Ingredients for High Performing Teams: #4, Meaning & Impact

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The final ingredients for high performing teams that Project Aristotle revealed are meaning and impact. Leaders of teams need to articulate a clear vision, and reinforce how each member’s work contributes to bringing the team closer to that vision.

On the surface, this sounds simple and straightforward. Let’s be honest, it’s nothing groundbreaking – the importance of meaning and impact to team effectiveness seems fairly intuitive. I mean, most organizations nowadays have mission statements. Meaning just seems to be another buzzword and lofty ideal in the corporate world.

As I’m sure you’re well aware of at this point, implementing these ideals in ‘real life’ is a whole other story. The importance of meaning in team effectiveness is obvious – but how do you actually foster a sense of meaning and purpose in teams from the real world?

A quick Google search reveals thousands of articles discussing how to develop meaning and purpose in teams (for example, this Harvard Business Review article). Most, however, just end up reiterating how important a purpose is in a team, and that you should “find it”. Finding the purpose as the leader, though, isn’t the hard part, in my opinion. To get the entire team to buy in and connect with it…that’s the real challenge.

So in preparing for this post, I set out to explore this exact problem – how can we not only find a team’s purpose, but also get the entire team to ‘buy in’ to it?

Before I dive deep into the question of how, though, I want to explore the why – why is making sure each team member feels a genuine sense of meaning and purpose so important? Teams have been operating fine without this connection to purpose for decades – why is it now the time to fix this?

Research over recent years have begun to empirically explore the importance of a sense of meaning in life. They have connected a sense of purpose to everything from life expectancy, to company financial performance, to job performance. It is becoming increasingly evident that this isn’t just an issue of enhancing team performance – a sense of purpose has implications in almost every aspect of an employee’s life.

Dan Pink discusses this at length in his book “Drive”. In his research he found that drive was predicated on three factors: autonomy, mastery and purpose.

Considering these stats, to not talk about purpose at work would be downright foolish.

Now let’s take a look at a company that took full advantage of sense of meaning to boost employee and team performance.

In Google’s case study of KPMG, the audit, tax, and advisory firm, it is clear that the management team at the firm clearly recognized the importance of purpose-driven work. This led to a top-down initiative to strengthen employees’ sense of meaning, and their emotional connection to the impact of their work. They collected 40,000 stories, which led to a new purpose statement, poster campaign, and this video.

Furthermore, they found that employees working in teams where leaders effectively communicated purpose scored 30-50% higher on retention, satisfaction, pride, and motivation than those who didn’t. The impact that a sense of purpose had on their employees was striking.

This brings us back to my original question. Now that it’s even clearer how powerful a sense of meaning can be, as evident at KPMG, it’s important to ask – how exactly did the leadership at KPMG communicate purpose in a way that got their teams to buy in?

They got good at telling stories.

Look again at their ‘We Shape History’ video and poster campaign. The key to having their purpose connect with employees was their ability to communicate a great story. To get your team to buy in to your purpose, you have to be a great storyteller.

And I don’t mean a fairytale about slaying dragons. I’m talking about a story that captures the significance and importance of the work of the team. One that illuminates how meaningful that work is, and how it can leave a lasting impact. This is the kind of story that inspires teams to perform at the highest level.

But how do you tell a story in a way that inspires a sense of purpose?

According to Andy Raskin, an industry expert in strategic storytelling, this launch announcement by Elon Musk epitomizes effective storytelling. Dissecting Musk’s pitch, Raskin identifies several elements of impactful stories. Based on Raskin’s analysis, I propose that these elements also apply to stories that are aimed at instilling a sense of purpose in teams.

I believe that stories that inspire purpose have 7 key elements. They identify:
1.The Problem – What is the enemy? What needs to change?
2.The Urgency – Why does the problem need to be addressed now? Why not later?
3.The Reason – Whose life does this problem affect? Why does this matter?
4.The Promised Land – What would it look like if this problem is solved? What is the ideal situation? What should we aim for?
5.The Obstacles – What’s getting in between us and our ideal vision? What’s in our way? What do we need to overcome?
6.The Strategy – What are we going to do to overcome the obstacles? What tools are we going to use? What’s our plan?
7.The Evidence – How do we know our strategy is going to work? Why should we trust the leader?

