Improving team performance by applying principles of the Complexity Leadership Theory | Modis

Improving team performance by applying principles of the Complexity Leadership Theory

Anny Fortin Posted 19 May 2020

In global matrix organizations, acting as a project leader or a consultant often involves leading and motivating teams without having formal hierarchal authority. In order to ease the process and help interdisciplinary teams to improve their performance, a designated leader can be inspired by the complex leadership framework. This framework presents leadership as the creation of an enabling interactive dynamic from which adaptive outcomes like learning, innovation, and adaptability can emerge.

The complex leadership theory identifies three broad types of leadership: (1) administrative leadership based on hierarchy, (2) enabling leadership, which facilitates the creation of favorable conditions for a team to optimally address problem solving, and (3) adaptive leadership, which is emerging from an informal generative group dynamic. Since a project leader has often no formal administrative power over the team members, he or she needs to be able to position him/herself in ways that influence their performance toward the desired outcomes. This while navigating the formal reporting lines and corporate priorities of the organization.

Creating and maintaining an optimal group dynamic is a key component to optimize team performance. Regarding that aspect, the selection of the team members is an important factor to consider. In fact, teams composed of individuals that are interdependent (e.g. they face a common challenge) but also diverse in their knowledge and expertise, are likely to be more productive to identify adaptive solutions. Once the right team is in place, the leader must learn to catalyze the informal emergence of “problem-solving networks” within his team. This can be done by facilitating formal and informal interactions between the team members, but also allowing external input. The goal here is to make sure creativity and knowledge can co-exist in a safe and transparent environment. In addition, a project leader must be able to coordinate the environment by removing operational constraints and roadblocks that could discourage or limit the action of the project team. To this end, project management tools (e.g. project plans, risk register, Gantts, etc) can be used to map, foresee and mitigate the emergence of such constrains and to improve the efficiency of the team. However, since a too rigid management can also put creativity at risk, some flexibility should be allowed by the leader to accommodate project changes, unforeseen new circumstances and potential innovations coming from the team members.

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Importantly, a strong project leader or consultant should be able to leverage the emergence of task-related disagreements to generate productive interactions that will allow the team to progress. More specific, instead of avoiding conflicts, a good leader will position them as opportunities to debate different perceptions of a given issue and to see beyond original assumptions. This to identify new solutions. Finally, a project leader should also have the capacity to recognize and champion good ideas upwards in the organization to influence top-down program decisions, and to realign the non-useful ones. This aptitude is key to give feedback to the team members with positive reinforcement and clear organizational framework, that will maintain their engagement and focus.

In summary, as an enabler, a good consultant or team/project leader uses its judgment, charisma and experience to understand and improve a team dynamic, to stimulate progress towards problem solving and innovations. However, his or her success will also reside in its capacity to resolve operational issues and keep the team members focused on the questions and challenges most likely to serve the organizational objectives.

Modis Life Science provides all its consultants with up to date training in project management. They also created internal incubators called Centers of Excellence, in which consultants of different seniorities collaborate on diverse internal initiatives to develop new best practices and also improve their leadership skills in a safe and interactive environment.

Anny Fortin,
Project Manager Life Sciences


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