Almost a year ago to the day I made a blog post about the characteristics of effective teams. In the post I listed 7 characteristics, the first of which was:
- Common purpose – an effective team has a clearly identifiable common purpose or goal. All parties are aware of, and committed to, the goal or purpose.
I was reminded of the importance of this particular characteristic over the Christmas/New Year Period when taking a short flight and when watching sport. The team concerned with the flight was an airline flight-deck and cabin crew. They made it clear to all concerned that “your safety is our number one priority”. In common with other teams, each member of the crew had other tasks/objectives to complete (some undertaken individually, some with others) but at all times their explicit common purpose was safety. The team concerned with sport comprised football players and coaching staff. They made it clear to all concerned (in pre, during and post match communications) that “we are all about winning”. In common with the airline flight-deck and cabin crew team, each footballer and member of the coaching staff had other specific roles and responsibilities, but as a team were united (no pun intended) by a common purpose; that of winning.
As we know, team membership in the examples given above can and does vary – and that this is often on a week to week basis. But as new members join and existing members leave, the common purpose (and focus) remains unchanged.
Now compare and contrast these examples with that of your own work team – be it a team of Librarians; Knowledge Managers; Consultants; Information Specialists etc. When each team member is asked, individually, “what is the common purpose of the team”; how would they respond? Would it be in a clear and consistent way e.g. the equivalent of “your safety is our number one priority”, or would there be a variety of responses – each with a slightly different emphasis or interpretation on the team’s goal or common purpose?
There’s only one way to find out – and that is to ask the question. From my experience there are likely to be three themes to the responses; each requiring a different approach:
Broad agreement and consistency – in which case this is good news and is fit for purpose; provided that the team’s common purpose is linked and aligned with the wider objectives of the organisation and that the members of the team also have their personal goals and objectives aligned with both.
Some agreement and evidence of inconsistency – in which case urgent work is required, perhaps in the shape of a team event/workshop, to explore the responses and to work toward shared understanding and articulation of the common purpose.
Little or no agreement – in which case either very urgent ‘team building’ work is required, or, the responses are evidence of the fact that the individuals concerned are not a team (as described in the examples earlier); nor do they need to be a team. They might just be a collection of individuals working for the same person, or function, or group. Applying or forcing team building activities or getting individuals to sign up to a common purpose is likely to be counter productive.
Photograph from ekkebus’ Photostream on Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/ekkebus/with/5020840511/