At the start of every team project, it is the responsibility of the leader to take the time to illuminate the purpose of the team, and why each member’s efforts are meaningful and impactful. By addressing the 7 key elements of PURPOSE presented above to your team, you set the stage for your team to buy into your vision, and to see their work as meaningful.

Skeptical about this strategy? Notice that I actually followed this model and addressed these 7 elements in this post. And hey, the fact that you’ve made it this far may be telling you something.

The point is, take the time to foster a sense of purpose in your team. It matters, as evident in Google’s case study of KPMG. Take advantage of storytelling as your greatest tool in this endeavor, and make sure you address the 7 key elements of PURPOSE when you do so.

At the end of the day, leaders are storytellers. And storytellers are the ones who hold the power to inspire purpose.

Ingredients for High Performing Teams: #3, Structure and Clarity

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Everyday at work, it’s easy to get caught up in ‘tunnel vision’. We go in, check off our to-do list, then check out and go home. But how clear is our understanding of what’s really expected of us at our jobs, and how that impacts our team and company?

According to Google, the third ingredient of high performing teams is structure and clarity. Team members need to have a clear understanding of what’s expected of them as part of the team, how they can fulfill those expectations, and the consequences of fulfilling those expectations.

The leader’s job, therefore, is to make sure that they establish clear expectations for all members of their team, and to bring to light how each person’s work on the team can contribute its mission. Without it, it’s unlikely that your team will reach high performance and engagement.

As Summit President Scott Kress always says, “you cannot expect anybody to live up to your expectations if they do not know what those expectations are”.

But let’s be honest, the reality of today’s workplace is that we often just don’t have enough time to get to that. Given the limitation of time and resources, how can we efficiently establish clear expectations for each member of our team and show them how it connects to the mission?

Here’s an idea…

One component of adventure education programs is called the group agreement. At the start of every program, the facilitator takes time to discuss with the group its goals (i.e., its ‘vision), and what the team will do to achieve those goals together.

Specifically, two aspects that should be addressed are the team values that are expected from everybody, and specific, unique expectations from each individual that will bring the team closer to its goals.

Here’s what one might look like:

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At the top, the team can record its goals, objectives, and vision. Have the team discuss what it hopes to achieve, and make sure that the vision, or mission, is compelling and exciting for the entire team.

Then, have the team discuss the norms that are expected from everyone. In other words, what are some principles, values, or character traits that all members should strive for? This is where you can potentially discuss these key characteristics of top teams that Google discovered in their study (e.g., psychological safety, dependability, etc.). These can be recorded on the left arrow of the mountain towards the summit, emphasizing how important these norms are for taking the team closer to its vision.

On the other side of the mountain, discuss how the efforts of each member of the team can bring it closer to its goals. Write down what’s uniquely expected of each member, and make sure each individual knows why fulfilling those expectations are consequential for taking the team towards the summit (i.e., it’s vision).

Of course, this is just one way of doing it. But the point is, by using this simple, efficient, and engaging strategy, you can open up a productive discussion about goals, norms, and expectations. In addition, you end up with a physical group contract that you can keep and refer back to when you face various challenges.

More important, this tool gives us structure and clarity, which Google tells us is absolutely critical to team performance.

Leadership as a Way of Being

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Leadership is often seen as a title bestowed on a person who has risen above the norm. These people are looked up to and guide their ‘team’ in good times and in bad. The challenge is that if we only look to people with the title of leader than we are missing out on the value that can be accessed from the vast majority of people who are not leaders in title.

Leaders are critical in helping others become high performance. They are our coaches and our mentors. They motivate and inspire us and hold us accountable. They are very important people and it is elitist to think that only people with the title of leader can help us in these ways.

If we look beyond leadership as a title and look at it more as a way of being it becomes much more universally attainable and empowering.

Generally speaking, leaders are proactive, analytical, and decisive. Followers (everyone who is not a leader) wait to be told what to do by their leader. The challenge in this is that the leader cannot be in all places all the time and many opportunities are lost and production (whatever this may be) is slowed.

