Helping you lead effectively!

Leading a team is not an easy task; that is if you want to lead effectively!

A leader has many responsibilities: setting direction, formulating strategies, planning, aligning stakeholders, motivating, being a spokesperson, being a change agent, developing team members, etc. Unfortunately, we can’t do all of them well; even a super talented person has his limit.

Fortunately, we don’t have to do everything on our own.

One way to ensure all the leadership responsibilities are well taken care of is to have a smaller group within the team, a core team, who can share the load with you. Some might call this a leadership team, or an inner circle, but the idea is to have a smaller group of coworkers within the larger team to help you lead effectively. Their role is not just to share your leadership responsibilities, but also to keep you focused on what’s important.

As a team leader, I would always have a core team to help me lead well. When I was an Operations Director (many years ago) with more than 20 people on my team, I had a core team of three people (including myself) who helped ensure that the team functioned effectively. When I was overseeing my church’s youth ministry, I had a leadership team of eight senior members of the ministry, and from that eight I had a core team of four leaders. Even when I was leading a smaller team, I would usually have another person who would work with me more closely.

The size of the core team might vary, but I will always have a core team.

Having a core team is not an uncommon practice. Having an effective core team, though, requires some careful considerations.


Five Tips for an Effective Core Team

Here are some tips that would help you have a more effective core team. This is not an exhaustive list, and you might be able to think of other helpful tips too.


1. Be clear about expectations

For the core team to be effective, you have to set clear expectations not just for the few who are in the core team, but also for the entire team.

What is the role of the core team? What outcome are we expecting from them? How would they work with you? How would they interact with the larger team? What responsibilities do they have (or not have)? What authorities would they have (or not have)? How much time are they expected to give you? How often do we meet? Do we interact through formal meetings or informal chat?

For me, the core team is not another “layer” in the organisation structure, but a group that works alongside, and complement, the existing structure. The core team exist to help me lead well, not lead in my place. They help me make better decisions, not make decisions in my place. They help me take care of the team, not lord over the team.

The expectations have to be communicated to everyone on the team, to avoid any misunderstanding or unrealistic expectations.


2. Select people who can complement the leader

I am strong in seeing the big picture, but I might miss out some, or even many, of the details. I can cast a compelling vision for the team and show them where we are headed, but I am weaker in rallying team members and helping them work through personal obstacles along the way to our objectives.

My core team needs to complement me in those areas where I am weaker. Otherwise, those leadership responsibilities, that I am weaker-at, will still not be handled well.

Additionally, I look for people who might offer a different perspective. After all, if they think exactly as I do, they would only reinforce any stereotypical beliefs or blind spots that I have.

There are many strengths and personality assessments that may help us gauge our (and those we work with) strengths and figure out where we need to be complemented. DISC, StrengthsFinder, and MBTI are three that I frequently use, among others. We need to remember, though, that each of these assessments tells us only one perspective of ourselves, and should not be the sole basis of our decisions.


3. Give them the freedom to disagree

I am not perfect. I have blind spots, and may not consider all the necessary perspectives before making decisions. An effective core team needs to have the freedom to challenge my assumptions, point me to a different perspective, and help me circumvent my blind spots.

This freedom has to be specifically given, right at the beginning. Better still, have it written down as a team norm, and remind them frequently.

For this to work, though, I have to be willing to listen to them and show them that I actually value their opinion. More importantly, they must not suffer any punitive consequences for voicing any different, or contrary, opinions.

“An effective core team needs to have the freedom to challenge my assumptions, point me to a different perspective, and help me circumvent my blind spots.”


4. Have a written team norm

We are forgetful. Anything that’s not written down might be forgotten or, worse, distorted.

Having a written team norm (which includes expectations, freedom to disagree, accepted behaviour, protocols or even processes, etc.) helps remind us why the core team exist and how we should work together. Think of this as a simple contract between team members.

I am not talking about a 50-page checklist or manual with a high level of details. I’m just thinking of a simple, one-page, bullet-points that could help us remember what we have agreed on.

This is actually helpful for the entire team, too, not just for the core team.

I was first exposed to this idea when I was on a regional leadership team. We were trying to figure out how we could be more effective as a team, and someone suggested having a written team norm. We did that and found it tremendously helpful: it gave us a benchmark that we could evaluate our team interaction. Since then I have been encouraging teams to have a written team norm.


5. Consider a fixed term

Members of the core team are actually giving extra time and efforts in helping the team leader. This is in addition to the responsibilities that they already have on the team.

It would actually help them if this additional responsibility is not an indefinite arrangement.

Having a fixed term (a year or two, for example) puts a limit to the additional commitment that they are giving you. It also creates a natural exit point where they are free to adjust their priorities.

A fixed term also allows you to involve other team members. When you have capable people on your team, you would probably have several people who could be part of the core team. If you simply include everyone who is a potential core team member, you are as good as not having a core team. A fixed term allows you to include different people at different parts of the team’s journey, depending on the needs at that time.

Of course, you could still have some of the same people beyond just one term.


What about you?

Which of the above tips is helpful for you?

What other tips can you think of that helps a core team be more effective?


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