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Teams without a goal go nowhere

Have you ever been part of a work-team that goes nowhere? One where everyone keeps pulling in different directions, and the result is a disjointed mess?

Chances are you weren’t really a team. Chances are you didn’t know where you were headed, either.

Many teams I’ve worked with have no idea of the overarching vision behind what they are being asked to do. They are expected to be happy knowing only about the tiny piece of the system that is theirs and to get on with it. The big picture is only for top-level management.

This puts the people on the ground in a tough position: they often hesitate to make decisions, as they don’t know the impact those decisions will have farther down the line; if they can’t make the best decisions about their work, then their training and experience aren’t being put to best use; and finally, if they can’t or won’t make decisions, they’ll need to be told what to do..

There are a few different-but-complementary ways of approaching this:

    1. Create a compelling system-wide vision for the organisation, department, product, etc. Communicate it clearly to everyone, and let them know that as long as what they do moves your organisation closer to that vision, it’ll be a good thing.
    2. Let everyone see the big picture. If your left-hand needs something it can’t reach, then the right hand might be able to help, but it can only help if it knows what the left-hand needs. The big picture is only valuable, however, if it is used to show the specific value of a team’s input; if team members don’t see that, then the big picture can easily turn into meaningless “management-speak.”
    3. Add direction. This doesn’t mean micro-management or strict oversight but simply giving people access to a senior decision-maker. This person’s job is to be available for team members to talk to and to settle the inevitable differences in opinion that come out of a highly creative and productive team.

Don’t let your team drift. Make sure they have a rudder and can steer in a way that benefits your whole organisation.