By Dr. Michael Watkins

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At any point in time, most leaders in large organizations are part of at least one team experiencing a transition in leadership or membership. That’s a surprising finding, but it’s true, and it has important implications for leading teams.

These days, executives are leading or participating in many teams. Why? Because organizational structures, such as matrix arrangements, have become more common, fueling a need to get things done through cross-functional and multi-specialty teams. I recently surveyed 40 leaders at the Vice President level at a global heath-care company on their involvement in teams. On average they were leading 2.7 teams and a member of 4.4 teams.

In another recent survey, I asked more than 100 participants in IMD’s general management programs about transitions on teams of which they were a part (see details below). Respondents were at the Director level (or equivalent in non-U.S. organizations) or higher.

Three quarters of respondents said they were on at least one team in transition! This means either the leader or at least one member had been in place for less than six months — the amount of time that our studies have shown it takes to get up to speed in a new role. Half the respondents were on a team where both kinds of transitions – leader and at least one member — were occurring.

Survey respondents who:

Percentage

Had inherited a predecessor’s team and were in their new role less than six months

21.4%

Were part of a team with a leader who was in their new role less than six months

18.4%

Were part of a team with one or more new peers who were in their roles less than six months

46%

Were leading a team with one or more reports (direct or indirect) who were in their roles less than six months

45.3%

 

What are the implications? First, leaders taking new roles often inherit teams that they must assess and reshape. Second, even if they are not themselves in transition, leaders often need to accelerate the integration of new team members or take existing teams in new directions. In both cases, leaders benefit if they have a framework for driving alignment, establishing shared operating principles, fostering productive dynamics, and building plans to accelerate impact.

To learn more, see Dr. Michael Watkins’s new Harvard Business Review article – Leading the Team You Inherit.

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