Leading Teams with Individuality and Connection – Supporting a Constellation

The employee-organization narrative is being rewritten.  The story that began, “Once upon a time, an employee commuted into the office at 9 am” is now a choose-your-own adventure story.  And employees are choosing – in spectacular fashion.  Choosing their hours, their days and, as we’ve seen in the quit rates, who they want to work with-and-for.  Smart and sensitive leaders are noticing the shift and reshaping their approach.  No longer is the leader the sun around which team members’ orbit.  Instead, leaders need to create constellations – loose connections of shining stars that, grouped together, take shape and purpose.  

Teams defined by physical footprints are a thing of the past – teams that exist within movable and permeable boundaries are the future.  Teams are no longer created not by boxes on an org chart, but by connecting-the-dots.  Like that constellation of stars, each team member shines individually and, along with the other stars, forms a larger entity.  Constellation leadership – leadership that recognizes it’s not about the boundaries created around people, but about the connections made between them – will light the future of leadership.

If they are going to keep up, leaders need to challenge their thinking about job conditions, and they need to challenge their thinking more broadly about what it means to lead a team and balance the individuality of their people.  

Individuality, Connection, Communication

Individuality – The number one benefit employees cited about working in a remote and hybrid work environment is “flexibility.”  But it’s not flexibility for flexibility’s sake.  It’s the fact that flexibility allows employees to manage their lives and their work as individuals.  Employees want the latitude to meet the demands of their job and their personal lives on their own terms.  The absence of a commute saved time and money.  People restructured their lives and found they could not only fulfill personal goals, but also get their jobs done.  That individuality is not something they are willing to give up – because they don’t need to.  Leaders are the ones who need to flex with their employees and continue to offer them the autonomy they crave to manage their work and their personal lives on their own terms.  

Leading the future with a respect for individuality means being comfortable with employees choosing the parameters of their work – days, hours, and location.  It means empowering people to choose how they use their time – to attend to childcare needs, exercise, pursue a hobby or side hustle and trusting they will still deliver the way you need them to.  It’s also about leaders who are flexible in how they think – about personal and professional development, self-care, and mental well-being.  Leaders of the future worry less about organizational structure, and more about incorporating the contributions of others – regardless of where they sit geographically or hierarchically.

Connection – Employees value the autonomy that often comes with individuality but the miss connection.  Are they contradicting themselves?  No – not really.  They want, and need, both.  Individuality is not isolation and employees crave connection on multiple levels – to other human beings, their larger team, and to the purpose of the work they do.  This can be harder to find working autonomously.

When individuals come together as a team, they create something bigger than themselves.  The role of the leader, then, is to facilitate connection – to organizational goals, to career opportunities, to resources, to each other.  

Connecting is critical for collaboration, getting the work done, and to foster a sense of belonging and community.  Given their vantage point in the organization, leaders have a unique opportunity to connect their team members to other people within, and outside of, their own team.  They hold the view of the larger shape and purpose the team is creating when they keep folks focused on their goals.  And they can provide insight into where they fit in the organizational universe.  Leader as connector has never been a more apt or multi-faceted role.

Communication – Finally, the most powerful skill a leader has is communication and leading individuals and connected team members requires an elevated approach to communication.  Flexible and autonomous work, done well, require a steady stream of two-way communication to make sure individuals, teams, and leaders are in sync on what needs to get done and how that work is getting accomplished.  It’s not about micromanaging, but about mutual accountability for contributions and results which can be supported by strong communication.  And communicating for connection means leveraging the right technology for the message and listening not just for the content – but the tone, the energy, and the subtext.  It will require tried and true skills of communication – applied in a virtual and digital setting.  

Leading a loose collection of employees is not easy – and it still feels uncomfortable for many leaders.  It requires trust and positive intent.  It means respecting individual definitions of what “good” looks like.  The future of leadership will be marked by leaders who move, integrate, reach out, and coordinate.  Leaders who connect team members to each other, to company goals, to their career aspirations, and, above all, to their shared humanity.