Thursday, June 04, 2009


The overall level of power or effectiveness of any leadership team is governed by the alliance that exists within the team. Now when I say alliance, I'm referring to more than just the "team agreements" or "team covenant"--that document that many teams create to help foster alignment around a particular set of values or behaviors. Such agreements represent an important aspect of alliance, but they usually fail to name or address some of the deeper dynamics that actually run the team. For example:

  • How authentic and honest can we really be with each other?
  • How much fun and laughter is allowed in our meetings?
  • How wildly creative can we get?
  • How will we respond when one of us fails? How much failure will actually be tolerated?
  • How much/often can we lean into each other when we have a need?
  • How much challenge is allowed on the team? To what degree can we push each other to grow and how often can we do it?

An alliance is the set of mutual agreements, conscious or unconscious, that govern any team. A "team covenant" typically addresses the desired "rules of engagement" that a team strives for, but the alliance names the rules that are actually there--both the overt and the covert--and seeks to bring them all "into the light" where the team can make conscious decisions about how they authentically want to interact with each other.

Truth is, most team dynamics form unconsciously. They develop organically, or as I like to say, accidentally, over time. As you work together, unspoken/unconscious rules get established among you. Sometimes that leads to a very cool serendipitous experience. “Wow, what an powerful team we have!” Very often, however, an unconsciously formed alliance leads to frustration, stress or chronic tension on the team. Or perhaps worst of all, boredom. The vast majority of struggle or ineffectiveness on a team is not about willful resistance on the part of team members; it’s about an oppressive unspoken alliance--that is, unspoken "rules of engagement" on the team that foster antagonism among team members or shut down creativity.

If the alliance is weak, the team will not be powerful, even when the individuals making up the team are all brilliant, capable people. This is why designing a conscious alliance on a leadership team is so important.

What do I mean by conscious alliance? I mean, simply, taking time to honestly look at the dynamics that are actually present on the team, and then deciding as a team what you want to do about them. Here are some questions that can help a team uncover what some of these are:

  • Looking back over the last six months of our work together, what stands out to you about the overall dynamic (or "vibe") that exists on our team?
  • What do you like about our team dynamic? What doesn't work well for you?
  • What dynamic on the team tends to have you shut down or check out?
  • On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being "extremely") how wildly creative can we be as a team? Why do you suppose that is?
  • How much freedom is present for us to openly disagree with each other? Is there anyone on the team with whom we are not "allowed" to disagree?
  • How much challenge is allowed on our team? To what degree can we push each other to grow and how often can we do it?
  • What's missing in our team dynamic?
  • What do you want more of? what do you want less of?

Questions such as these help the team dig deep to uncover the often-hidden dynamics that actually govern the team's level of effectiveness and mutual enjoyment. It's important to explore questions like these every so often to ensure the team alliance is genuinely as powerful and life-giving as it can be.

As you think about your own leadership team dynamic, what jumps out at you? What shift or change in the team dynamic would take your team to the next level of fulfillment and effectiveness?

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