Direction - The DNA Of A Great Team

Striving to create a great team isn't simply to end up with a nice, bright, shiny and highly admired group of people. The only reason for building a great team - the utility implied - is to better facilitate tomorrow's winning value proposition, create value, bring about change and retain talent. Anything less is to shortchange everyone involved. Results and relationships are the central tenets in a series of synergistic sub-processes that move from Direction, to Development, to Delivery and, eventually, to Decline. As it moves through each of the building blocks, a great team leans heavily on these DNA markers.

In this article we explore "Direction".

A compelling purpose

The team's purpose is obviously drawn out of the organisation's purpose. Purpose should answer two questions - one, essentially, a subtext of the other:

1) Why do we do what we do?
2) How does what we do make a difference in the world?

With a big enough "why" ordinary people can, and do, achieve the extraordinary. Ask yourself:

  • Does the "why" have real emotional impact … both within the business and with customers? Does it inspire people?
  • In what ways does the purpose give team members a deeper sense of meaning?
  • What unanswered questions does the purpose raise?

The right leader

To lead is to be the first one to smile and the last one to speak. Those who excel as leaders blend courtesy, compassion and comfort with ambiguity into an in-the-moment presence. Peter Drucker referred to courtesy as "the lubricant of leadership". There is no such thing as a leaderless team. Lack of a leader runs the risk of introducing the wrong leadership. That said, as the team matures, there are times when the leader has to follow and members of the team are asked to lead. Ask yourself:

  • Is there a clear leader? Are they the right leader? Who should the leader be? In the case of an outgoing leader, what was their most significant contribution?
  • Does the team leader live the organisation's values every day in every way? How do they deal with those who don't always live the values?
  • What is the team leader's leadership point of view?
  • In the way they lead, do they deliver leadership "balance"?
  • In the absence of an appointed leader, who takes the lead?
  • How does the team leader deal with conflict? What conflict will a future leader need to deal with?
  • How are rivalries dealt with?
  • How much freedom to act do team members have? How much freedom to act should they have?
  • How does the team leader delegate?

The right strategy

The strategy describes "what" needs to be achieved. The organisation's values outline "how". Ask yourself:

  • Is the long-term direction for the team clear? Is it congruent with the strategy of key teams one level up?
  • Are the delivery assumptions built into the strategy consistent with the organisation's values?
  • Does the strategy contain within it messaging that reinforces the culture the organisation needs to create?
  • In what ways does the strategy balance the short and the long term?
  • Who, if anybody, on the team disagrees with the agreed strategy? How have they been given a voice?

The right people

Whom you hire and/or promote dictates what's possible. The default selection process in most organisations is skewed towards hiring the "best" person. Great teams are built on finding the "right" person. Based on the situation, the right candidate will be someone who can grow and continue to grow in the role, who adds to the team beyond the horizons of the functional role and who is a natural fit with the leadership development agenda offered within the organisation. If you can't attract top talent, you can't hire top talent. Top performers are drawn to an organisation with a great story. Ask yourself:

  • With the agreed strategy in mind, do those on the team have the basic talent needed to thrive? What's missing … as a team … and/or on an individual basis?
  • Is the behaviour of those on the team aligned with the culture the organisation - and by implication - the team need to create?
  • Is there an obvious successor to the leader? How has the potential success of that individual been validated? What development steps are under way?
  • How does the team add someone new? Is that approach effective?
  • Are those who make recruitment decisions fully trained in interviewing?

Insights from "Great Organisations Are Built Around Great Teams".