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by Situational Clarity

An essential factor in leadership is to think about how you respond and support your team based on your situation, like with Cynefin by Dave Snowden. Team capability can be considered in terms of the team's ability to collaborate in a way that matches the needs of their given market, as described by Geoffrey A. Moore in his book Crossing the Chasm. A team that has much experience working in a given market and knows how to collaborate well, has high team capability. While even if a group of highly trained experts are working in a market they know well, if their ability to collaborate is low, then their team capability is lacking.


The graphic above depicts how a leader and a team evolve and adjust their behaviour based on these two axes, Team Capability and Situational Clarity. It is important to note that this is a model like any other, which simplifies something that is hugely complex and should be treated as a way of thinking about things rather than a law.

We invite you to download the SVG file and play with it for Presentations, Explanations or Modifications in accordance with the Creative Common's Licence. 

What does Team Capability mean?

As mentioned above, it is the team's ability to collaborate and navigate the needs of their market/situation. Low Team Capability, therefore, doesn't refer to the qualifications or experience of the individuals on the team but to the team as a whole entity. A new team would lack the ability to Own a Common Vision, Give each other Effective Feedback, Have an agreed Decision making Paradigm and would not feel Safe to Disagree with one another. They may also lack understanding or awareness of the nature of their situation, in other words, if they should bias towards an effective or efficient approach given the market conditions.

​What is Situational Clarity?

This means how easily Cause and Effect can be observed. Imagine the X-Axis is Cynefin by Dave Snowden stretched out with the clear domain on the left, then complicated, then complex and finally chaotic. When things are obvious to the point of automation, you can quickly graduate from a directive stance to a delegating stance as a leader, as a team can quickly learn how to operate in that space. In contrast, a highly volatile and unclear situation might require more nuance with consideration for urgency. Delegation is faster than Ordering, and in a chaotic situation that is highly time-dependent, you are better off delegating than ordering if your team's ability to function is above basic. Both extremes are not so useful from a team development journey perspective. So let's focus on the optimal learning zone.

​What is the Optimal Learning Zone?

Like the Flow diagram by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, there is a zone where the perfect balance of capability and clarity can generate learning. Too clear, and the team learns nothing new. While too unclear, the team find themselves out of their depth and risk disaster. The leader's role is to shift their behaviour to match the situation and support the team's learning journey. A good leader should be capable of creating a Safe Space to Disagree, applying effective Decision-making Paradigms, Give Effective Feedback and creating a Vision and Purpose, as well as understanding the Market/Situation and its demands. The Leader shouldn't only have these skills but also be able to teach the team how to do this for themselves.


As the team grows in their understanding and skill, the leader can then shift from one type of leader to another. However, they should communicate clearly to the team when and how they are moving from one mode to another. The leader can be both a Commander and a Visionary on the same day, so explaining why the leader is assuming a given role is essential to ensure that the team members can experience them as being consistent. If they think their leader is unpredictable, this will cause them to mistrust them and erode the fundamental need for trust that cultivates Belonging, a foundation that is required for all the rest of the stances to function.

This means that a leader must invest in their capacity to shift stances, learn these essential collaboration techniques and learn how to teach them.  One level builds on the next. Being capable in one or two of these means that their leadership won't be suited for many other situations they find themselves in.

The Leadership Styles

While we added our own leadership stances to this graph as a reference point, please note that any leadership stances can be fit into the model as they generally run along these broad strokes. So feel free to play with the model to reflect your own leadership stances and post them, link us on LinkedIn, and let's have a conversation about it all for the enrichment of the community.

For a Leader to be able to support a team, they should develop all of the skills needed in order for high collaboration to exist. Since a team may not yet be equipped with those skills, it falls to the leader to, Resolve Conflicts, Manage Decision Making Paradigms, Facilitate Feedback and Build Ownership in the Vision and the Purpose of the team, and understand their situational context well enough to respond appropriately to it.

The waves on the graph indicate where the stances are most effective. For instance, in Chaos, a commander stance is most effective if the team has low capability. However, when urgency is a factor, like an imminent plane crash, you are either dead or act as a visionary team with the shared purpose of survival, as per United Flight 232. So in that space, a visionary team who is highly attuned enough should, therefore also be able to traverse a chaotic domain issue that is not urgent. In the complex domain, the largest breadth of other stances apply, and there is more nuance based on teamwork capability. In contrast, the complicated domain, where rapid progress from one stage to another is possible. Since the team can easily learn the rules given the right expertise due to how predictable the situations are. While in the clear domain, it's a matter of best practice, and you can teach and delegate very quickly, depending on how close to automated it is.

A leader must also know Adult Learning Theory and how to Teach their skills to others. Without the ability to teach, the leader is stuck where they are because ​the team need to learn those skills, for the leader to be able to shift to a less Directive style of Leadership.

  • Gathers Information

  • Makes Decisions

  • Gives orders and Expects Compliance

    • And they Cultivate Belonging to prepare the team to graduate.

The Commander is your straight-to-the-point, highly directive and decisive leader who is teaching their team how to respond in the situation by demonstrating it. However, to ensure they don't get stuck in that mode of leading, they must cultivate belonging to build an environment where it is safe to disagree and teach them how to resolve conflicts among eachother. "If you disagree, let me know, then I will decide and we will commit."


The Connector
  • Gathers Information

  • Asks for opinions

  • Connects members to Attend Clear Instructions and Achieve Clear Objectives

    • And Encourages Openness to support the team to graduate.

The connector coordinates the team to speak to each other and builds relationships between team members. They need to teach the team Decision-Making Paradigms for them to be able to graduate to the next level.


The Facilitator
  • Brings team together to Discover Information

  • Supports Collective Decision Making

  • Directs Attention to Important Challenges

    • And Grows the team's understanding of their situation, behaviour, product and place in the organization to support them to graduate.

The facilitator is a peer responsible for enabling the team to have powerful discussions and make their own decisions. They teach the team how to give effective feedback so that they can graduate to the next level.


The Mirror
  • Provides Feedback to the team after they have discussed and made their decision

  • Helps the team Identify Challenges

    • And Encourages Collective Ownership over the Vision and Purpose of the team


The mirror is starting to stand beside the team and retain veto rights. They allow the team to manage themselves fully but reserve the right to correct course if the situation is not safe to fail. This means that the team would gather the info, discuss their options, refine their best idea and decide how to move forward from there. This leader would work hard to lay the team's vision and purpose deep into the DNA of how they think so that they can move to the next level.


The Visionary
  • Provides An Inspiring Purpose and Vision and Trusts the Team to find their way

    • And Supports the Team's Creativity by helping them explore ideas


The visionary is in a team of driven people that know how to conflict healthily, decide together, give great feedback and own a vision, so they do not have to make the team do those things. This team is fully autonomous, and everyone can act in a coordinated way. The communication looks more like notifications, letting others know what they plan to do, usually in response to what others are doing. They even sometimes do this without audibly speaking as they know their domain so well and are so aligned in terms of their purpose and vision. This leader has to look out for the changing nature of the market and situation and notify the team if things have changed. 


It is important to note that a Commander is responsible for everything that a visionary team is accountable and responsible for by themselves. As the leader trains the team to collaborate better, they can reduce the number of responsibilities they have on their plate regarding teamwork, which then enables them to cope with more complex situations.

Written and design by Jaques Smit


Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Situational Leadership by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard

Culture Code by Daniel Coyle

Drive by Daniel H. Pink

Leadership That Gets Results by Daniel Goleman in Harvard Business Review

Cynefin by Dave Snowden

Leadership is Language by L. David Marquet

Organic Leadership Andrea Tomasini and Agile42

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