“Helping students know something is not at all the same thing as helping students be something” (Frye, Taylor & Stafford, 2017)

When I read this statement recently it challenged me as a professor of graduate studies.  I aim to create self awareness that leads to personal and professional transformation through the discipline of leadership studies. But how does one teach team leadership?  Sure, you can list the necessary conditions of effective teams and read great authors like Patrick Lencioni on The Ideal Team (2016) but how can one facilitate transfer of this head knowledge? I recently tried something new in my class – instead of focusing on effective teams I focused on what can go wrong and what to do to mitigate or prevent that.  It was a more engaging and focused approach because, I would venture to say we’ve all been part of teams that have gone wrong!

I asked students to read Northouse chapter 14 for pre-reading – the chapter is about team leadership.  Essentially it explains 8 conditions for team effectiveness:

  1. Clear, Elevating goal
  2. Results-driven structure
  3. Competent team members
  4. Unified commitment
  5. Collaborative climate
  6. Standards of excellence
  7. External support and recognition
  8. Principled leadership

In class I asked them to work in teams of 3 or 4 to list why teams fail.  They listed their top one on the top of poster which was affixed to the wall. They then participated in a ‘gallery walk’ where they went to each poster for a few minutes and brainstormed solutions together, noting them on the poster.  We had 5 posters (5 reasons teams fail) and by the end of the 25 minute gallery walk, a lot of proactive solutions. Then I had the original group report out a synthesis of all the ideas that were added to their poster.

We spent some time talking about restorative conflict management and contrasted this with conflict resolution. The main difference is that ‘resolution’ is about fixing the problem while a restorative approach is about restoring relationships and, through that, addressing the problem. You can guess which is more time consuming, difficult, messy and yet more effective, authentic and enduring.  (Hint: Restorative Conflict management)

To conclude, I had students reflect on their self-assessment (we use the Birkman) and particularly focus on the aspects related to team leadership skills so that they could make a personal plan for how to improve in this area of leadership.  Students are in work contexts where they can apply these ideas or may apply for an internship to get experience in organizational behaviors in the Canadian context.  In a subsequent course they do experiential team building exercises such as a ropes course and rowing. This is also a very effective approach that builds on the foundational concepts we explore in this lesson.

Personalizing leadership learning helps students become leaders.



Frye, S., Taylor, J. & Stafford, A. (2017) The First Fifteen Minutes: Learning engagement, learning resistance, and the impact of initial teacher-student contact. in Wang, C. X. (2017). Theory and Practice of Adult and Higher Education. Information Age Publishing Inc. p. 342.

Lencioni, P. (2016). The Ideal Team Player: How to Recognize and Cultivate the Three Essential Virtues: A Leadership Fable. Hoboken, New Jersey: Jossey Bass.