It’s Time for the Adult to Take Over

Sandbox with thanks to lowlmagination

Sandbox with thanks to lowlmagination

“I feel like I’m playing in the sandbox with a bunch of misbehaving kids,” lamented Pat, a very successful CEO of a large company.  She was a collaborative leader who involved her executives in decision making, but the team was under stress and acting like a group of little kids in the sandbox.

“Perhaps it’s time for the adult to take over,” I suggested which led to a fascinating conversation about the challenges of being a collaborative leader.  I had learned this from IDEO, a very successful design company, whose innovation teams are very collaborative, creative and emergent, and also, at the right times, directed by a few of the “self appointed adults” to complete certain tasks to ensure that they don’t spin off into complete chaos.

You know it’s time for the team leader to be the “adult” and take over when:

  1. Problem solving processes have run their course and you need to move forward. Some teams can get into “ideaphoria” and resist closure because they are not confident about their ability to deliver.  The team leader needs to force closure on the team and help the team with its confidence.
  2. Timelines are critical and short and there is no time for collaboration. The team leader needs to provide the plan and delegate to get the task done.
  3. Some (or all) team members do not have the skills.  The team leader needs to provide direction and suggestions about how to tackle the problem at hand.
  4. The team is not functioning well as a team. Once again, the team leader needs to provide direction and suggestions or delegation of tasks to get things done.
  5. If a team is under extreme stress, the leader needs to help the team take a time out, regroup and get back on track.
  6. If there has been a major emergency or catastrophe that is likely to cause chaos, confusion, or strong emotions, the leader needs to step in and provide stability and direction for the team.

The key to switching between a collaborative and autocratic style is to let your team members know, ideally before, but certainly at the time, why you are using this particular style.  If you don’t, you risk breaking trust with team members. If you are on a team where there is no formal leader, have the conversation about who the “adults” will be in the above situations. It will save your team time and heartache.

What style do you use?  Are there times when you’ve used a more autocratic style?

This blog is based on the 10 of Clubs, Autocratic, taken from our Teamwork Explorer. Written by Tammy.

Autocratic Decision Making

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