Who is your first team?

Not long before his retirement, a colleague and friend, John Cleary of BHP Steel, presented an outline of four different ways that a leader could actually understand their role in a team. These are represented in the following diagram.


Over the many years since John first outlined this model it has come to be called Cleary’s Framework and has found currency and value among clients throughout the world.

In Model A, the team leader / manager recognizes that s/he has a three-way responsibility: to be the leader and representative of the interests of the team of which they are manager (grey triangle), to accept responsibility for participating in the shared leadership of and considering the interests of the larger group (red triangle), and to accept responsibility for the leadership of those groups of his/her immediate peers.

However when it comes to a choice, the leader or manager will always subordinate the interests of their own group (grey) to those of a larger group (red). In other words, the interests of the larger system always trump the interests of the sub system. This is well expressed by Patrick Lencioni (in his book Five Dysfunctions of a Team) when he asks, “Who is my first team?”, that is the team to which I owe primary allegiance.

In my first team, I am there for my group, for the system as a whole and for the groups of my organizational brothers and sisters.

So many times, we see managers and leaders who mistakenly believe that it is their role and responsibility to act from Model B, that is, to be the voice and representative of the interests of the group over which they have formal responsibility. This is a sad and fallacious position to take for it always leads to silo patterns of management.

Model C occurs when a leader has become distracted from their role as leader and manager of their team and is now spending the bulk of their energy and time pursuing issues and concerns of the larger system. They have, in effect, abandoned their people.

Model D is political self-interest!

Where a leadership team operates within Model A and where each member realizes that this is their first team, not the “grey” group, then the functions of that group tend to become reasonably simple and clear, and include,

  • Members report at meetings only on performance exceptions for their own area and their people
  • There is transparency to all of the technical and financial performance of each member’s area of responsibility to all other members (often down outside meetings through electronic means)
  • The team spends some of its time when it meets making detailed inquiry into other members’ areas in order to …
    • Critique
    • Examine strategic variations
    • Offer and provide help
  • But it spends most of its time making strategic inquiry into the larger system, including, inter alia
    • Business drivers & context
    • Articulating the future, including preserving core intent
    • Examining core processes and their interaction
    • Take the long view and creating strategy
    • Identifying & planning imperatives
    • Risk management
    • Re-allocations, re-inventions and re-organizations
    • Proposals
    • Promotions across the system
    • Initiatives across the system
    • Learning

Understanding where your priorities lie is the first step to being a successful and productive member of a leadership team.

 Tim Dalmau

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