Leading Up When Team Leaders Mess Up

Team-Leading-Up

No team is perfect.

No team leader is perfect.

If you are part of a team you will encounter dysfunction at some point. But how should you respond as a team member when your team leader makes a significant mistake?

Let’s create a typical scenario that might aid our learning in leading up. Let’s say that your team leader makes a unilateral decision to add a new member to the team. (We will assume that if you are a team leader you would never do this!?!) And let’s also assume that this truly is a team–not a committee or a working group–but a bonafide team with an agreed upon team purpose, clear team roles, and a common objective. And to further this dilemma let’s also say that you found out about the addition third hand–some member of the constituency that you are striving to serve informs you about this new hire.

Got the picture?

Is your frustration factor rising just a little?

Is this calling anything to mind?

3 Important Aspects To Your Approach

  1. Assume the best in your leader.  It never does any good for you or your team leader if you approach the issue with suspicion and distrust. You will only add anger to your frustration and anxiety. Assume that the team leader had the team’s best interest at heart. Assume that the team leader saw value in this new member. Assume that this new team member has something valuable to add to the makeup and function of the team. Assume the best.
  2. Inquire, don’t condemn.  If you have already failed the first assumption you will probably fail the second one. These assumptions follow a logical progression. If you are able to gather yourself and assume the best, then you will be in a position to make inquiry rather than initiate by way of words of condemnation. You might use phrases like, “Would it be possible for us to revisit the decision-making process that led to this new hire?” Or, “Can you walk us through your thought process that led you to this decision to hire Susan?” It takes a good amount of courage to assume the best and make the inquiry. It takes nothing to explode and condemn. Worse yet, it will be severely damaging if you say nothing at all. Genuine questions raise pertinent issues and invite understanding and solutions. Condemnation creates further distrust and the possible loss of your credibility and role on the team.
  3. Be solution focused.  Don’t simply raise the problem at hand without thinking through possible remedies for next time. Anyone can complain and point out the problem at hand. It takes leadership thinking to propose alternatives to the mess. Reflect, consider, and choose to be solution oriented as you approach your team leader with the mess. You may not be able to remedy the current scenario, but you can set the stage for next time. Lessons can be learned and new principles applied.

3 Important Team Issues at Stake

  1. Team Communication.  Trust is the lifeblood of any well functioning team. Good communication is the foundation and guardian of trust. Discuss this as a team. Help the team leader and the whole team better understand that internal communication is essential. To be surprised by a third party constituent creates an awkward situation and does not allow you to defend the decision well. It can cause you as a team member to look ignorant and create a lack of credibility for the whole team. Every team member needs to be informed about important decisions to be able to represent those decisions well. Better yet, important decisions should be informed by the team for greater ownership and understanding. Leaders ignore internal communication and consensus decision making at their own peril.
  2. Team Dynamics.  Every time a person is added or subtracted from a team the team dynamics are significantly impacted. Team leaders must not be naive to this reality. You must not only assess the qualifications of the potential new member, but also the impact on the team and the collective effect toward those you are serving.
  3. Leader Motivation.  Ask the leader why they thought this person would be a good addition to the team. Ask them what value this new member will bring. Ask them what deficit they saw in the team that required an additional member. These are all relevant questions. Ask them with a genuine desire to understand–not simply in a backhanded way to dig at the leader. The team leader needs to realize that “why’s” matter.

All three of these team issues are important elements for teams and team leaders to consider and resolve when a poor decision has been made–or a good decision has been made poorly.

Team leaders, don’t simply act and inform. That only works well in time of crisis. Otherwise, be sure that every important stakeholder has been brought into the process.

Team members, learn to lead up well.

(photo credit)

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