A Personal Experience of Leadership and Teamwork in Practice

My Interest in Leadership

Over the past weekend I got to experience first-hand some of the characteristics of leadership and teamwork in practice. This was an interesting experience for me as I have a particular interest in Leadership-As–Practice. As a field of study, Leadership-As-Practice addresses how leadership practices are experienced and put into practice in everyday situations.

My husband and I participated in the World Rogaine Championships over the past weekend. Teams of two and three from across the globe gathered near PrebuŠ in the north-west of the Czech Republic for 24 hours to pit their wits against the elements, the cunning of the course designer and each other. The challenge was to locate as many of the 69 control points placed over an area of approximately 300km2 as possible. Point scores were allocated to each control point and the spoils went to the team with the greatest score over the 24 hours.

Where Teamwork and Leadership Come into Play

Here’s where team work and leadership come into picture: 24 hours on-the-go is a long time to concentrate, assess each situation and continually make decisions that directly impact both the safety and success of the team. Route choice over roller-coaster terrain in the middle of a forest has everything to do with how well the team can endure and reach its goals because team members are required to stay together at all times, or risk disqualification or having team members go missing in unknown territory. This requires the team instill and adhere to an effective system of leadership.

Our system involved my husband taking the lead on making route choices (his map reading skills are significantly better than mine are) and communicating to me what landmarks and targets to look out for. In turn, I took the lead on feeding back to him about our progress and making sure that hydration and energy levels were maintained.

This meant that as a team we could monitor both where we headed and how we were going to get there, if we each shouldered our designated areas of responsibility, taking initiative where necessary and getting opinion form the other as required. From this perspective, leadership and teamwork were intertwined and the outcomes of our adventure jointly constructed.

4 Leadership Lessons

I was reminded of 4 leadership and teamwork lessons related to this event:

  • Know where you are headed for and take the necessary initiatives to get there. Don’t follow where others are going just because it looks like they might be headed in the same direction as you. Keep your eyes on the path ahead of you and make your own decisions about the right path to take for your specific situation.
  • Recognise the difference between the those situations where consensus-based decision-making is appropriate and required, as opposed to those situations where expertise based decision-making by those best placed to take the decisions is needed. Decisions about route choice off a map are not conducive to consensus-based processes! This does not exonerate decision-makers from communicating what, how, when and why decisions based on specific technical expertise have been made.
  • Leadership happens because team members allow it. Confidence and assertiveness are key to making sure that team members' trust the decisions made. Second-guessing well-considered and informed decisions may well lead to a perception of indecisiveness on the part of team members.
  • Keep others’ possible perspectives in mind when the inevitable sense-of-humour failures occur - usually in the middle of the night when everybody is tired and feet are aching!

We’re All in this Together

Looking back on our recent Czech Republic experiences, the complex and interactive nature of teamwork and leadership again became apparent to me. Contrary to popular opinion, leadership cannot simply be reduced to simplistic leader-follower interactions. Instead, leadership is a dynamic and joint construction, by all involved in a given situation, of the most appropriate response to the particular context of that situation.

This was our experience, which may well contrast with what you think. What have you experienced and what opinions have you developed about the nature of leadership in everyday practice?  Please share your thoughts below.

Photo © R. P. Stolz - Fotolia.com

Twitter feed is not available at the moment.