Aiming for team excellence? Make yourself dispensable as team-leader.

You are a fast-rising team leader intent on learning strategy & the big picture. You get feedback that you need to focus on helping team members get better at operations. How does that feel?

A bit frustrating, of course. 

It is like halfway up the mountain, you are looking at the summit, charting your own route and then, you are asked to retrace your steps and climb down to base-camp.

Is there something you can do, something different?

Yes, you can.

Be strategic about the whole thing itself. Yes, you are asked to work on tactical excellence by helping your team members. But no, you need not get tactical in your approach.

Be strategic. Create an elaborate & systematic plan of action. 


Tactical is doing things one at a time with each member. Believing that I have to myself sit down with each and help them learn the ropes.

Strategic is refusing to accept that you have to do this all by yourself. Instead you ask, how can I get them to learn largely on their own? That does not mean they are doing it all alone without any guidance from you. You will play a facilitator’s role. By using the power of structure and process, you make them get better.

Here are three action-steps.

1) Create job aids – In emergency rooms at hospitals, a diagnosis flow-chart helps the doctor on duty perform quick initial diagnosis when every minute matters. The doctor knows the stuff. The job aid makes his work super-quick to execute and flawless in terms of process adherence. At that stage of medical treatement, that is what is required.

You can create a basic job-aid for any work that is a result of a defined structure and/or a process. Be it written articles, training modules, performance appraisals or sales presentations. Job-aids can be process flow-charts, check-lists, prototypes, FAQs, even mentors or role-models. You imagine your role-model in the situation and you get your answers.

People don’t make as many job-aids because they are either lazy or have high-fangled notions of their work being too creative. Job aids take time but are absolutely worth it.

2) Build mutual learning & teaching into their job – Imagine your complete work to be made of different pieces of the work-puzzle. Chances are that different members are good at different pieces. You are probably the team leader not because you are good at all pieces ( you may or may not be), but you know how all the pieces fit. When people are good at different pieces, why not enable them to coach and train each other. You can make this mutual learning a job responsibility by telling them they will be appraised on this result area. Informally – if your formal performance measurement system is yet to get there.

Now, you need to facilitate the whole thing.

How do you begin?

Develop learning processes or create stretch assignments. In these spaces, those who are domain experts learn how to teach people with different capabilities and learning styles. Those who are learners will in turn learn how to best leverage the presence of experts by asking the right questions & following a systematic process.

What are you learning yourself while doing all this?

To learn how people learn is what you learn as a team leader.  You also learn how to integrate new learning into performance. You learn to enable your team to learn and perform at the same time. You learn to leverage team learning.

And what else can be done?

Recruit the right resources & specialists. Institute new work processes. Experiment with routines. Peer coaching. Facilitation workshops using a facilitator who helps improve team performance. Leverage NLP in modelling performance.

As the team-leader, you lead by building learning into your own job.

3) Make yourself dispensable – In doing both things – job-aids and building mutual learning & teaching- you are almost making yourself dispensable to your team. I say almost, because you are still the one who knows how the different pieces of the work-puzzle fit.

Ironically, if you have done justice to both tasks, three things happen

  1. Your team members eventually figure out how the pieces fit – on their own!
  2. You become dispensable for your team.
  3. You become indispensabe to your organisation.

After all, you have learnt to become a people-developer – something which strategic leaders at the top need to be. That’s a strategic outcome. Made possible by working on tactical stuff.



One thought on “Aiming for team excellence? Make yourself dispensable as team-leader.


    Just to act as a precursor to 3 action steps:

    It is commonly seen that a few team members may not be clear about their vision itself which a good team leader should make them understand in first place.
    If they have clarity of thought then they may figure out innovative and better ways to tackle the issues, something which existing protocol may be lacking. And they may help set up new standards.
    Needless to say, this is just the half battle won.

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