Sometimes people forget that a team is not a homogenous mass, all ready to pull in the required direction at the drop of a hat. The best teams are a diverse mix of individuals, where diversity is actually one of the key reasons for success. However, when you allow individuals to be individuals, this diversity will ensure that not all the individuals will move at the same speed. It is the classic “hare and tortoise” story: sometimes certain people will lead, sometimes they will follow, and sometimes they will simply stand still, not having a clue what is going on.
Keeping the team together and ensuring momentum on any given project is key for a leader to ensure consistent performance. For me, this is the essence of teamwork, and it is a leader’s job to be the conductor.
First, let’s consider the scientific definition of momentum: “the quantity of motion of a moving body, measured as a product of its mass and velocity.” For those without a physics background, the momentum of an object is how “massive” it is multiplied by how fast it is going. The momentum of an elephant walking at 5mph will be significantly higher than a ball rolling at 5mph. Alternatively, the momentum of the ball rolling at 5mph will be far less than the same ball travelling at 50mph. You get the idea.
So, amateur physics lesson over. So, how do leaders manage the “mass” and “velocity” of their team – ensuring that both elements are optimised where possible?
Well, the “mass” of the team might mean how many people are “bought in” and involved with any given project. Firstly leaders have to ensure understanding of what they want to achieve and have a common discussion about how to get there. Once people understand their diverse roles, they will get on board. A diverse team will have differing experiences and approaches, so it is vital to get everyone singing from the same hymn sheet. Difficulties can arise for varying reasons – there may be personality clashes, there may be differences in performance or there may be external distractions. If a leader keeps their people laser focused on the goal, the mass of the team will remain constant. Determining the amount of people involved is an art – too many and the broth will be spoiled, too few and not enough opinions will be taken into account.
If the mass of the team is adequate, but the project hits a brick wall, it will be slowed down or stopped. No matter how “massive” the team, there will always be obstacles to stand in their way. You only have to look at the recent example of the automotive giant VW to see an “obstacle” that has impacted on their “velocity.” Leaders have to be equally carefully with the velocity of their team – too fast and they risk burnout, too slow and people will leave for a different challenge. Sometimes a leader will have to fire fight to keep things moving, sometimes they will have to look ahead to anticipate the obstacles that may slow them down and at other times they simply need to give the team that little bit of “motivational” oil to keep things moving.
There are so many intricate subtleties to the art of leadership, but if you think of managing a team in the simple terms of mass and velocity, you won’t go far wrong.