Agile methods suggest replacing top-down, command-and-control management with empowered teams and shared leadership. That all sounds nice, but what exactly is shared leadership and how do you get it to happen?
Katzenbach & Smith authors of the book “The Wisdom of Teams” explain that shared leadership can occur “where a small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, performance goals and approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable” - in other words, when we have a well formed team with a strong sense of commitment. In these circumstances team members know that they possess the technical knowledge necessary to make the best local decisions and will self-organize and encourage each other to achieve results.
Examples of effective shared leadership include the Orpheus orchestra that I wrote about in 2008. The Orpheus orchestra has no assigned conductor, instead performers rotate the role, providing unique perspectives and also broadening their experience. Unlike your first guess, this conductor-less orchestra does not sound terrible, but instead have won a number of Grammy awards and perform to sold-out audiences worldwide.
The other classic example is geese flying in “V” formation that reduces drag and extends daily flight range by up to 50% compared to individual birds. All birds take a turn on the front, maintaining direction and parting the air for the following birds. The rest of the flock “honk” encouragement at the lead bird to keep up the speed and when it tires it returns to an easier position in the “V”. If any bird gets too weak or injured, usually two other birds will drop out of formation to rest with it and form a new “V” once it is ready.
These examples are used because they easily show the advantages, but they do not hint at how to transform a dysfunctional group or even normal team into a high performing team using shared leadership. The good news is that providing you have some patience the process is achievable and within your control.
We have to start by understanding and believing in the benefits of leadership ourselves. Jeffery Pinto author of “Project Leadership: From Theory to Practice” describes these core leadership practices:
- Willingness to challenge the status quo – Search for innovative ways to change, grow and improve, experiment and take risks by constantly generating small wins and learning from mistakes
- Creating and communicating a vision – sharing your ideas of where we could be
- Modeling desired behavior – acting honestly, admitting where we lack information, being passionate
- Enable others to act - Foster collaboration by building trust and strengthen others by sharing power
- Encouraging each other - Recognize contributions by showing appreciation for excellence and Celebrate the values and victories by creating a spirit of community