Teamwork #Peopleskills: Leaders, When Do You Intervene?

Teamwork: Leaders, When do you intervene in team issues?

Do you think your teams can work their issues out by themselves? Perhaps you think it’s wrong for you to intervene believing your involvement will undermine team accountability. I’ve often heard leaders claim: “They are adults. Let them work things out themselves.”

Well leaders, never forget that you are a part of the team and play a special role in it. Team members often work things out themselves yet there are definitely times to intervene to coach teamwork and prevent derailment!

It takes just one self-absorbed team member to stop teamwork and derail success.  Here’s one such story of how one nudge’s selfishness and one leader’s inaction dissolved spirit and success.

Teamwork People Skills: Image id Dying Tree

Teamwork People Skills: Leaders When Do You Intervene?

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The Story

An IT network operations team was planning for a million dollar operations center build out. The leader was very committed to giving the team members major responsibility in planning the build out and in overseeing the vendors involved. The CIO was thrilled that the leader was going to empower the team and develop their skill sets.

Shortly into one planning session, one team member (aka Craig) mentioned an issue of how cables/wires are organized & tied. Nobody said anything yet eyes were rolling and the leader just stared at his notepad. Team members finally said: “We’ve all discussed this many times. We tie them in a way that makes them easy to change when necessary.” Craig wanted them tied with the plastic seal (but that would require cutting the seal frequently for cable changes). Team members asked him if there were strategic reasons and there were none. Craig’s only reason: He liked thinks looking super neat. He was insistent.

Team members spoke up again and said: “Today we have these larger build out issues to discuss and that’s why we’re here. Super neatness isn’t our major goal.” Craig continued to insist. Everyone’s frustration mounted. They saw him as a selfish nudge indulging in his own personal preferences. After 30 minutes of this, the leader finally spoke up and said they were moving on to more important matters which they did. Later in the session, Craig raised the issue twice more.

P.S. As the project unfolded, the team struggled terribly, teamwork suffered, and an external project team was brought in to handle the build out. Team members initially excited about having new responsibility were demoralized by the decision. The leader told me he wished he had intervened sooner. He had been aware for many months of Craig’s compulsive tendencies.

Leader’s What’s Your Role in Teamwork?

I frizzle when I read leadership blogs and books claiming leaders’ involvement undermines team accountability. The broad claim overlooks timing, the role of leader as teacher, coach, and mentor AND so many important teamwork factors.

Leaders must consider …

  • Stage of team development
  • Team decision making model
  • Criticality of deadlines
  • Scope of project and current team skill sets
  • Organizational culture
  • Individual performance and private team member issues

Leaders’ Options …

  1. Give the teams a chance to handle teamwork issues yet be prepared to intervene. How? By modelling how to handle tough teamwork issues and thus developing their people skills. In subsequent situations, call on them to use those skills.

    Leaders model, teach, and coach!

  2. See patterns that can demoralize and derail. Use your leadership experience to raise the flag before derailment. The leader in this story told me that he had been aware of Craig’s compulsive focus on neatness for many weeks. Yet he did nothing to address it. He realized in hindsight that he should have done something to raise the flag on this issue.

    Leaders must often be the ones to address issues that touch on personal matters like compulsive behaviors and disorders.

  3. Intervene by asking great questions instead of handing out a decision. Teams can learn much from leaders’ open-ended questions. I’ve witnessed teams instantly pick up on a leader’s great questions and ask other questions the leader didn’t consider.

    Leaders create team involvement through a culture of great questions.

Leaders who do nothing are not empowering teams they are abandoning them. Endless struggle has no magical power to teach. If the team is making progress, don’t intervene. Yet if they are spinning, balance their discovery with your leadership guidance!

Help all teams stay focused on important matters. Raise the flag of flexibility when team members are being rigid. Encourage them when fears make them cling to the present instead of innovating the future. Let them know you want them to learn from your guidance not to always rely on you to step in. Engage them in a culture of appreciation so they begin to sustain each other instead of you being the only buoy.

Leaders’ involvement does not stop team accountability — not if leaders learn as well as teach and empower as well as guide. You will see teamwork grow and your need to intervene shrink.

What examples of success in mentoring teams will you share with us here?

From my professional experience to your success,
Kate Nasser, The People-Skills Coach™

Related Posts:
Leaders, 5 Essentials to Building 21st Century Teams
Change Leaders, Is the Beloved Bully Stopping You & Your Teams?

©2013 Kate Nasser, CAS, Inc. Somerville, NJ. I appreciate your sharing the link to this post on your social streams. However, if you want to re-post or republish the content of this post, please email Thank you for respecting intellectual capital.

Kate Nasser, The People-Skills Coach™, delivers coaching, consulting, training, and keynotes on leading change, employee engagement, teamwork, and delivering the ultimate customer service. She turns interaction obstacles into interpersonal success. See this site for workshop outlines, keynote footage, and customer results.

5 Responses to “Teamwork #Peopleskills: Leaders, When Do You Intervene?”

  1. Hi there Kate
    We had an issue last week where we had to make a decision on whether to proceed with a course of action or start again. I had an opinion but sat back and let the team debate it. They came to an agreement on what they wanted to do (which incidentally was the complete opposite of my original opinion) without any intervention from me. As you say there’s a time to lead and a time to empower. The biggest challenge for a leader is deciding which to chose.

  2. Katyberry says:

    I think that I am pretty good at empowering my team, and giving them responsibility and accountability, but I can see that I am also guilty of letting things go on too long in the hope that they will sort themselves out. I think I do this partly in the hope that my team will figure out a solution together, but I am sure that it is also partly because the issues can get difficult, and I myself am not always sure what to do, or want to have the difficult conversations.
    Awareness of this tendency is the first step in trying to overcome it, and that’s why I love articles like this that REMIND me to pull my finger out! Thanks

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Hi Katy,
      Your refreshing honesty and self-awareness speak volumes to SO many leaders who feel as you do. Many many thanks for weighing in on this post. I am so grateful that you found it valuable.

      Best wishes,

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