Ideally you want to build a team of leaders. Yes only one person has the official title of leader, but if everyone in the teams sees themselves as a leader then there is far more power available for any task. Therefore, leadership is not just a title, but it is a way of being. It is an attitude. It is not bestowed upon anyone, but something you choose to be.

To be a leader you need to look at everything a little different. You look at it as though it is your responsibility and you can make choices and take actions without waiting to be told what to do. You are aware of the interconnectedness of all the moving parts and not just how you influence this, but how the others involved do as well. You consult with others and your titled leader when required, but you are proactive and make things happen.

So the questions is, as a leader, how do you create a team of leaders? First of all you need to set this as your vision and one of your values must be empowerment. You need to communicate this vision to your team so they know this is something you are expecting of them. After all, nobody can live up to your expectations if they do not know what they are.

This is all and good, but unless you empower people to be leaders they will not be. The challenge here is that you cannot give empowerment to anyone. Empowerment can only be taken and it will only be taken when people feel the environment is safe to do so.

What this means is that if you want someone to feel empowered, you need to be comfortable and supportive with the actions they take and the decisions they make. If what they do is not what they should have done you use this as a coaching opportunity and help them for the future. The first time you explode at someone for the action they took or decision they made is the last time they will feel truly empowered.

So to move into the area of building a team of leaders you need to start with some self reflection. Is this what you honestly want or are you just doing it because you were told to. If you are not doing it for the right reasons, your team will see through it instantly and there will be no benefit.

If, after reflection, this is what you really do want, make a plan to build it and put it into action. You will reap huge benefits in the future.

At Summit we build these philosophies into many of our Team Development training programs.

Do You Want to be a Leader for The Right Reason?

Many of us aspire to be leaders, but do we want to be a leader for the right reason? To determine if someone wants to be a leader for the right reason one needs to consider the various mix of intrinsic and extrinsic factors.

With the role and title of leader usually comes various perks such as a bigger pay cheque, bonus opportunities, an office with windows, a reserved parking spot, and sometimes even a new car. These are external factors we call motivators. A motivator is something that gets us to do something for a reward. It is the reward or punishment. The carrot or the stick. External motivators are powerful and necessary and usually play to our ego. The make us feel good and important and provide us with power. The challenge with external motivators is that they will only take a person so far. We all have our limit and will say “I will not do that regardless of how much you pay me, or “I will not do that regardless of how much you punish me”.

Internal factors, however, are much more powerful and long lasting. These internal factors are intrinsic in nature, meaning they come from within. One does something not because of punishment of reward, but because they want to. Someone who is intrinsically motivated will walk through fire to accomplish what they set out to do. They are far more willing to endure hardship and personal sacrifice.

So when you think about being a leader are you doing it for the motivating or inspiring factors. Of course there is a combination of both, but you need to make sure you understand the difference and have a mix of both.

Those leaders that are only leaders for motivational reasons are very self-serving in nature. They are not there for the good of the company, customer or team member, but for the betterment of their own personal world. They will often do whatever is necessary to get ahead including placing the blame for failure on others and taking credit for work that others have done. They will also only be willing to work to a certain level of performance.

Those leaders who are leaders for intrinsic factors truly want to serve their customer and their team members. Their number one priority is the completion of the task and the service of their customer. The do it because they want to, not because they have to.

Sometimes the leader who is intrinsically focused will take on the role of the servant leader. Their sole focus is to serve their team and their customer. As a servant there are willing to sacrifice themselves for the team and to do whatever is required for everyone involved to be successful.

To decide why you are a leader requires some sole searching. You need to look at why you are doing something and if all the external motivators were removed (pay, ego enhancement, perks) would you still do it? For most of us, unless you are running your own entrepreneurial business or working in the not-for-profit sector, a certain element of external motivators is required, but if that is the only reason you do it you might be feeling unfulfilled in life. There must be some intrinsic factors involved for you to really do your best work. You need to believe in what you are doing and see the value to yourself, your customers, your community and to the world in some cases.

So the next time you are considering a leadership opportunity you need to think about why you might do it. Are you taking the role for the title of leader and the associated perks or because you truly want to be a leader of people.

In the Summit Team Building Leadership Development workshop we can help you identify your leadership drivers and values and your leadership style so you can be the best leader possible.