Team ambassador

One role that you serve as a leader is as an ambassador for your team. Just like a country's ambassador represents the interests of one country to another, you represent your team to other teams.

This ambassador, or liaison, role is not limited just to formal managers. Depending on your team, several or all of your team members may be leaders in building relationships and working with other teams in your organization.

If you have a formal management role, you have some predefined teams where you will be the ambassador. One team is your own team: The other managers who share the same second-line manager as you. Ideally you can share resources with your peer managers. Budget dollars can almost always be shared. You can share people to provide backup when you need it for coverage – which also provides a bit of job rotation, which in turn is great for individual and team development.

In all likelihood, you also have teams you work with in other divisions. For example, IT and HR teams are often linked to the groups or divisions whose software and processes they support. The leader/ambassador role in this situation is a person that is a designated liaison to the team – it might be a manager, or there may be another person tasked with that work. If you use Scrum, for example, your Product Owner may be the liaison. If you are the HR representative to that team, you probably attend more meetings from that team than your own HR team.

It is important to note that these cross-team leader roles may be titled manager roles, but often they are not. Anyone who represents your team as a formal or informal ambassador or liaison is a leader. In fact, individual performers representing their teams to other teams is becoming more and more common; often now, expertise is more important for this role than formal titles.

If you have a formal leadership title, it is wise for you to thoughtfully recognize the people on your team who are ambassadors. Managers who try to attend every meeting, build relationships with every other team, and always be "the person in the middle" who knows everything will quickly burn out.

An action item here if you are a manager: Check your meeting schedule for the last two weeks. How many meetings did you attend "just to keep up with everything going on" with other teams? How many of those meetings had an attendee from your team on as well? My guess is that you probably had several meetings like that.

What would happen if you chose not to attend those meetings and let the person on your team be the liaison? For sure, it would give you back some time – and every manager I know has too little time.

Choosing to let people serve as liaisons to other teams without your presence builds both skill and trust in your team members. They take on more responsibility and learn how to manage that responsibility, building their own leadership skill. Having a manager always attending a meeting just to oversee the situation creates distrust and a lack of confidence, neither of which is helpful to anyone.

A good test I recommend for any leader, manager or not, is that if you are regularly attending some meeting and usually don't come away with action items from the meeting, then you don't have to attend that meeting.

Finally, it is a particularly good idea for your team to regularly check in together as a group on the ambassadorial roles in which everyone on the team is serving. Sharing current projects, status, and issues is critical when so many people are working with so many teams. If you have a good sharing system with your team, then you can free up even more time on your calendar. (Those one-on-one calls just to get updates can really add up.)

There is a great deal more on this subject that is worth consideration, but beyond the scope of this single post. I'm reading a great new book, The Extended Mind, by Annice Murphy Paul, on this subject. I've shared some of her ideas here and in previous posts, and I will be sharing more in the future. If you would like a superb book on how collaboration and shared work helps everyone manage better in a complex modern workplace, I can recommend this book for closer study.

The key takeaway: Your team can't just rely on one person to coordinate relationships with other teams. In the old days, the manager was able to be the expert and know everything; today's workplace requires many people to be ambassadors to other teams. A great leader will build a plan to align teams and roles together, and to regularly share as a group – not just one-on-one – about work in progress.

Dale Rebhorn

Dale Rebhorn

Dale Rebhorn is a teacher and student of leadership.
Madison, Wisconsin, USA