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Team leaders take centre stage

Posted by: Tom Webb-Skinner 25 Apr 14 - 3:36PM  | Recruitment

In Britain’s industrial heyday, the role of Team Leader or Supervisor was a well known and understood one. However, as our manufacturing and engineering industries have changed and as we have developed into a service led economy, the role has become less easy to define and somewhat misunderstood. Gone are the simple hierarchies which dictated where everyone sat within an organisation and who reported to whom. In their place are more fluid and ‘flat’ organisational structures, where management lines are blurred and responsibilities shared.

Despite the ever evolving workplace, it would be a mistake to assume that the role of Team Leader has gone the way of Britain’s copper mines or typing pools. In manufacturing especially, production lines, whether hitech or not, still employ a team structure led by an identified leader or supervisor, and these roles are more essential than ever. The role of the Team Leader equates to that of a captain in a football (or perhaps a better analogy) a cricket team. While there is a Manager on the sidelines looking after the strategic approach and making sure the environment is right for a winning team, the leader on the pitch makes sure that teams are performing up to standard minute by minute, that adjustments are made ‘in play’, and acts as a representative for the team when talking to management.

While many Team Leaders might (rightly) argue that they have a tougher but less celebrated job than the England football captain, companies, especially in manufacturing, are increasingly recognising their importance within organisations as the lynchpin between management and the shop floor.

Team Leaders have the ability to be a fulcrum for change, productivity and efficiency within an organisation; placing management, communication and innovation at the heart of the operation. They also play a key role in driving change from the bottom and communicating upwards: organisations have long realised that the best ideas and most workable change often come from the shop floor.

However, this importance is often not reflected in recruitment and training strategies. Team Leaders often ‘emerge’ rather than get recruited and there is often no formal training in place when someone steps up to the position. Likewise, as the role changes (which it has done dramatically), Team Leaders aren’t necessarily trained in or supported to cope with the new competencies they need.

It’s because of this that Jonathan Lee Talent Management (JLTM) have been offering organisations a way to identify areas for improvement within the Team Leader group. The aim is to help them develop better training and mentoring programmes and identify future talent for this group more analytically. Using psychometric principles combined with a clear understanding of the behaviours needed at all levels of management, in all industries, JLTM has devised bespoke assessment and development days for Team Leader groups.

Where possible these assessment techniques mirror the role of the Team Leaders, putting them into situations that they would face in their day-to-day role, rather than running it as a paper based exercise. So, for example, a Team Leader’s response to a high pressure, conflict situation is tested in a role play exercise. There are a number of competencies that JLTM commonly assess. These include communication skills, influencing skills, problem solving, leadership, coaching and mentoring, planning and prioritising.

In the majority of cases, the outcome is a clear awareness - from the individual and management - of the challenges of the new role. Occasionally, some participants may decide that the new role is not for them and provision can be made to identify more appropriate roles. Typically though, the outcome of a Team Leader assessment session will be a personal development plan where training, mentoring and co-learning are agreed. Often, simply acknowledging an area for development is enough to initiate a change in behaviour.

The organisation will also look at and change how it manages its relationship with Team Leaders; from management styles to feedback and communication channels. In many cases, development days will also help the organisation identify Team Leaders who might be suitable for management positions, either now or in the future.

Like sports captains, Team Leaders will always play an important role, orchestrating the action on the field of play, the shop floor or the office. Taking time to understand what competencies they need and what they currently have is a valuable endeavour for all organisations.

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