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Successful Teamwork Begins with One Conversation

It’s important to stay in touch with the topic of leadership in business. A wonderful source for me is my network at the Wharton School of Business, my alma mater. The professors and staff at Wharton do amazing work and I wanted to share with you an interesting article that I hope you find to be of value.

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It’s so simple that many team leaders don’t bother to do it. In fact, they often believe it’s not necessary. And yet, says Todd Henshaw, Lt. Colonel, U.S. Army (Retired), and one of Wharton’s Aresty Institute Fellows, it’s at the root of most organizational problems.

 

"One conversation can mean the difference between a highly functioning team and one whose inner conflicts and friction prevent it from success. You must meet with your team and clearly articulate both your goals and your expectations. As a team leader, it’s your job to have that conversation."

It begins with a clear picture of both yourself as a leader and what you’re looking for from your team. "If they don’t understand the expectations you have for them, they can’t meet them," stresses Henshaw. "As a consultant, I’ve worked with many teams that weren’t performing well. The first thing I do is ask the leader if everyone on the team understands what’s expected of him or her as a team member and of the team as a whole. They almost always tell me the same thing: ‘I assumed everybody knew this.’ The team leader is almost always very clear about priorities and can articulate them well.

"But when I ask his or her team members the same question, I get very different answers. They see the priorities from their own perspective. If they’re in marketing, they view them through that lens. Finance sees things in terms of numbers. Not only do team members rarely have a clear picture of what’s expected, but they also have priority systems that are out of alignment with their leaders’."

Where can a team leader start? Henshaw recently told a group of executives that it begins with an understanding of his or her leadership philosophy. "Leader isn’t a position in an organization. It’s an identity. If you can’t articulate who you are as a leader, your team will suffer." He asked the group to first consider their experiences and what those experiences taught them about themselves. What are their successes and failures? How do they build relationships? As they examine where they’ve been, they look for lessons that inform who they are today. Then, the philosophy takes shape in four steps, determining:

1. Sense of Purpose: Ask, "Why do I lead others? What are my goals as a leader? What do I want to help others accomplish?"

2. Core Values: What is so important to you that it influences every decision? Is it honesty, integrity, trust, diligence? List three or four that everyone you work with should know.

3. Expectations: What should team members expect from you, and what do you expect from them? How can they expect the team to work as a whole, and what are their roles within it? This portion reflects "how we want to work together" and involves authority, accountability, and support.

4. Critical Leader Agendas: A short-term, functional agenda should make clear immediate team or leader objectives for the next several months.

Henshaw says it is then time to schedule a meeting. "Team leaders must be explicit and intentional regarding how the team functions to accomplish collective work, and that includes the kind of leadership their team can expect. It’s this structured conversation about goals and priorities that will determine whether your team works together successfully. Misunderstanding is the root of most organizational problems. If you believe that everyone will figure it out once they’ve worked on your team for a while, you’re misguided. A lack of understanding of expectations impacts not only performance, but whether teams stay together."