“Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishment.” ― Jim Rohn, American business speaker
In a near-perfect world — the type most people would love when they join a new company — a department, division, or team’s leader would act purely as a facilitator, establishing the group’s goals, communicating them plainly to everyone on the team, and clearing the way to the teams’s future destination.
He or she would promote the team goals in a way that made it clear what each team member should expect, precisely what they needed to do, and how the tasks the team member accomplished moved the entire organization toward its ultimate goals.
A near-perfect scenario
These near-perfect conditions do exist in some organizations I’ve worked. They aren’t common, and they don’t always work as expected; but they do occur, and when they do, the productivity of the relevant team often proves fantastic.
Most well-constructed teams can achieve this near-perfect scenario regularly, if everyone involved cares enough to make it happen. It may be difficult, but it’s by no means impossible.
In a perfect world, everyone on the team would automatically grasp the team goals, understand instinctively why they mattered, and how to move forward with them both as individuals and as a team. They would also contribute to establishing those goals, donating a healthy amount of discretionary time and effort toward completing them on time and under budget.
Somewhere, this may very well have happened a few times; and it’s certainly what we’d all like to see. In cases like these, productivity would rise to an outrageously high level.
Welcome to the real world …
While I hate to seem cynical, perfect and near-perfect scenarios occur only rarely; and when they do, they serve as shining beacons for us all. But for every Steve Jobs-era Apple or Golden Age Disney, thousands of organizations just scrape by.
If it were as easy to go from Good to Great as some authors suggest, we’d all have achieved greatness by now.
The biggest stumbling block remains human nature; we’re often positively pigheaded, which often strikes sparks and causes trouble within the team. This fails us when our egos insist we know better than everyone else, and refuse to let go of old ways that no longer work, even as we struggle to implement new processes.
On the other hand, our obstinacy also represents our greatest strength, when independence and creativity combine to form forward-thinking innovation. But it doesn’t always; and often, leadership can’t or won’t effectively communicate its goals to the team.
Whether the leader or the team is at fault doesn’t matter — a broken team is a broken team.
Sometimes a team member has to quietly take charge, pull things together, and move the team forward in spite of itself. The only other option is to let dysfunction drag the team under. If you’re a team member, you shouldn’t have to encourage your teammates to get off their duffs and do their jobs, but hey — welcome to the real world. Consider it on-the-job training for something bigger in your future.
If you think about it, I suspect you can come up with several examples, in business and sports, where one person’s hard work has kept the team afloat — or one team kept the entire company alive.
Actually, it IS your job
When the team’s goals seem obscure and the leadership helpless, you may wonder how you can possible help. After all, setting and steering the team toward its goals isn’t your job, is it?
Well, if you don’t do it, who will? You can’t just assume someone else will grab the helm.
First, speak to your leader and ask for direction. If he or she seems overwhelmed, tell that person you’ll happily rally the team.
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Meet with your teammates and dust off your team goals as you understand them. Check them for strategic alignment with the organization’s goals; if they’ve drifted off course, work them back around to where they belong. Then keep moving forward.
If you work in a finance department, for example, your goals may consist of straightening out the company’s books, ensuring taxes get paid on time, working with HR to pay for benefits and salaries, and a myriad of other tasks. Your organization needs you to take care of these, so with or without leadership, clarify and commit to these goals so you can hit your targets.
Similarly, if you work as a Principal Investigator in an environmental firm, your goal may be to find more work within private industry and the Federal government, to respond to Requests for Proposals (RFPs), and to ensure your team members meet the minimum professional standards for their jobs.
A programmer might want to stir his team into action on the projects they’re currently working on, to ensure there’s no repeat of 3D Realm’s infamous 12-year failure to produce the next installment of their popular Duke Nukem series.
In all these cases, self-interest serves as a strong motivator — in the form of simply keeping your jobs. 3D Realms was a special case; it was so cash-flush after its initial success that it wasted time and talent for over a decade before it fell apart.
If your team’s productivity flat-lines, though, you may find yourself on the chopping block before you know it.
Good, bad, or ugly
You may not have a dysfunctional team. Still, it can’t hurt to get together with your teammates, including your leader, and make sure you all understand your goals and how to achieve them.
It may not be your job, but it can’t hurt to feel out your teammates occasionally, to check their commitment levels and see how well they understand the team goals. If things seem a bit vague, do what you can to pump up interest and commitment.
Don’t usurp your leader’s power and authority, but work toward becoming one of those keystone players who keeps the team alive.
This was originally published on Laura Stack’s The Productivity Pro blog.