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12 October 2022

Do you have the skills to lead your team to triumph?

Dr Declan Woods, Professor of Leadership Practice, King’s Business School

Few of us are trained to lead teams yet it is a vital skill that can be learned

Six hands layered on top of each other above a work desk in a gesture celebrating the team
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Organisations need teams and teams need leadership. Yet few of us are adequately equipped to lead teams at work well. This article reviews why teams are vital to organisational success and the skills required to lead them.

The ascendancy of work teams

Many factors hail the ascendency of teams at work. According to INSEAD Professor Phanish Puranam, while traditional drivers such as globalisation and technology remain, human factors are increasingly central to organisational success. Newer drivers like responding to shifting employee expectations about how and when people work, the growth in knowledge work, and the rise of hybrid working all pose new challenges. Organisations need their team leaders to be able to respond to these while enabling their teams to continue to deliver and perform.

Teams need leadership

According to my enquiries, leadership is the single biggest determinant of whether a team will be effective and succeed. Yet many of us were promoted into team leading roles because we were great practitioners or strong individual contributors. Organisations assume we will know how to lead. Sadly, this is rarely the case. Few of us have been taught the skills of effective team leadership and so, when we take up a leadership role, we tend to do what we think is best, or copy what we have seen others do. At best, this improvised approach can be a poor use of time and resources and make little difference. Sometimes it can be damaging to our teams.

The good news is that effective team leading skills can be taught, learned, and perfected. With feedback and practice, managers can become competent and confident leaders of teams. As so much work takes place in teams, on KBS’s new executive MBA programme we place a premium on acquiring and honing team leading skills in real work challenges.

What skills are needed to lead a team effectively?

So what are some of these invaluable team leadership skills? The challenges teams face vary and require different responses from leaders. At the heart of these are the core skills of questioning and listening, communicating, feedback-giving, building psychological safety and trust, setting direction, managing competing priorities, and stakeholder management to name a few.

Alongside these, are challenge-specific skills such as containing anxieties, confronting and working through conflicts, dealing with setbacks, bolstering resilience, and sustaining success – and performance - over time.

Application of these leadership skills creates cohesive, co-operative teams that collaborate and work well together. I set out these skills – and the practices that will enable you to apply them to your team - in ‘The Triumphant Team’.

The promise of team potential

When teams at work perform, so do their organisations (Vandana Sharma et al, 2009.), and team leaders are instrumental to achieving this – if they know how. We should be equipping team leaders with these skills, not leaving them guessing their way forward.

Calls to action

  • What challenges are your team facing now and what do they need to overcome them? What do these mean for your leadership of the team?
  • Review your team leadership. Do you have the skills to lead your team to success? What practices are working well and delivering the desired results? What areas might benefit from further development and practice?
  • How will you acquire, practice, and leverage these skills to lead your team to triumph?

Further reading

  • Team design in the age of AI - in this 2019 INSEAD Lifelong Learning webinar, Phanish Puranam explains how using fine grained data about the interaction within an organisation could assist with organisational design
  • Why do willfully designed teams fail? The ICFAI Journal of Soft Skills, 2009 - Vandana Sharma and colleagues set out the factors leading to team dysfunction.
  • The Triumphant Team by Dr Declan Woods is available for pre-purchase now or on general release from 20 October 2022.


An Executive MBA is an investment in your future. But at King’s, an Executive MBA is an investment in everyone’s future

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In this story

Declan Woods

Professor of Leadership Practice