By Jeff Boss
Success in any endeavor comes down to consistency of effort—the right effort. In other words, the effort you apply must be based off a clear — and shared — definition of what success looks like so you can work backwards to identify the right path to lead you there. Otherwise, you’ll be chasing your tail in circles hoping that you’ll find it (whatever “it” is).
Teams are no different. Without a clear definition of what a team is and what it isn’t, your team can’t role model success; it doesn’t have a vision of how it should behave. The good news is that when you know what to aspire toward, the process of improvement becomes repeatable. The bad news is, without a clear definition of success, every other team in the company is reinventing the same wheel.
Start with the fundamentals. Nothing we did in the SEAL Teams was that advanced. Okay, maybe some things. But for the most part, we weren’t better than everybody else because we had better people. We were better because our people learned how to work together as a team and not as people (i.e. individuals), the byproduct of which was magic. Here’s where you can start:
Establish a clear purpose.
There needs to be a reason why the team exists, and habit is not one of them (“we’ve always been together”). People also must agree on what needs to be accomplished. Are we trying to increase revenue? Market share? Engagement? While all these benefit the business, the team should have a shared understanding of the one thing it wants to accomplish.
You can over-communicate or you can under-deliver . Teams communicate consistently because they realize the value of information flow. They don’t try to decipher what information is important or “who needs to know” for other members because they themselves don’t know. Instead, they share everything they know and let team members decide what’s important for themselves.
In this way, the telephone effect is also minimized (when the message sent isn’t the message received). By communicating openly and consistently with other members you mitigate individual bias and interpretation from snowballing into something it shouldn’t.
Clarify roles and responsibilities.
Everybody on the team plays a part and is responsible for the part they play. Clarifying roles and responsibilities is important not only for the individual contributor but also for the team as a whole because there’s no confusion about who does what or where the team stands. This sounds very basic but it’s amazing how many business functions get this wrong. Inside the finance division of the very first Fortune 500 company I consulted for was complete role obscurity. If someone from Tax had a question pertaining to Audit, for example, they didn’t know who to turn to. Now, this was already a high performing company. Just imagine where they would’ve been had they taken the time to establish role clarity.
Remember, if somebody isn’t doing what they’re supposed to be doing, chances are it’s because they don’t know what they’re supposed to be doing. Without clearly defined roles and responsibilities there’s no accountability, which leads us to…
Accountability isn’t a “nice-to-have.” It’s a must. There must be accountability at three levels. First, each individual must hold him or herself accountable to produce work. Without individual accountability, the team’s potential is limited because it’ll be playing the blame game (“I didn’t have enough information,” “I didn’t know…”). Second, there must be accountability between members, which means there also must be trust. It’s difficult to hold somebody accountable who you don’t trust enough to be accountable. Third, each individual must hold the team accountable as a whole. One difference between a group and a team is that a team shares the same fate, whereas a group does not. The only way to ensure the team wins is if the members hold the team accountable.
Have a process.
In order for any team (or group, for that matter) to produce work, they must do three things: meet, communicate, decide. If they don’t do any or just one of these, they cannot produce work. Can you think of a team that doesn’t have to meet together, talk about issues or decide on next steps? Didn’t think so.
Meeting, communicating and making decisions are all simple in theory, yes, but not easy. What I’ve seen in my experience is that leaders often take each of these for granted. If you’ve ever been in a meeting that didn’t go according to schedule (because there was no schedule) or where the same two people were the only ones talking or where making a decision was more complex than the matter itself, you know what I mean.
Atul Gawande, in his book The Checklist Manifesto, highlighted the importance of (yup, you guessed it) a checklist for getting things done. Most important, he demonstrated that checklists aren’t just to-do lists but a way of doing things that become a habit; a process for how work gets done that people can rely upon (and therefore trust).
Competitive advantage today stems from how efficiently and effectively teams respond to opportunity and change. If you want to start your team right, begin with the fundamentals—and practice them daily.