Leadership wake-up call: how’s your team’s orientation?

Posted 18 September 2023 by
Vanessa Bradford

5 min. read

Productive, proactive work teams have some pretty important things in common. 

For starters, they have good communication and a willingness to collaborate. While it may seem like those things fall into place naturally, luck usually has little to do with it. In reality, it takes intentional effort from both the manager and the people within the group.

The most high-performing teams also tend to be pretty inclusive. In general, they incorporate different perspectives, whether they’re in problem-solving mode or just brainstorming. This leads to better, more well-rounded decisions and a shared sense of accomplishment. On successful work teams, everyone feels like their contributions matter. At the organizational level this translates to:

It’s important to remember that this kind of bottom-line growth doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a byproduct of a work environment that goes beyond a “just get it done” approach. Traditionally, organizations and leaders have focused a tremendous amount of energy on tasks and productivity. While those things are important, their overemphasis results in burnout, turnover, and resentment. Instead, the most successful work teams are led by people who do their best to understand group dynamics on a deeper level.


Team orientation is a hidden element that affects success in the workplace

As we learned in a previous blog, there are several psychological factors of successful teams – and some of them aren’t always obvious. Trust is one hidden element of team success. More observable elements (like communication or adaptability) are essential too, but they only tell part of a team’s story. In fact, Dr. Martin Boult has studied these elements of team success for several years. He’s a psychologist, an expert on teams, and the senior director of professional services for The Myers-Briggs Company’s Asia Pacific region. Here’s the wake-up call he has for leaders:

“If leaders don’t know how to identify [hidden] issues, or don’t have the skills to raise these concerns with their team, then these hidden dynamics result in unhelpful and unproductive behaviors. If teammates don’t understand differences between themselves, the outcome is likely to be unhelpful or disruptive behaviors. Things like people not sharing information, absenteeism or presenteeism, or even people ganging up on each other in the team. Of course, no one easily acknowledges doing these things, but they show up in team behaviors and can then become team norms. It’s about making all the hidden stuff conscious. Team members must learn how to leverage their similarities and differences, not just tolerate them, in order to achieve the best possible results.”

In addition to trust, team orientation is another hidden element of success that Dr. Boult has studied. The idea here is that under the surface of every group is a sense of camaraderie and team spirit – or lack thereof. 

When team orientation is low, goals and projects get easily overshadowed by individual agendas or quests for personal recognition. When team orientation is high, however, members are motivated by their group dynamic. They find their stride, work toward a common goal, and act in the best interest of the team. In this case, even disagreements or conflict won’t compromise the overall commitment to the group or to the tasks at hand. 

Imagine a team of IT employees at a company where managers actively value and practice team orientation. They do this by encouraging everyone to regularly share their expertise, knowledge, feedback, and resources with one another. Any time a conflict or problem arises, people offer their support and help however they can. 

Now imagine this team gets an urgent 4:00 p.m. call from a customer. A virus was detected on several computers. The team works diligently until the issue is fully resolved. Some end up staying late and some head home to work remotely. Because they have high team orientation, no one feels resentful. Instead, members remain understanding and collaborative throughout the entire problem-solving process. 

When the customer compliments their good work, members celebrate collectively. While individual contributions are certainly recognized, everyone understands that their personal successes are intertwined with the team’s. This sense of mutual respect and shared responsibility improves the team’s overall orientation and sets them up for more wins in the future.

How to build team orientation at work

One of the best ways for managers to boost team orientation is to engage in inclusive leadership. This creates a work environment where people feel valued and respected. And it’s especially helpful for bringing hidden psychological dynamics to light. Dr. Rachel Cubas-Wilkinson (principal organizational development consultant for The Myers-Briggs Company and an expert on inclusive leadership) agrees:

“There's a lot of research that shows we want that recognition and appreciation from our direct managers. We want our direct manager to know, ‘What are my strengths, what are my motivations, my behaviors, and how might they be different from somebody else?’ And it's a tall order for leaders to be able to figure that out, but I think that's how it kind of exists from an individual standpoint. Once you take it up a notch, I think teams are often plagued with challenges that can be rooted in inclusion. Sometimes I work with teams that are suffering from siloed communication, lack of trust, lack of openness with each other. Maybe they're even hoarding information from each other. And when you really dig into it, it's because they haven't felt those inclusive practices towards each other, right? I need to feel safe enough as part of a team that my voice is going to be heard, that it has an equal platform, that I can depend on you like you can depend on me.”

Dr. Cubas-Wilkinson goes on to say that the concept of inclusive leadership is clearly beneficial, even to leaders who aren’t fully inclusive yet. However, there are some roadblocks – like lack of self-awareness (for both the leader and the team members). In the next post, we’ll dive into how to enhance self-awareness in the workplace. We’ll also explore some of the more visible elements of team success, including conflict, adaptability, and constructive communication. In the meantime, here are some helpful resources on effective, inclusive leadership:


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