How do you unite a divided team?

It’s fair to say we are in a unique position as a democracy in the UK right now. Our parliament is divided like never before and the world is watching one of the oldest and most respected democratic institutions fall apart. There is much debate around how this has happened and whether the fault lies with the leader, in this case, the Prime Minister, or in the team members, or the MPs, failing to do their jobs.

Whatever your political view, we thought it would be an interesting exercise to take a look at the three attributes most needed for a leader to be able to unite a divided team. The following is based on the views of three senior executives from our Grace Blue leadership team. Between them, they have conducted thousands of interviews with leadership candidates for many of the world’s biggest brands, media, advertising, and technology companies.

Juliet Timms, Founder

Find the binding factor

Even in the most divided team, there will be a common value. What is it? Why are you all there?  Understanding this will help you set a clear vision from which to set your core values.  When a divided team are all focused on one clear aim people begin to look forwards to what they are trying to achieve together rather than backwards at what they don’t agree on. This then needs to be rigorously reinforced, once agreed and you have buy-in from the team you need to stand by what you’ve agreed.  Changing behaviour takes time and needs constant reminding. This means acting if people don’t conform and not keeping ‘brilliant’ people who don’t fit with the culture or uphold the values and vision.

Having spoken to agency leaders, pitching is a great way to unite a team. James Murphy reinforced this when bringing together DDB and Adam and Eve: “Getting disparate groups working together on a pitch, sharing a similar endeavour and crusade is the most potent way of creating a united team”. People realise that it doesn’t matter where they have come from – the focus is where they were going.

Claire Telling, Joint CEO, Americas

Find a way to listen

Find a way to listen – not to what is necessarily being said but what is actually meant.  And communicate, communicate, communicate.  This means fostering transparency from the top ranks down – and setting a policy of zero tolerance for not respecting others.  United teams need a forum for an open and honest conversation and strong opinions, lightly held.  The right environment gives people permission to share their feelings in a well-constructed, positive (and moderated) environment.

Ian Priest, Global CEO

Leading doesn’t always mean being the one leading

Find one person, other than yourself, to articulate on behalf of the team what they see the shared purpose to be.  This will allow them to take ownership of what you are collectively trying to achieve. As Buster Dover, Managing Director at Zinc Network explains “You can challenge a group to unite, but it will fail if they have not been supported to do so”.  Allowing the team to pick their own internal champion to do this, and lead the vision alongside you, helps make this a reality.

Looking closer to home, it isn’t unusual for us to handle briefs to find leaders for roles facing a division of views. A team may be split on the direction of a company’s new launch of a product or service, or an agency may be wrestling with how to win new business or retain its most important client. What is clear from the views of our leaders on the topic is that any candidate in this situation need to demonstrate they have the ability to find the binding factor, to listen and to be open to others to taking a share of the leadership to succeed.

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