of structure. We started the sessions simply by indicating that collectively they have emerged as the most influential leaders on the team and asked: What do you think this mean for each of you?

The responses were similar and can be categorized as follows: 

  1. Awareness: "I didn’t realize how much influence I had on others."
  2. Acceptance: "I have responsibility for myself, but also to bring out the best in others." 
  3. Accountability: "So, what can we do?"

The themes expressed consistently in terms of what needs to be done included:

  1. Work on connecting better with each other and integrating the leadership team first by building stronger relationships.
  2. Meet regularly to debrief last week’s performances and set goals for the coming week.
  3. Coordinate team meetings to address issues, celebrate successes and link disconnected teammates.
  4. Clarify and uphold the team values on and off the field, as well as be accountable for game day strategy and tactics.

Three things stood out in this part of the discussions. One, their common view that it is simply not enough to focus on the technical, tactical and physical side of the game; two, their sense of accountability for managing team chemistry; and three, recognition that team habits which are essential for mental focus and inspire commitment from all are not only the domain of the Coach or Manager. The leadership group is also responsible and has to take action in support of team goals and values.

How they carry out their responsibility is something that is unique to each team and can vary based on the situation. The ones that will be truly successful are the groups that demonstrate stick-to-it-iveness. They will follow through on their ideas and plans with consistency and with more commitment to communication and stronger relationships among themselves as well as others. 

For individuals, awareness and acceptance of leadership roles is the key step to building powerful energy that is an expression of highly connected teams. However, it takes the entire emergent leadership group to sustain the explosion of motivation required to produce championship form over time.  

The question for you: Is your leadership group dormant and therefore ineffective, or inspired and energized? 

tags: leadership, team chemistry, network analysis
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