Tuesday, June 12, 2007

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

The truth is, I don't know for sure. No one does. If we did, we'd be mass-producing winning teams instead of writing about them. But here's my 2 cents worth
1. First and foremost, a team's clear and elevating goal as described above is never the goal you gave it.
That's your goal, not theirs. To the team, it's a task, a project, or an assignment. What's the difference? One is inherently motivating; the other isn't. One is something for which the team is willing to take 100% responsibility; the other is something you will hold it accountable for.
2. There is no recipe or formula you can apply to a team that will result in a clear and elevating goal each time.
The highest-leverage activity a leader can accomplish is to catalyze a team around 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!). But that doesn't mean it has to be a random happenstance. It means that crafting a clear and elevating goal is a design issue rather than a formulaic process. And what you are designing is a set of conditions that encourages a team to explore what it wants (rather than what its employers want).
3. There is, however, a set of initial conditions that you can design and influence.
Unfortunately, while most leaders would kill for teams with clear and elevating goals, what they are killing are the conditions that support them. The single most important variable I've discovered is that the team's larger operating environment supports the team in thinking about what it wants out of a project the team has been assigned to. 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 our parameters and then we tell them to get busy. As I ask folks on client sites what they want out of a project, 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 for the project.

4. You can challenge the team to discover such a goal and even invest time in that discovery process.
Ttreat the clear and elevating goal as one of five conversations a team must have (in fact, that a high-performance team will naturally engage in). But it's not the first conversation I would encourage; it's the fourth. There are three other things I would do first to give the team the best chance of reaching high performance.
5. It's always a nonlinear process, a lateral-thinking process, and a surprising result
Most leaders make the mistake of challenging teams to "choose a number," meaning setting as its goal a performance metric for the business, project, or technology. That's frequently misplaced MBA-speak. Clear and elevating goals are usually qualitatively different than the assigned task while beautifully supporting the task getting done. For instance, a team assigned to launch an Internet banking service created the slogan "we're reinventing banking" and envisioned itself on the cover of its industry's trade journal. The team designed hotel-like hangers for its doorknobs that said "Do Not Disturb. Busy reinventing banking."
6. It usually happens coincident with breaking through conflict
Clear and elevating goals seldom emerge until well into the project. In the forming-storming-norming-performing metaphor of team development, I've found that the storming phase is often resolved by the emergence of a clear and elevating goal, which then guides the norming and performing phases. You can support this process by helping the team develop healthy ways to disagree and stay committed to each other as a team.
Hattip :  Christopher M. Avery, Senior Consultant, Cutter Consortium