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The Team Leader Role: Making it Work!

I recently caught up with a client, the CEO of a $30 million rapidly growing disability service. It had been 12 months since I’d facilitated a Culture Masterclass for his business and I was keen to hear how their Culture Action Plan had progressed.

A priority area that emerged from our work together was the need to restructure the business. The organisation had grown by more than 250% in less than four years and the senior leadership team had become removed from the core business, creating significant communication and service issues.

People had become “too busy” with tasks and activities and there were several poorly defined accountability arrangements. All of this meant unsustainable pressure at one of structurally weakest points – the Team Leader role.

Why the Team Leader role is the canary in the mineshaft

Under the NDIS, the Team Leader role became one of the three key organisational stress points for most traditional disability providers.

The pandemic’s impact on this role has been to exacerbate an already unworkable position description. (I could go into all the reasons why, but that would take up the whole post.)

Whether you’re building a bridge or a business, your structure is only as strong as its weakest point. So if you’re nodding your head and concerned about your Team Leaders, chances are there are bigger issues to address than just a position description.

What this CEO did

It was impressive to hear how far this CEO’s organisation had evolved since we first met. In a little over a year, my client (who prefers to remain anonymous) has successfully implemented a values driven change management strategy that included a whole of organisation structure review:

  • He began by revisiting the core purpose of the organisation: to provide high quality disability support services to a growing client base.

  • He revisited the core purpose of the team leader role: to ensure a consistently high quality client experience.

  • In line with their value of transparency, he distributed a ‘Change Proposal for Consultation’ to all employees, outlining a proposed new organisational structure, the reasons for it, the roles it would affect and the options available to those employees. It also outlined how employees could provide feedback, anonymously or otherwise.

  • From there, it was clear that there needed to be a new role to provide professional development and support to team leaders. He created the role of Disability Support Service Manager [DSSM] as a new organisational building block. It now reports into the Executive Manager Operations (one of 4 EMs on the Leadership Team). Each DSSM oversees 3-4 Team leaders, a rostering team, about 40 staff and 3-4 SIL sites. This new building block provides a strong and scalable model for future growth into new regions. Team Leaders focus on daily client supports and services, while the DSSM provides leadership and mentoring to all staff assigned to those clients.

  • He created another new role to ensure a clear CEO line-of-sight to the actual client experience. Two Client Support Service Managers now report directly to the CEO. This role manages initial client intake before handing the client responsibility to the DSSM. They check in with every client at 3 months and 9 months into their plan.

Making it work

The key learning here is to let your core purpose actively guide more tough decisions. So if your Team Leaders are burning out then it's helpful to ask some bigger questions, such as:

  • What is our core purpose and mission?

  • What is the core purpose of the Team Leader role? (this question works brilliantly for any role really)

  • How do we ensure a clear line of sight from the CEO to frontline service delivery? Never forget that in disability (health and aged care) the frontline IS the business.

Back to my client: I’m delighted to say, that this disability organisation is structurally robust and has become one of the fastest growing providers in their state. Their culture work continues as they expand their new recruit pipeline and embed their values into every aspect of the employee experience.

I hope you found this post helpful. These days my focus is on supporting leaders with 1:1 remote business coaching. If you’re a CEO struggling with internal culture or communication issues email for a confidential, no charge zoom chat.

Culture moves forward one conversation at a time.


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