11 September 2019

Owning the Space Between Teams

The Orchestra Conductor as a leader analogy is not a new one. They develop and lead by inspiring the team to get better through relentless feedback loops during rehearsals and practice. But what resonates with me most about this analogy is that the conductor is visible but sufficiently detached so that they can continue to observe, support and guide the entire team. A conductor playing a tuba is only blowing their own horn.

When I think about the great leaders that I have had the opportunity to work with over the years they have all had the common trait of being able to develop relationships with internal and external stakeholders and flanking teams. They are constantly aware of the progress and location of each flanking team and understand the importance of the synchronisation of effort and effects. They dominate the space in between teams and have a 6th sense for pending friction or failure.

During a recent school performance that my daughter was performing at, the conductor analogy and my own thoughts on leadership crossed paths. In the final performance of the night, two school bands played at the same time, each with their own conductor. This is itself is unremarkable, but it was the constant non verbal cues between the conductors that got my interest. Both of the bands were great in their own right, however if they were not synchronised the final performance would have been a disaster. It was clear that each band member knew their task and how to best support each member of their own team,  no doubt through the relentless feedback from the conductor prior to show night. But once show night arrived, the conductor was no longer focused in, but focused out. She was looking for cues from the other conductor and their team, making adjustments and keeping the performance synchronised. She was dominating the space between the two teams.

Key Takeaways

1. Leaders earn their money in the spaces between teams. In order to support this your team must understand not only your intent, but how their combined effort assists the broader team to achieve the overall mission and vision.

2. Don’t focus all your energy looking inwards at your team, look outwards to synchronise efforts with peers and work together to identify and mitigate friction and failure. This is a multiplier in team effectiveness and is a large reason why I believe going back to basics is for amateurs. 

3. Develop the freedom to focus outwards by developing leaders within your own team. They can focus on the fault correction and development of basic skills and provide you the bandwidth to engage with peer leaders and flanking teams.

Written by : Ben Horton