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Help Your Teams Succeed: Overhauling Leadership and Company Practices Develop leadership skills systematically. The more people can lead and are given the space to do so, the better.

By Kati Vilkki

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The traditional structure of having layers of executives and managers no longer serves organisations well. It is just too slow. Many innovative companies are challenging this status quo. They are offering people both freedom and professional growth opportunities not seen before.

They are looking at leadership, decision making, organisational practices and structures in a whole new way. With recent research finding that managers spend more than half their time in meetings and doing admin instead of leading their people and growing professionally, it's time for companies to make thoughtful change.

True leaders emerge organically – people will always choose whom they will allow to lead them. Understanding the nature of emergent leadership will help appointed managers to become true leaders. Setting people up for success that allows them to thrive is easier said than done, of course, but there are steps that can be taken to help this happen.

Lead through influence, not orders.

When I coach leaders, I often ask, "What do you do when someone tries to make you do something you don't want to do?" The usual responses when it comes to tactics are to fake, fight, ignore, or comply. None of the reactions involve being engaged, enthusiastic, or taking ownership. My next question is "What makes you think that your people would react differently?".

We humans are very clever when it comes to avoiding things we don't want to do. In a business setting, this can have a damaging impact on productivity and creativity. We need people to be engaged and take ownership to succeed.

Strong leadership relies on leading through influence, rather than orders. The environment we operate in is so complex, and there is so much new data and information to process that it's impossible for any one person to know it all. Therefore, leading in a way that allows for tapping into collective intelligence is key.

For people to take meaningful action they need to do their own thinking and they must be given the space to do so. You cannot do the thinking for others. It's faster and more effective to coach and ask questions, which promotes finding solutions collaboratively. A solution that comes from collaboration is likely to be much stronger as it involves more perspectives too.

Self-organising and autonomous teams.

As a consultancy, Reaktor's teams are self-organising and autonomous in their composition. People are not assigned to projects; they choose which project they want to work on. Teams manage their own work. All work is organised into a back-log of items, which is prioritised so that people understand what is most important.

The team decides how they work on each task, and regularly reflect on what they have accomplished, on their working practices and learnings. Team members take turns in facilitating discussions and have learned to work together efficiently, to solve problems and to handle conflicts. People who take up a special role are given training and support to carry out the task. People rotate in and out of these roles as they choose.

Shared team leadership creates transparency and trust. It also means people are not waiting around to be told what to do, and instead can act quickly, removing inefficiencies. Empowering people with this level of personal responsibility cultivates a strong sense of ownership, engagement, and commitment.

Demand for meaningful leadership roles.

Creating value rather than organisational waste is easier said than done, but it is the key to business growth. Many managers I have worked with complain that much of their time is sunk into running HR, finance processes, and other administrative tasks, leaving them feeling frustrated that they don't have time to coach their people and teams. Many wonder what value they are creating internally and for customers.

I started my leadership journey back in the 1980s in Finland, and I saw throughout that time companies were rolling out training programmes for leaders. The focus was on building leadership skills. Since the late 90s, I have seen a huge uptick in more extensive HR practices (tools and templates) arise. Although there are good intentions behind this – improving leadership practices, providing better visibility and consistency in processes – processes have become much heavier and take up more and more time. To me it looks like we are trying to compensate for the lack of skills with processes now.

Sometimes dysfunctional practices remain in an organisation gathering dust and causing problems for years. In one company I worked for, there was a performance management system that caused complaints from employees, managers, and HR professionals alike. Even though everyone felt the same way, people felt powerless to change it. It took two years to finally overhaul the system – which is why at every growth stage of a business, leaders must interrogate ways of working and gauge if they are fit for purpose. Listen to your people, they can tell you what does not work and what creates value.

Takeaways for productivity and organisational structure.

My recommendation for creating healthy organisations which are successful in business and where people thrive, is to develop leadership skills systematically. The more people can lead and are given the space to do so, the better. Leadership skills are best learned at work through reflection, feedback, and together with one's peers. Training and coaching leadership teams will give results faster than training individuals.

There is a delicate balance between having too much or too little process. The tendency is that processes will grow heavier over time if we do not pay attention. The focus of leaders' work should be on making the work easier for front-line people who create direct value for customers. A good rule of thumb is if people complain a little about a lack of process – then you know you're on the right track. Ultimately, leaders who dedicate their time to building trust and treating people with respect will see the best results.

Kati Vilkki

Lead Coach at Reaktor

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