Do All Teams Need A Leader?

Team Leaders

Working with teams over the years, I have learned that leading one isn’t always a piece of cake. I have also learned that the role of leader can shift between team members. In fact, the person with an expertise for a particular project is oftentimes the “anointed” temporary leader. This is a very interesting phenomenon when an informal leader emerges. The individual who started out being team leader might still have the title, but has moved to a different spot on the team. Have you ever experienced a shift in leadership? Have you ever been on a team where there is no leader? Do you think all teams need a leader?

 I think all teams need a leader, but not necessarily the same one all the time. Here are four reasons why leaders are critical to a team’s success:

 1. Leaders hold tight to the vision: I was recently working on a committee for a non-profit where we were planning an event. We had a lot of heated discussion about the tone and look of the event. Should it be edgy? Should it be solicitous? Who are the stakeholders that we need to reach out to? We needed a leader to iron out the vision and mission. Without that person taking on the leadership role, it would have been impossible to work on the other aspects of the event.

2. Leaders ask the important questions: When we get caught up in our routines while working on a project, we don’t usually take the time to come up for air. That means we need our leader to step back periodically and ask: “How are things going?”; “What is missing?”; “What isn’t working and why?” These essential questions asked at the right times can oftentimes mean the difference between a successful or unsuccessful outcome.

3. Leaders act as liaisons: Our teams do not function in a vacuum as we are usually connected to a larger organization. It is the leader’s responsibility to make sure to keep everyone updated on the progress and the obstacles. If a team doesn’t have a leader and clarification is needed, the team might not get the best information. Leadership can provide that connecting piece.

4. Leaders energize a team to meet deadlines: The truth is that sometimes teams lose steam, unable to motivate themselves to complete a project in the necessary timeframe. Teams need a leader to not only keep track of the completion date, but to cheer them on. It can take a creative activity such as bringing in music or a masseuse to encourage team members and show them they are valued. By rolling up their sleeves and pitching in, leaders model a can-do attitude that can be contagious.

Do you think teams need leaders? How else have you stepped in as leader to attain a great outcome?


13 thoughts on “Do All Teams Need A Leader?

  1. Terri, Have your read Mark Miller’s The Secret of Teams? It is about developing High Performance Teams that produce results. He describes the Command-and-Control type of structure where one leader is over several team members. Then he describes the Quarterback model of one leader surrounded by team members. Finally, he describes the High Performance team where team members all step up to lead. It’s a great read.

  2. Thanks Dan for sharing this awesome book with me. I will definitely look into it. When leaders surround themselves with team members and empower them to step up to the plate and share their talents, great outcomes evolve. I love the visual of this and might end up writing some more on it. Thanks again for sharing.

  3. Your title alone got me thinking, Terri and you make some great points. I agree with you, every team needs a leader and it does not always have to be the person with the formal title. I’ve been on teams without a leader and we’ve gone round and round debating our next steps. At some point, I stepped up and said what I was hearing, played back our progress to date and suggested a course of action. It’s easy to get lost in the discussion without, as you wrote, someone owning and championing the vision and to help keep the team moving forward. Great piece. Will be intrigued to see the other responses to this post.

  4. Terri, you make some great points here. I agree that all teams need A leader and to recall another great post of yours, without one, many a meeting can go on endlessly. I especially like your point about leaders being laisons. While they hold tight to the vision and ask the right questions, they are not only further connecting the team to the mission and important information, but also connecting the team mission to the company mission. It is such an important role. Great post.

  5. Interesting post Terri. Leaders I would say are required to inspire, motivate and carry the vision. However if all team members have leadership qualities, and they can work together well as a team, there is no necessity for one person to lead.

    Dictatorship style of leadership and management fails miserably where the concept of living the leadership is completely misexecuted.

    A Thought provoking post, Terri.

    Thank you Dan for sharing that book.


  6. Thanks Alli for adding your experiences when there is no leader. I have seen this also where a team becomes very frustrated because the formal leader is not able to make decisions or focus the team in a definite direction. I love how you took the initiative to step up to informal leadership! It sounds like you really cared about the project. As always, thanks for sharing your personal adventures!

  7. Thanks Blair for bringing up the point about liaisons and leadership. I think sometimes teams lose sight of how they fit into a bigger vision and that can cause a team to go down an unnecessary path.Leaders need to be transparent and share the information flow with everyone. That type of openness can spur a team member to feel more connected and more valuable. Thanks for taking the time to share!

  8. Some good points, Lalita about not needing just one person to lead. I do think teams miss out and often have missed deadlines when there is no leader, formal or informal. Although each team member can be a leader at different points, it is always clearer when someone leads. Too many voices and no one connecting the words can possibly cause team failure. Would love to hear more! Thanks again.

  9. Terri, A thought-provoking post! I have seen self-managed teams, and they work very well. There may be an informal “leader” but it may shift activity-to-activity. In most cases, teams need a facilitator to keep discussion on track, get ideas out, and determine action plans forward.

    In essence, I believe teams do not need a formal leader; they need to have strong shared values and missions. Thanks! Jon

  10. Great points, Jon! I agree that although leadership is essential, having similar values and vision really keep a team on track and motivated. When everyone is on board about what the focus is, team members are more likely to shift the leader role according to each person’s strength. I also think that the informal leaders can be highly influential, perhaps even more so than the formal, titled leader. Thanks so much for all your insights! Terri

  11. Great question, Terri. Similar to what Jon said, I believe that mature teams can be self-organizing, as long as each participant knows each other’s strengths and can step up or back as needed when different tasks call for different expertise. You did outline great points about why the leader role is necessary in teams, though. So, whether formal or informal, it’s good to have someone to turn to for guidance and validation that the group is on track to a common vision, even if that leadership responsibility moves within the team.

  12. Thanks Alice for your great additions. I love how you talk about “self-organizing” teams knowing each other’s strengths. I also wonder if we need a leader to sometimes not only recognize a particular team member’s gift, but modeling ways to use it. I so appreciate you taking the time to read and comment!

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