Having that shared purpose
A team only becomes a true team when they have a shared purpose, a mission which they all own and feel responsible for. Without it they are only a work group, not a team. This makes getting a team to go in the same direction one of the most important tasks of its leader.
As a leader you need to show the team, very clearly, what direction to go in – and what’s at the end of that direction – the mega goal that you are here to achieve together. This is as true for a functional, long-term team as it is for project teams. Team members have an important role to play too, it is their responsibility to help create the team direction together with their leader.
Without it team members may make up their own direction, often well-intended but never as succinct or aligned as the purpose and direction need to be. It easily takes team members off track, focusing on the wrong things, creating re-work and costing money.
Here are some practical Solutions for getting your team to go in the same direction:
1. Create a vision.
Does your team have a vision or a mega-goal? You may not need it; if there’s an organisational vision, that may be enough – and you can have your team align with that. If you want to create a team vision, involve the team in exploring what that could be – for example "to become the best service team in the industry".
2. Identify your common purpose as a team, together.
This is closely linked to the vision, it’s the team’s reason for being, what the team is here to do. Involve the team in creating and identifying the common purpose. Then everyone becomes the owner of the purpose and more importantly they buy in to it too, making it more likely to happen.
3. Make the purpose grounded.
The purpose needs to be clear to all, actionable and tangible. It needs to be something that can be achieved. Making the purpose grounded is about creating the team map, showing how team actions contribute to the overall vision/purpose.
4. Clarify roles and responsibilities.
Having clear roles and responsibilities for all team members makes the purpose even easier to take responsibility for. Link the roles and responsibilities to the team purpose so that everyone can see the thread of what they do and how it all fits together. It is so important to make the links and make them explicit.
5. Create shared team responsibility.
Individual responsibility is key but so is shared responsibility. Discuss as a team what your shared responsibilities are - ultimately it is to fulfill your team purpose. Everyone in the team needs to understand that he/she is responsible for the overall results of the team, not just his/her own goals. Everyone must see the connections.
6. Create a link.
Even if there is only a tenuous link between what team members do, then create that link and make it stronger. You can actively look at what team members have in common through their contribution to the bigger organisation and the benefits they can have from being a team, thereby giving them a shared team purpose.
7. Use a crisis to show you the way.
During a crisis team members are forced to work together to solve the issue. Use the learning that the crisis gave you as a team. Analyse what you did well and then recreate it. Don’t wait for another crisis to work better together - work like that every day.
8. Give strengths-based feedback.
Be observant and recognise how each person contributes to the team’s work. Look for strengths in others and tell them about it. Strengths-based feedback is when you share a specific observation you have made when a person’s strength was used and clearly contributed to the results and to the team’s purpose.
9. Create a team charter.
Create a document that describes the team’s purpose, goals, roles and responsibilities, framework, operating principles and agreements of the team. The team creates it themselves, making it a powerful and visual shared commitment.
We have frequently observed that teams who struggle with going in the same direction have thought patterns where they focus on everything that makes them different from their colleagues, rather than finding what they have in common. So intention is key here; the intention to find commonality and to want to walk collaboratively in the same direction.
Then find that compelling vision and meaningful purpose, as people respond to both. Remember the powerful story of the cleaner at NASA who expressed that his job was to help put people in space. Talk about understanding how important his job is!
By Mandy Flint and Elisabet Vinberg Hearn
About the authors
Mandy Flint (left)
Mandy is an international expert on leading and developing teams. She is the CEO of Excellence in Leadership, a global transformational change organisation.
Elisabet Vinberg Hearn (right)
Elizabet is the CEO of Think Solutions UK Ltd and Think Solutions AB in Sweden, leadership consultancies specialising in employee engagement and profitable corporate cultures.
They are the authors of Leading Teams – 10 Challenges: 10 Solutions.