You might think a leaderless team sounds like a rudderless ship sailing aimlessly through the seas. But think again. While management gurus traditionally equate strong leadership with business success, teams without leaders can be very effective in certain situations. Breaking down traditional hierarchical structures can play an important role in achieving business goals.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Team Leaders
Having a strong leader in charge of a team speeds up decision-making. An effective team leader sets and monitors team and individual targets and holds people to account. A leader also manages team meetings, controlling discussions and ensuring that members follow a structured agenda and keep to time.
This approach can feel disempowering, though, for some individuals, who find it stifles creativity and removes their autonomy. Furthermore, if the leader represents the senior management, an employee can be wary of contributing creative ideas that challenge the status quo or seem at odds with the prevailing views, for fear of being seen as a troublemaker. As a result, the team might reach a weaker, lacklustre decision that is not necessarily the best outcome for the business. There’s also a risk of not getting buy-in from the full team, resulting in a lack of motivation.
Why Choose Leaderless Teams?
Leaderless teams are, by nature, more democratic. Problem-solving and decision-making can be a lengthier process and debates can often be lively, but the final outcome is likely to be a better, more carefully considered decision and one that the majority supports. Even those who hold opposing views feel they’ve had a fair chance to contribute and be heard.
The success of leaderless teams in coming up with suggestions and solutions does not imply that you should run your entire business without leaders. Google’s attempt to operate without managers was abandoned after six weeks, as too many personnel issues were being ignored. Even successful cooperatives that are employee- or community-owned, tend to have a CEO and a top team to manage key functions, such as finance, HR and marketing. Research indicates that flatter management structures with fewer layers are faster at decision-making, better at communicating, and lead to higher accountability and morale among the workforce.
Developing a Leadership Strategy
Having a leadership strategy is important for a small business. Your strategy can help you foster an autonomous workforce that functions well without necessarily having named team leaders. Some people find the term "self-managing teams" preferable to "leaderless teams." Delegating everyday decision-making to your team members can foster a sense of pride and empowerment that’s intensely motivating, and trusting your teams to self-manage can free you up to explore new ideas.
A hands-free approach doesn’t mean you abrogate all responsibility for the running of your business. Make sure your teams are aware of any limits to their decision-making authority, so they know when to refer issues up the ladder, and impress upon them their accountability for decisions made. When things go well, be sure to acknowledge your team’s success via anything from a group email thanking team members for their efforts to a financial bonus. If an individual stands out as a top performer, giving them a new, enhanced job title can mean as much as a salary increase.
Most teams working in a business are answerable to somebody in authority. The concept of leaderless teams is more about a way of working that empowers teams to self-manage, enabling them to feel more autonomous and take a more creative approach to problem-solving and decision-making. The benefits to the business are a more engaged, motivated workforce that is more committed to the company and its success.