Moving Teams Forward with Clarity, Leadership and Empathy

October 27, 2017 | Ben Bratt | HCI
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I’ve worked as a member of teams, led teams, and coached teams for 25 years, and still I’m struck by the depth of pragmatic insight generated by HCI’s recent research showing how much teams and their effectiveness are a critical part of every organization’s success.

Get Clear

A recurring theme throughout this research is the degree to which we get hung up on the decidedly simple things, like having clear roles and relevant tasks on the team. With so many organizations in a constant state of flux, there’s no mystery as to why people get confused about their own and each other’s roles. And it’s no mystery that this lack of simple clarity hampers us.

Respondents report that two of the top three factors that get in their way are rooted in a lack of clarity, specifically around how the team’s goals relate to the overall business strategy and which clear tasks team members were responsible for.

This echoes what I hear when I work with clients on pragmatically improving their team’s effectiveness: having unclear roles and responsibilities gums up the works, creates needless conflict, and keeps a team from really creating the true value it could.

Lead for Team Success

Hand-in-hand with this is the degree to which we know that team leadership is critical to fostering great teamwork.

When coaching client team leaders, there’s little doubt that the leaders are almost always trying their best, but what they fail to grasp is the way their daily behaviors shape the team’s important behavioral norms. It’s amazing how inconsistently we all connect these dots.

HCI’s data shows that over 90% of respondents in organizations large and small to some degree agree with the statement “Effective team leadership is an important part of our business success.” Yet 31% of respondents report that Inadequate Team Leadership is one of the most frequently encountered barriers to success in their organization.

In a world so profoundly oriented to getting work done in teams, it’s imperative we figure this out. But what to do?

The Three I’s, plus the Big E

Quite simply, leaders can lead their teams with Intention, Interaction, and Influence.

HCI’s research shows that there’s no substitute for being really clear about:

  • Our Intention, or our individual and shared purpose and responsibilities in a team. Having a super-simple and clear “why” and “what” is the bedrock for an effective team. Consider crafting a Team Charter to pull it all together into a shareable statement.
  • Our Interaction, or how we choose to act on that purpose and intention. What’s the best way for us to get work done not only within the team, but also in adjacent teams we interact with to accomplish broader tasks?
  • Our Influence, or the best way to influence those around us to get things done in a team-based way. Leaders with skills in influencing upward and outward make it easier for their teams to create momentum.

When our client teams make a lot of progress, one other factor is often at play. Whatever gaps remain between these solid bricks of Intention, Interaction and Influence can be nicely filled and bonded with Empathy. We all experience every day the difficulty of being in Teams. Many of us know the intense feelings that come with leading a team and the ways in which our insecurities are often laid bare.

Knowing this, let’s extend to others on our teams the grace we wish were extended to us, and then dig in and do hard work together. Let’s get clear on the things that aren’t, interact in healthy ways, and influence others for shared success.

All of that is within our control.