If one has to single out one factor that makes the difference between successful and unsuccessful teams, the jury would chose the relationship between team members and their leaders. Productive member – leader relationship can be characterized by four words: trust, external focus, balance and adaptability. Gleaning from this, take time out to examine your team member – leader interactions. The following signs may be a cause for concern and impending disaster.

Micromanagement rules the relationship

A team leader who engages in micromanagement treats highly experienced and skilled professionals as if they were novices, the team leader double or triple checks works, or places rigid and excessive restraints on decision-making authority of team members. To someone looking from outside, it would appear that all decisions and information are being channelized through a very narrow managerial port.

Communication breaks down

Troubled member – leader relationship are often characterized by tension on the both the sides due to inadequate communication. Team members receive vague or ambiguous instructions on projects. They may also discover that the team leader has failed to relay instruction or provide an overall context that enables them to understand larger work issues involved. On their part the team members, may not keep their leader informed of emerging problems and may even conceal mistakes and fail to disclose difficult situations. Eventually the communication breakdown leads to unpleasant surprises for both the team leader and its members.

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Lack of trust

If working relationship sours, mistrust between the team member and leader sets in. When this happens, team members respond to their team leaders suggestions or explanations of alternated requirements with skepticism and suspicion, while their leader is dissatisfied with the team’s justification or missed milestone. Both parties covertly probe behind each other’s defenses to try to find out the real story. With time, if this continues the team members and leaders curtail communication and data exchange between each other, trying to keep the other party off from timely availability of information.

You versus Us

Eventually, when the relationship is on the final legs, team members and their leaders separate into opposing camps. In discussion with other work groups, both sides will complain to their respective peers about the difficulty they are experiencing with the other party. In extreme cases, the team members begin to view their leader as no longer being a part of the team. When team leader walks into a room, informal conversations cease or become very guarded. Team members may even make a covert pact with each other to keep their team leader out of the discussions relating to performance problems or work issues.

Escalation to HR increases

When the lines between the team members and leader are completely strained or completely severed, team members may feel they have no choice but to bring their complaints to senior level managers or the HR department, whilst the leader may feel the best way to fix the broken problem is to get rid of few troublemakers. Either of the two responses creates innumerable personnel problems and the teams overall reputation gets stained. If the situation becomes unbearable the team leader or members may decide to leave the team. In addition the team may acquire negative reputation, forcing the new candidates to thing twice before joining the team.

Deterioration in member – leader interaction happens over a period of time and for a variety of reasons. These early warning signals, if heeded to, can help you in fending off troubled and bitter relationship.

Jappreet Sethi

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