Evaluation Teams Week: What’s your (leadership) style? by Jennifer Obinna

Hello! I am Jennifer Obinna, Ph.D., M.S.S.W., and I lead evaluation teams at The Improve Group, a research and evaluation consulting firm in St. Paul, Minnesota. Whether I am leading an internal team that reports to me or a collaborative team with clients and community partners, I look for ways to share power so that everyone can contribute their best.

My approach to leading teams has three dimensions: facilitative leadership, building on strengths, and supporting collaboration.

Facilitative leadership” is my preferred style, because it supports a collaborative environment. Sometimes people compare and contrast characteristics of facilitative and hierarchical leaders this way:

  • Hierarchical leaders assume top-down authority, know what to do, seek the “right” decision, and rely on individuals.
  • Facilitative leaders assume the power of the team as a unit, know the various “how to” methods, seek team ownership, and rely on the team’s collective ability to take action.

Facilitative leadership is important when you want buy-in, adaptability, and creativity from the team. In our work, we are seeing a shift to facilitative leadership because it is dynamic and empowered.

Lesson Learned: Build on strengths and passions

In our team discussions, we often think about how some tasks come easily to us, while others take more time and effort to master. We can liken this to using one’s dominant hand compared to the non-dominant one. Knowing what comes easily to each team member and which tasks will take longer helps us think through task assignments and what kind of support team members will need to succeed.

Similarly, we pay attention to which tasks make us feel energized and which leave us feeling cold and depleted. A team member may be competent at tasks that leave them uninspired. Others may have a passion to learn something new, but need more time and coaching as they master new skills. Paying attention to strengths and passions helps develop team members individually, shows the team how to support each other with a balanced workload, and allows teams to thrive.

Lesson Learned: Support collaboration

At its best, collaboration is a form of co-creation. Early in a project is a fertile time to collaborate. We start each workplan with a sketch. Instead of having one team member responsible for the initial sketch, we encourage all team members to brainstorm ideas to define and refine the actions together. This connects team members to the work and creates better products and outcomes.

Rad Resources

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Evaluation Teams Week. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

1 thought on “Evaluation Teams Week: What’s your (leadership) style? by Jennifer Obinna”

  1. Hi Jennifer,

    I really connected with your comments about facilitative leadership and how the focus on inclusive drives levels of motivation to increase performance and positively impact faculty culture and morale. As leaders, one of the key responsibilities of good leaders, in my opinion, is creating an environment and plan for leadership succession to avoid any gaps should situations arise. Facilitative leaderships promotes creates a more inclusive environment and I too, benefitted from my first employers/Principal who was tremendous at this……”facilitative leadership.”

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