This month’s faculty publication spotlight is on The Leadership of Teams: How to develop and inspire high performance teamwork by Mike Brent & Fiona Elsa Dent.

A note from the authors

Teams play a major role in many of our lives today but do we actually understand what a team is, how teams work and how you can get the best from your team? Based on our experience of working with managers all over the world we decided that it would be useful and interesting to explore the world of teams. In this book we offer a practical and comprehensive review of teams and teamwork, together with a range of ideas on tools and techniques for team success.  We offer new ideas and perspectives as well as revisiting some well-known theories and models. We also discuss how to deal with a broad range of issues that contemporary teams and their leaders face.  Topics include building trust, engaging the team, accountability, influencing, facilitating, coaching, conflict, and challenging behavior.

We believe that our book is equally relevant for team leaders and team members and will both refresh your knowledge and introduce you to some new ideas and thinking about leading, managing, and taking part in teams.


Book excerpt:  And Finally, The Future of Teams

We believe that, looking ahead, effective teams will have an even more important role to play in the future of work. The hierarchical approach to organizational structure is fast becoming obsolete because it does not respond quickly enough to the changes in our VUCA world, where we now face so-called “wicked” problems on an ever more regular basis. Some of the influences that we see affecting the future are described below.

Impact of the millennial generation in organizations

It’s interesting to look at both what Generation Y (those people born in the 1980s and early 1990s) and Millennials (those born up to 2002) want in terms of their jobs, careers and the type of relationship they want with their bosses. Our research at Ashridge tells us that they want:

  • Challenging /interesting work.
  • A coaching and mentoring relationship with their boss.
  • For their bosses to share their experience with them.
  • A friendly relationship with their colleagues – in other words, less hierarchical relationships.
  • Flexible working patterns.
  • Public acknowledgement of their success.
  • Technology-driven communication. 

All these things are important and relevant for team leaders to be aware of, and act upon, if they want to get the best out of their Generation Y colleagues. Unfortunately, it seems that many bosses are resisting these needs, and are actually thinking more about what they want from their Gen Y team members. The critical question is, how do we help Gen Y and Millennials become the effective team leaders of the future?

Multi-generational teams

Teams will be composed of different cultures and different generations. The challenge for the team leader will be to assimilate these different cultures and generations into an effective team with shared values and purpose. We know that many of the Baby Boom generation (those born between 1946 and 1961) and those who follow will have to work longer, possibly into their 70s and 80s. Professors Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott of London Business School have written a best-selling book about this subject called The 100 Year Life (published by Bloomsbury). The challenge for the Baby Boomers in these multigenerational teams will be to adapt to new ways of working, new technology, new roles – such as coaching and mentoring – and the fact that they may report to people from a younger generation. The challenge for the younger generations tends to be more in relation to skill development – in particular the interpersonal, relational and leadership skills.


The term ‘holocracy’ was coined by Brian Robertson, who is the founder of Ternary Software in the United States. He was experimenting with more democratic forms of governance and

distilled their best practices into a system that became known as holocracy. He published his book Holocracy in 2016. The website gives the essentials of this concept. We can summarize these as follows:

  • Roles are defined around work, not people.
  • Authority is distributed rather than delegated. Decisions are made locally and authority is distributed to teams.
  • Changes are made to the organizational structure on a regular basis, but they are done in small and rapid iterations, rather than large-scale change.
  • Rules are visible and transparent and everyone in the organization is bound by them, including the CEO.

Holocracy doesn’t work for every organization, but its principles are, in our opinion, more in tune with contemporary working practices than traditional organizational practices. We believe that this system will influence many organizations, though it will not be adopted by all.

Team processes

We believe that the way teams work together and are led will need to change radically in the future. Instead of teams having a single leader who is in charge, every single team member will have to have the ability to both lead and to follow. This will require team members to become skilled in processes like facilitation and change. The world is changing far too quickly for us to be able to ignore the collective intelligence of the team. The founder of Action Learning, Reg Revans, told us that learning had to be equal to or greater than the rate of change in the environment. The environment is certainly changing quickly so we need to focus on our ability to learn.

Operating in different types and roles in teams

In the future, we will each have a network of teams to which we belong. According to research, only 38 per cent of companies are organized by function, so there will be more and more crossfunctional, multi-cultural, virtual and multi-generational teams. Lesson from the military Former army officer and Olympic athlete Dominic Mahoney talks about the vital importance of training. No other teams train like the military. They spend 18–20 weeks a year in training, and the quality and intensity of training enable military teams to come together and perform very quickly. Training is seen as critical in the military, but how much training do we give our teams in organizations? In both sport and the military, 80–90 per cent of time is spent training and preparing, so that when the time comes to perform, the performance is automatic. You don’t need to think and reflect or get stressed, you just do it. But you can’t ‘just do it’ without the appropriate training and preparation. Unfortunately, this is a common error in teams in business. So although it is impossible to spend as much time in training as in sport and the military, perhaps there is a need to spend more time in order to achieve that higher level of performance. This will mean that we all have to develop our skills for working in different team types, with a variety of different kinds of people. Team leaders and team members will have to be skilful in their ability to collaborate, flex their style and relate to a wide group of people. In addition to this, it is becoming more common for reward systems to be much more team-based rather than individually based. This is a highly emotional area that will demand a step change in attitude and approach and will demand real skill on the part of the leader and the organization.


Engaged teams work more effectively: research by Gallup shows us that engaged employees have 22 per cent higher productivity, 65 per cent lower turnover and 41 per cent fewer defects. The challenge for team leaders will be how to keep team members engaged. Some of the key behaviours for team leaders to demonstrate in this area are: 

  • communication
  • listening
  • valuing
  • supporting
  • empathy
  • being target focused
  • having a strategic vision
  • showing active interest in the team members.

More teams

There will be more teams but they will be forming and disbanding more rapidly, so the skills required to create the team, help it get up to speed, perform effectively and then end it well will be at a premium. General Stanley McChrystal used the term ‘a team of teams’ to describe the new way of working he brought to the US military in the Gulf War. Harvard professor Amy Edmondson uses the verb ‘teaming’, to describe the fact that to work in a team is an active process. She also stresses the need for psychological safety in the team in order to allow team members to openly speak their mind. We believe that since teams will be the way of working, the aspects such as psychological safety will be important for the team leader to take into account.


All in all, there are a number of challenges facing teams, team members and team leaders. Those with a learning orientation and the desire and skill to collaborate effectively will find that working in great teams is rewarding and satisfying.



Excerpted from The Leadership of Teams, by Mike Brent and Fiona Elsa Dent, published by Bloomsbury Publishing PLC. Purchase a copy here.

About the authors

Mike Brent is a Professor of Practice and Adjunct Faculty at Ashridge Executive Education at Hult International Business School.  He specializes in helping managers develop people leadership skills and in creating high performance teams. Mike has co-authored six books on leadership and works with managers from numerous countries. Mike teaches on several leadership programs at Hult as well as on custom programs. He holds dual French and British nationalities.

Fiona Elsa Dent is a Professor of Practice and Adjunct at Ashridge Executive Education at Hult International Business School.  Fiona has a portfolio career and works with a range of clients and organisations as an independent trainer, executive coach and consultant. She is also the author of  12 books and various research reports and articles.  She teaches and coaches on a variety of Ashridge programs on areas including influencing, leadership, interpersonal skills, team working and coaching.



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