Team Leadership and Decision-Making: Developing a Culture of Trust, Shared Vision and Team Learning

There is a growing trend where organizations are embracing a transformation from individual to team-based leadership structures (Ashauer & Macan, 2013). Research has shown that teams have notable advantages over individual decision makers. Individuals can miss important details, make more mistakes, operated from a limited perspective, and may even be reluctant to discuss problems with others. Developing a team dynamic where issues are openly discussed, evaluated, and decided upon is important for organizational health and better decision-making. 

However, just because an organization decides to share responsibility and authority in the decision-making process does not guarantee that the team will be able to successfully work together. Here are three important steps to help your team work together. 

1. Develop a Culture of Trust

In order to be effective at leading and decision-making, teams need to develop a culture of trust and competence. Teams must learn to trust each other. Trust is the foundation of all leadership. The greatest hindrance to teamwork is a lack of trust with senior leadership or within the members of the team.

To maximize the benefits of a team approach, team members must feel free to share their opinions and openly discuss even the most sensitive issues, without fear of reprimand. For a team to discover new innovations, gaps in their plans, and adapt to change, team members must challenge assumptions and discuss differences of opinion openly rather than privately or outside of the group (Ashauer & Macan, 2013). “People’s beliefs about how others within a team will respond (by either judging or supporting them) will affect their willingness to take interpersonal risks and engage in learning behaviors, such as discussing differing viewpoints openly” (Ashauer & Macan, 2013, p. 547). The team is your best source of new innovations and identifying red flags to existing practices. One of the best investments senior leadership can make is to create a culture of trust where people feel safe to express new ideas and disagree in a healthy way. But this will not automatically happen in a team setting unless the group has developed a safe environment to speak openly. Psychological safety is important in teams to enable members to take risks, discuss differing opinions, and engage in learning behaviors. Organizations that enable teams to feel safe taking risks and speaking up will have a strategic advantage over their competition that still operates in the rigid “yes man” cultures of the past. (Ashauer & Macan, 2013).   

2. Develop a Shared Vision

Teams need to do more than manage people and manage problems. Teams need to be united in leadership, transitioning from simply a problem solving body to a strategic thinking and planning group. To lead effectively, the team must have a shared vision that helps the organization create commitment among the group and pull individuals toward the envisioned future state (Olson & Simerson, 2015). Another obstacle to effective team leadership is a divided leadership core. When team leaders have a differing vision of the future, they will pull the team apart with bickering, political positioning, manipulation, and stalemate tactics. It is critically important for the leadership to focus on the shared aspirations of the team and identify the united vision for the future. Establishing a compelling vision for the team helps others visualize the future in terms of desired outcomes and team accomplishments (Olson & Simerson, 2015).

Effective leaders help the team envision the future, creating an ideal and unique image of what the organization can become. By incorporating the hopes and aspirations of others, people can enlist in a shared dream about the future (Posner, 2016). Top-down visions seldom energize change efforts because what people really want to hear is not the leader's vision but how their own aspirations will be met and how their dreams will come true, their hopes realized (Kouzes & Posner, 2010). People need to see themselves in the picture of the future that the leaders are painting for the team. The very best leaders inspire a shared vision for the team and do not sell their own idiosyncratic views of the world (Kise, 2012). When the leadership team embraces a shared vision of the future, they are identifying the agreed upon destination and will all pull in the same direction. This will save so much time and stress during the team decision-making process because the group’s decisions will be consistent with the common goals and target destination. 

3. Develop Team Learning

Effective team leadership requires that decisions are truly group decisions that arise from group consensus rather than just a majority vote or agreeing with the “boss”. Teams make better decisions as they learn, process information, and discuss options together. Team learning involves working together to review situations and gain mutual understanding (Olson & Simerson, 2015). Researchers Kostopoulos, Spanos and Prastacos (2013) have theorized that team learning originates from individual members and takes shape at the team level through the four sociocognitive processes of intuition, interpretation, integration, and codification. Learning in teams emerges collectively and not just from the simple aggregation of individual experiences (Kostopoulos, Spanos & Prastacos, 2013). 

a. Intuition

Intuition begins with the individual and is described as preconscious recognition of patterns and possibilities inherent in a person’s stream of experiences (Kostopoulos, Spanos & Prastacos, 2013). You do not want to erase the diverse identities, experiences, and wisdom of the individuals on your team. They are on the team for a reason. You need their creativity and unique perspectives. Do not turn them into “yes men” and rubber stamp votes approving all you “amazing” ideas. The best teams have a rich source of individual experiences and specialized training that help them recognize deeper issues, identify golden opportunities, and make informed decisions from their personal experiences.

b. Interpretation

The second phase of team learning is when the group moves from individual intuition to group interpretation. While intuition focuses on the subconscious development of individual insights, interpretation links the individual and team levels through conversation and dialogue (Kostopoulos, Spanos & Prastacos, 2013). Interpretationinvolves explaining one’s intuition to others on the team through healthy and productive dialogue. There is room for disagreement, so long as it is healthy and productive. It is the dialectical interaction within a group context, through which individual members share and refine their intuitions, negotiate meaning, and build a common language (Kostopoulos, Spanos & Prastacos, 2013). Through interpretation, members formulate their cognitive strategies and develop their unstructured ideas and feelings. The interpretation process facilitates the development of shared understanding among the team members, enabling them to see things in the same way (Kostopoulos, Spanos & Prastacos, 2013). Interpretation connects the individual team member to the team as a whole.

c. Integration

The third process occurs when interpretation gives way to integration at the team level. Once intuitive insights have been translated into a shared group interpretation, they can be integrated into the activities of the team (Kostopoulos, Spanos & Prastacos, 2013). Through continuing group discussion, members of the team evaluate ideas and offer potential solutions upon which all team members participate with a single focus of what is best for the organization. It is very rewarding to see individuals working together, moving from an individual perspective to a team approach. People begin to evaluate the available options in terms of what is best for the team and put self-interests behind group success.

d. Codification

Finally, the collective dialogue, agreements, and knowledge created in the course of the interactions among team members begins to be codified so that the learning produces workable outcomes (Kostopoulos, Spanos & Prastacos, 2013). Codification is the critical step to creating the group knowledge and producing new ways of thinking for the team as a team. It is at this stage where we see the entire team learning process solidifying into a unified leadership effort. Kostopoulos, Spanos and Prastacos (2013) conclude that codifying what has been learned helps the team to think as a unit and work together for cooperative outcomes.  

Taken together, the team learning process allows team members to work together, communicate and share knowledge, transforming their individual intuitive perspectives into group priorities, and influence each other toward a uniform interpretation of their team assignment. (Kostopoulos, Spanos & Prastacos, 2013). Variations in individual perceptions tend to dissipate, as only those interpretations that are accepted by all members will remain as a part of the shared team understanding (Kostopoulos, Spanos & Prastacos, 2013). As this shared understanding is repeatedly enacted by the group learning process, the team begins to develop solidarity and group identity. Intuition, interpretation, integration, and codification are different sociocognitive processes that affect and complement each other and, jointly, compose team learning for a better group dynamic and decision-making process (Kostopoulos, Spanos & Prastacos, 2013). 

As leadership groups develop a culture of trust, emphasize shared vision, and practice team learning, they will create an environment for innovation, effective decision-making, and strong leadership, as a unified strategic planning team. 

Brent Daub

Senior Partner @ Gilson Daub, Inc. 


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Kostopoulos, K.C., Spanos. Y.E. & Prastacos, G.P. (2013). Structure and function of team learning emergence: A multilevel empirical validation. Journal of Management. Vol. 39 No. 6. 

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