Difference that Makes the Difference

Posted on August 9, 2010


Moral Leadership, photo from http://www.freedigitalphotos.net

When moving on to head new teams, it is often tempting to dive in to find similarities between the new team and the previous team. Indeed, for some of us our previous team may be our only reference point for us to base any decisions or comparisons on. While it is certainly effective to find similarities between teams to guide our actions and decisions, more importantly it is crucial to note the differences between the teams that may potentially make the difference.

We have previously discussed the fatal mistake a leader or manager can make, of treating his new team as if it were his previous team. Building up on this, it is essential to note the differences between the teams in order to decide on what actions are appropriate, necessary, optional or irrelevant.

The differences may be categorized in the few categories:


The culture of the team refers to the setting of team, the background relationships and unspoken assumptions. It is crucial to note the variance in cultures in order to interact with a team appropriately. For instance, a consult-and-decide method of decision making would be effective for a culture that embraces the voicing of opinion, but would not fit a culture where everyone rather keeps to themselves. Employing the consult-and-decide method would not yield much results in the latter, and would do much better with the former. However, it is worthy to note that should you as a leader believe firmly in the consult-and-decide method, it may still be implemented, but this may only be done after the culture has been shaped.


Needless to say, different teams consist of different people. They not just possess different abilities and skills, but also often radically different personalities. An authoritarian style may work on one, but it would back fire horribly on others. Transactional leadership styles may work on some, but others may require a more transformational approach. The level of experience may also differ, some being much more experienced in what they do than others. The degree in which we rely on their inputs would depend very much on this.

Process and Systems

Unless it is a lateral transfer to a team with a similar job scope, the processes and systems different teams deal with are often very different too. The work of a sales team varies from an administrative team. The work of a customer service team varies from a managerial team. It is critical to realise this as we transit to lead teams working on different processes and systems. Some may require more rigidity, for instance, a customer service team, which must always be present to entertain customers, versus a sales team which may place a higher value on flexibility.

Too often, it is the failure to be sensitive to the differences that make the difference that cause a leader to fumble and fall back.

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