The Art of Leading Teams by Prof. Drikus Kriek

Prof. Drikus Kriek

The Art of Leading Teams is the title of a recently published book by the IEDC Dean Prof. Drikus Kriek. This book builds on previous frameworks and integrates insights from them; tries to capture the dynamic and complex world of teams in a heuristic framework; and navigate the challenges of offering a heuristic view on teams. It offers an integrated framework of what constitutes a team, and a perspective on the art of leading that builds on previous theoretical work in order to provide insights that can be used in a practical manner. The framework used to describe the art of leadership is called layered team leadership. The following excerpt from the book presents briefly the main idea.

Layered Team Leadership

Growing up amidst the open fields of the Free State in South Africa, the beauty of a rainbow has stayed with me all my life. This effect comes into existence through the refraction of light as what happens when white light enters a prism and is refracted.

prism Drikus

To help describe an integrated framework, we rely on this well-worn analogy of refracted light to illustrate the insights of layered team leadership. Each of the layers is represented by a separate colour of the rainbow. The seven elements of the proposed framework are a team's frame, foundation, functioning, forces, field, flow and fulcrum. Each of these will be introduced briefly to allow an overview of layered team leadership (LTL).


Every team, irrespective of its dynamics, is situated within larger systems and operates in a given environment. Events, trends and influences from this broader context, inevitably influence the performance of a team. Think of how economic cycles or changing social trends can influence the conditions wherein a team operates. While each team is situated within its own unique context, and interacts with its surroundings, it gets its mandate from this environment. It is helpful to think of the frame with a painting in mind. As a painting is positioned within its frame, so too does this layer indicate how a team's frame limits, reframes and contextualises the operations of a team. This is discussed as the first layer, and the colour red is used for this description.


The second layer articulates the team's mandate and composition as its foundation. The interrelated nature of these two elements determines the interplay between them. On the one hand, a team and can be given a commission to craft a mandate and then, in order to reach this vision, has put a team in place. On the other hand, a leader often gets a team with members already in place and they then have to jointly adjust or revise the mandate to determine the team's route forward. Both the composition of the team and its mandate ought to be aligned with the team's context. The foundation of the team (i.e. mandate and composition) will be the orange level of the team.


In a team, members interact, complete their tasks, and perform certain functions. These form part of the functioning layer (depicted in yellow) and consist of three interrelated elements, namely: taskwork, teamwork, and talkwork. The former refers to the actual tasks and functions each member in a team performs to complete his or her job. There is obviously an endless list of such functions, and in order for these tasks to be effective and beneficial to the team, certain teamwork activities need to be performed as well, viz. the processes a team needs to complete, and the coordination needed to execute its tasks. The third type of functioning refers to the communication or talkwork needed to enable interaction between members to allow teamwork and taskwork to take place.


The manner in which the team interacts allows some forces or states to emerge. Four types of emergent states can be identified, namely: cognitive-, affective-, behavioural- and psychodynamic (unconscious) states. Cognitive emergent states include shared mental states, transactive memory systems, situational awareness, and team learning, while affective states refer to feelings, emotions and moods as they manifest in a team. Behavioural states comprise generic team tasks, processes, and interactional patterns, while unconscious forces include aspects such as assumptions, authority, roles, and boundaries. This is the fourth layer, and will be depicted as blue in the rainbow’s colours.


This layer refers to the motivational conditions that must exist in the team in order to create a space wherein its members can thrive. Consistent with the basic thesis of LTL, this layer is aligned with and assumes the presence of other layers so as to allow for motivational conditions to be operative and useful. These motivational conditions offer a mindspace that members can step into in order to follow voluntarily, and to perform in order for the team to reach its goals.


The next layer refers to the team's development in time, and is determined by its alignment with its context and subsequent flow in time. As this alignment takes shape, the team develops through the following stages: configuration, generation, operation, transition, implementation, culmination, and termination. The sixth colour of the rainbow spectrum (i.e. indigo) is associated with this layer.


Leadership is enacted in the co-constructing efforts of the leader and followers. To facilitate this interaction, leaders act as fulcrum  in order to multiply the efforts of the team, to support it ,and to allow it to exceed expectations. This involves the leader as a person, or self, and the person as leader. It also refers to the space wherein the connection between followers and leaders takes place, that is, in a leadership ‘moment’, and focuses on how this co-constructing moment needs to be meaningful. Hereby, momentum is generated as leadership allows for both individual and team purposes to be pursued. The fulcrum layer also indicates that the role of leading a team requires mastery of dynamics associated with all layers. This is presented as the purple layer of refracted light.

The parallel layers can be seen below, each representing a different colour, as white light is refracted.


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