February 3, 2022

If the teams of teams structure is the organisational answer to the complex and dynamic 21st century world of work, what does that mean for leaders?

Leaders used to be the people with all the answers. Communication and knowledge cascading through the hierarchy, eventually reaching employees and teams once it had made its way through all the levels. Colleagues being told what to do, ideas and innovation often stifled by blocked communication channels, stuck in silos.

But in a world where teams need to be agile, innovative and efficient we need that knowledge to be shared and communication to flow freely. And the leader has a pivotal role in making this happen, especially in a teams of teams structure.


What does this mean for leaders?

In this agile world, the leader needs to become a connector across multiple teams, coaching and connecting people, sharing knowledge, skills and data. Additionally empowering team members to build their relationships with people outside the immediate team to get the business-critical work done.

In our teams of teams research, it’s called dynamic centrality. Dynamic because leaders don’t lead just one team, they’re moving around multiple teams. And centrality because they are the coach and connector, with a need to keep their head out of the weeds so that they can ensure there’s ongoing alignment and support for the bigger picture.

“The team leader needs to become untethered from a single team in order to become a leader of teams.”

Mark Ferguson, LIW Head of EMEA 

What does this mean for leaders and their teams?  

Psychological safety: Leaders will create an environment where colleagues are encouraged and empowered to share their expertise, innovate and challenge ideas. This means honest, meaningful communication and being ok with having uncomfortable conversations. Conversations where failure and feedback are discussed openly without fear of repercussion and are seen as an opportunity to learn.

“In any company that thrives in our complex and uncertain world, leaders must be listening intently, with a deep understanding that people are both the sensors who pick up signals that change is necessary and the source of creative new ideas to test and implement.”

Amy Edmondson, The fearless organisation

Experimental mindset: Leaders will need to embrace a learning or experimental mindset. Open to new ideas and taking risks, even if it doesn’t work. The focus is on continuous learning.

What is the data telling you?

Data is key. It’s too easy to fall back on assumptions, beliefs and past experiences in assessing the success or failure of an activity. Both having and using data will help the leader ensure that real lessons can be learnt to accelerate future performance across the team of teams.

What do leaders need to do to succeed in the teams of teams environment? 

To start embracing the ‘leaders and connectors’ approach to teams and leadership, we would encourage focusing on:

  • Ensuring there is clarity and alignment with the organisational context and direction.
  • Reinforcing the common ground that teams share, aligning teams behind the bigger picture and mitigating the potential for unhealthy competition between teams.
  • Opening up communication channels and actively share knowledge to create a learning environment.
  • Moving away from the traditional, hierarchical communication flow that can slow the flow of messages and lead to blockages.
  • Developing an agile, growth or experimental mindset that encourages innovation and experimentation.

Leaders as connectors: the future

Adopting a ‘leaders as connectors’ approach to leadership will help individuals, teams and organisations to thrive in a dynamic world. Leaders will encourage teams to share knowledge, empower employees to work collaboratively and a stream of bright, innovative ideas will emerge from different parts of the organisation.

Employees will be supported in taking risks in order to learn and grow. It’s a world where new teams are established, older teams evolve (or end) so that the business vision can be brought to reality.

To find out more about teams of teams, click here to download our 2021 LSE research insights or contact Andy Chevis, our Head of Design & Research or Juliet Hammond, our Research & Data Analytics lead. 



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