Shifts in working practices accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic have changed how people and teams are managed. As the world becomes ever more connected, teams have become more polyhedral and leadership more complex.
Today’s bosses are having to get used to managing diverse teams located in different parts of the world, made up of employees who probably answer to multiple leaders and are participating in several projects at the same time.
In response to these changes, executive education courses have sprung up to help executives manage teams in order to maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of their organizations. In Barcelona, ESADE Business School runs the People Leadership and Team Management course to help participants boost their leadership competencies, in order to improve the performance of their teams.
Program director Beatriz Olvera says: “Self-awareness and self-management are necessary conditions for effective team management. Once those are in place, the next stage is leading each team member according to how they need to be managed to get results (and not in relation to how we personally would wish to be managed).”
The program helps executives capitalize on their individual leadership characteristics. “We do not aim to clone leaders who behave in specific ways, if it implies that they will lose their authenticity. We teach our students that with their specific profiles and motivations they can be successful managers,” says Olvera.
With team management being key to organizational success, the learning outcomes from the course are tangible. “Managing human capital is the only recipe for organizational success,” she says. “Many organizations manage to destroy value as a result of bad leadership. It is important to invest in having effective team leaders, who are able to identify the specific talents of people and manage them in a way that leads to successful business results.”
Teamwork as a learned skill
Good leaders can predict the success of teams by knowing the talent they possess, how motivated they are, and how they put that talent and motivation to use, says Professor Leigh Thompson of Kellogg School of Management in the US.
“A team is a group of interdependent people working towards a shared goal. If everyone is simply doing their own thing and not coordinating with others, we don’t get anything done. The challenge is: many organizations believe that teamwork is an innate skill. In fact, it is not. It is a skill that needs to be practiced and perfected.”
Thompson runs the Leading High-Impact Teams executive education course at Kellogg, which focuses on how leaders can optimize their personal performance as a team player. Faculty guide participants through how to structure teams to maximize effectiveness, resolve conflict and unleash everyone’s full potential.
The program is based on experiential learning (by doing) and transferring knowledge from the executive classroom to the workplace. “We know that lecture-style teaching is not helpful,” Thompson says. “I typically tell participants that they should be using one of the new tools each week.”
In addition, she adds that it’s important to offer people both quantitative and qualitative feedback. “They want to know how their performance stacks up against others, but they also need to know the interpersonal impression they’ve left on others.”
Teams are about more than just the leader
Leadership is becoming less about authority and more about how to empower others, says Gianluca Carnabuci, a professor of organizational behavior at ESMT Berlin. “The core driver for this change is that organizations have become flatter over time. What that means is that teams and talents work more and more [collaboratively], as opposed to just staying within their own little organizational silo.”
He says you can only be effective as a leader if you realize that teams and organizations have changed to an extent that requires leaders to adapt their skills to this new situation. To that end, ESMT runs Leading People and Teams, an executive program in which participants learn how to influence decision-makers, how to diagnose and remedy potentially toxic organizational dynamics, and how to bolster their personal leadership through a professional network.
“The program takes a holistic perspective on the multifaceted nature of leadership in today’s organizations,” Carnabuci says, noting that leaders must be decision makers, organizational architects, reflective learners and strategists.
“The program is unique because it tries to maximize quality and depth,” he adds. “There’s a lot of leadership talks, and not all of it is based in science and evidence. Everything we bring to class is based on solid empirical evidence.”
This science can have a transformational impact on the success of organizations. “The only way to [beat] the competition in today’s environment is to have teams that are able to fully leverage the skills and talents of people,” Carnabuci says, underlining the practical outcomes of the training.