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Myth #1: My team has a common goal

October 25, 2013

By Charley Morrow

When it comes to leading teams, there’s no shortage of myths and half-truths. Many leaders work under false assumptions, and the result is underperforming teams. This post is the first in a series that debunks some common myths associated with teams.—Ed.

Myth #1: My team has a common goal.

You have a great team of employees who are all good at what they do. And you have a specific job to do. But, is everyone on the team working toward a common goal?

Not necessarily.

Most team facilitators agree that a common goal is critical. Goals matter because they provide meaning and a framework for collaboration. Without a goal, a team will flounder from lack of direction.

One of the first things we investigate when working with teams is the primary goal or measurement of the team’s success. The type of teamwork will vary according to the goal. In our experience, teams rarely agree on the goal. Team leaders invariably say “we have clear goals.” But, when we ask team members to privately write down the team’s one to three key performance measures, only one out of 20 teams will have the same measures. And the team leader is usually surprised. If you don’t believe me, try it with your team. The results are shocking.

Why does this happen?

Organizations are complicated, and as a result, teams are complicated. Members of cross-department and management teams often have different goals that they are pursuing–marketing has a different worldview and set of metrics than does operations, for example. As a result, they have slight misalignment around goals. And, organizations these days are drowning in metrics and measures. Some teams have whole dashboards of measures. It’s little wonder that many teams are confused about their primary goals and measures. Some of this is natural and to be expected, but it may also be why so many teams fail to achieve their full potential.

The good news is that there are some simple steps leaders can take to combat the whole goal conundrum:

  1. Together, identify one to four most important measures of success. Review them regularly. This does not require a long review process, but you should be sure that everyone understands the measures and status/performance relative to those measures.
  2. Build context and shared meaning. Measures themselves are bland and boring. But the implications and underlying meaning are the keys to engagement, commitment, and high performance. We often use this formula for measures: We will achieve X level of performance in Y manner so that Z.  So, for example, “achieve $1 billion in returns in a way that is above market average so that we can retain clients and fund additional investments.” Can you complete this formula for your teams’ key measures? Does it make you more engaged?
  3. Listen for their specific questions and concerns. Ask for input and make sure you create a “safe” environment for team members to ask questions and raise issues about the measures. It’s also important to understand what they are not asking and to surface any unspoken concerns.
  4. Clarify expectations. This is more than just stating the goals of the project or unit; each team member must understand his or her role on the team. And make sure you understand your team’s expectations, and be prepared to re-align them if necessary.
  5. Ask for commitment. Don’t just assume that the members of your team are committed–ask them for it.

How does your team approach goal setting? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Morrow_Charley_2Charley Morrow is Vice President of Assessments at Linkage. He has over 20 years of experience designing, implementing, and evaluating training, individual assessment, and organizational-transformation interventions. He’s also an expert in developing assessments and methodologies for individual, team, and organizational motivation and performance. Follow him on Twitter @CharleyMorrow.

 

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