How to compile and develop high performing teams, especially during a time of change Part I – Purpose

Friday, June 29th, 2012

How to compile and develop high performing teams, especially during a time of change

Part I – Purpose

Putting together great teams even during stable times can be challenging. But today, the challenges are even greater. But, so are the opportunities. Bear with me. I am no Pollyanna, but this time of unsettling change can be a great time to turn a bunch of individual performers (or even a so-so group) into a great team.

What it takes:

Start with identifying a clear compelling purpose that will become the work of the team.

A group of people who all happen to share office space and meet occasionally are not teams. They are just groups of people who come together from time to time. A team exists to get something accomplished. The New York Yankees are a team. The Duke Ellington Orchestra was a team. The people who designed and built the Ford Taurus were a team.

Many years ago, I was pilot testing a team building program with a group that met every Friday.  After some initial pleasantries, I asked, What’s the purpose of this team?” Silence. I tried asking it a different way. Still silence. It turns out that this meeting had been occurring every Friday since way before any of these people had been assigned to the group. No one knew why they met. So, being a conscientious bunch, they made stuff up so that they feel like they were actually productive. (BTW, I am not exaggerating this story.)

So, let’s say you – and your team – are scratching your collective heads and coming up with nothing in response to my question about purpose. My advice: if you can’t identify a clear, compelling – and important – purpose, then don’t meet anymore. Disband. Go home.

But let’s say that you do have a clear purpose and are able to turn that into a goal. Here are a few things to do:

Create a BHAG. Big hairy Audacious Goals. This acronym comes from Built to Last by Collins and Porras. They found that organizations did best when the goals were outrageously challenging.

Keep it Simple. One goal is better than two, and far better than three. In Shoot Straight, David Kennedy makes a convincing case that one single measurable and enforceable goal reduced gun violence significantly, when more comprehensive and ambitious programs often did little to reduce violence. For more on this, you could start with my blog post: Don’t Shoot – Lessons on Leading Change

Make it Observable. Robert Mager, an expert on writing goals and objectives once asked that if you met the goal on the street, would you recognize it? This is direct contrast to the vague platitudes and goals that often litter corporate planning meetings.

This is the first in a short series on creating effective teams. I welcome your comments.

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