Successful Teamwork Results From Clear and Elevating Goals – Part 1

It’s the million-dollar question…

How do you get a team to develop a clear and elevating goal?

By the way, by “clear” I  mean no measurements are needed to know that the goal is reached, and by “elevating” I mean the goal is bold and inspiring.

The truth is, no one knows for sure how to get any team to develop a clear and elevating goal. If we did, we’d be mass-producing winning teams. That said, over the years I’ve witnessed countless teams operating well with clear and elevating goals, I’ve studied the conditions under which such goals came about, and I’ve successfully coached many teams to such heights and taught many leaders how to do it as well.

This is what I’ve learned:

1. A team’s clear and elevating goal is never the goal the leader gives the team

The goal you give a team is your goal, not theirs. To the team it is just an assignment and assignments are not inherently motivating. The fact that your goal moves you does not mean it will — or should — move your team.

This is true in virtually all cases, and understanding this will make you better equipped than 95 percent of leaders.

In the literature on high-performance teamwork, and in my 20-year experience, every time a team is inspired by a clear and elevating goal that goal is one the team itself discovered.

Here’s a real example. A Motorola team I coached was tasked with “ironing out all of the inventory, barcode and delivery issues” involved in supplying computer chips to Ford assembling lines. I don’t know about you, but “ironing” is not inherently motivating to me, and the looks on the team member’s faces told me it wasn’t inspirational to them either.

A few weeks later this team requested time on the leader’s agenda to report progress. Their primary item of business was to report that they had turned the leader’s assignment into a team charter that represented the commitment of every member of the team. As the team leader read the twenty-two word charter, everyone in the room could see that she and her team were completely present and engaged. They were jazzed about this. I got goosebumps then and still feel inspired today when I share the story. Here’s what she read:

The Delivery Team will ensure that Motorola will never allow a Ford assembly line to be shut down anywhere in the world.

Do you think if the team owns that goal, they’ll make significant headway on “ironing out the inventory, barcode, and delivery issues”? You bet they will.

More importantly, do you think any leader gets away with assigning that charter to a team and have them own it like that team? No way.

Here’s my shorthand explanation: I tell teams to turn their assignment (what I often call a “task”) into a goal. How do you know the difference?

A task is what must be done
goal makes it worth doing

2. There is no recipe or formula you can apply to a team that will result in an elevating goal each time

The best thing a leader can accomplish is to support the team in looking for a clear and elevating goal. If I could bottle that skill and develop it in leaders, I’d be running a skill-building production facility (and you’d be in line!). Crafting a successful approach is a design issue rather than a formulaic process — what you are designing is a set of conditions that encourages team members to explore what they want (rather than what their employers want).

3. There is, however, a set of initial conditions that you can design and influence

While most leaders would kill for teams with clear and elevating goals, what they are more often killing are the conditions that support them! Organizations have a way of systematically extinguishing the wants of team members while simultaneously calling for passion and commitment. We tell people what they should want. We tell them our goals and parameters and then we tell them to get busy and have passion. When I ask people on a client’s team what they want out of this project and this team, more frequently than not I hear, “Gee, no one’s ever asked me that before.”

The leader who understands clear and elevating goals will invest in creating a culture of responsible leadership that acknowledges intrinsic motivations and supports personal freedom and choice. Then he or she will make room in projects for team start-up processes that truly engender ownership within the team.

Learn about point 4 through 6 in the second post in this series (Part 2):

4. Ideally, challenge the team to discover such a goal and invest time in that discovery process

5. It’s always a nonlinear process, a lateral-thinking exercise, and a surprising result

6. Breaking through conflict helps the team’s performance

Want to apply this information right away?

Assess your project environments, leaders, and teams according to these six observations and ask yourself how you can alter the leadership equation so that teams are free to discover what they really want as a team. You will find that giving team members the change to take ownership of their involvement will create a better end result because they are motivated from having their individual voices heard and validated.

To learn more about maximizing teamwork results while empowering the individual team members, attend Knowledge Team Leadership or bring it to your work site.

Posted in Collaboration, Leadership, Teamwork on 09/02/2010 03:07 pm
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