leadershipOrganisations can underestimate the courage that team leaders need in order to confront real issues that could undermine the performance of their teams, according to learning specialist Hemsley Fraser, which has created new guidelines to help team leaders and L&D practitioners.

Murray Furlong, head of UK learning solutions at Hemsley Fraser, said: “Very often cliques, who are sometimes friends outside of work, may exclude others in the team or treat them disparagingly. There may be in-jokes, ridicule, backstabbing, personal and derogatory comments or a blame culture may exist. Team leaders may be aware of these problems but if their team is meeting its targets, they may choose to sweep any problems under the carpet, rather than confront them head on.”

Hemsley Fraser cites several reasons why team leaders may choose to avoid a direct confrontation with members of their team. They may be embarrassed that an issue is occurring on their turf; they may be concerned about whether they have the skills and confidence to tackle it effectively; they may not want the hassle of pursuing a grievance against an individual or the headache of trying to dismantle a clique; they may be worried about the fallout if they open a can of worms or they may vainly hope that the issue will somehow blow over or resolve itself.

“There could be any number of reasons why team leaders don’t openly address the underlying problems in their team,” said Murray Furlong. “The ‘easy option’ is to call in HR or to ask L&D for a teambuilding intervention. This may well result in some level of short-term improvement. But addressing the symptoms of a team performance issue, not the root cause, will never fully resolve the problem.”

According to Hemsley Fraser, the single most important quality that makes a difference in this type of situation is courage.

“It takes a brave and skilled manager to surface veiled issues in a team, to confront behaviour and to navigate their way through all of the tricky conversations that can ensue,” said Murray Furlong. “Organisations don’t fully appreciate the courage that team leaders need but they really should acknowledge this if they want to achieve high performance. What if every team leader had issues of unproductive behaviour in their team that they didn’t feel comfortable addressing? How much improvement could be gained across an entire organisation if these issues were resolved?”

Hemsley Fraser has developed free guidelines to help team leaders to surface and confront difficult issues in their teams and to help L&D practitioners to provide the emotional and practical support that’s required. These guidelines can be downloaded from http://www.hemsleyfraser.co.uk/res/downloads/global/POV/courage.pdf

“Cliques are often disparaged in organisations as examples of silo-based thinking,” added Murray Furlong. “However, it’s almost a primal instinct for people to gravitate towards others who share their interests or point of view. Things can become unproductive if a clique becomes a gang or a mini fiefdom. But if you can accept that a clique has formed because those people are drawn together very naturally, you might be able to turn a potential negative into a positive. Instead of seeing cliques as detractors from the team’s ability to perform, look for what’s good about them and what they can bring to the team.”