Monthly Archives: August 2011

Where are We Going? A Team Needs a Shared Purpose

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We recently started working with an organization that is the victim of it’s own success.

A few years ago, this organization was in a phase of explosive growth.  Customers were knocking on their doors, recruiting could barely keep up, and earnings grew and grew.

While growth skyrocketed, they were challenged to field the calls as the phone practically rang off the hook, hire people fast enough to meet the demand, and not mess up their product in the meantime.  They developed new products on the fly when customers asked for new things.  They grew their customer base.  Their headcount ballooned.

Activities that were once done by a small group of guys who could work in a conference room were being done by hundreds of people in several departments and locations.

But, as the saying goes, what goes up must come down.  Actually, they are still kicking some serious you-know-what in the market.  But growth has slowed with the
economic downturn, competitors have cropped up that are giving them a run for their money, and the leadership team has realized that they have become disconnected from the business and each other.

The executives have been so focused looking down to meet the needs in front of them, that they have not done a terrific job of looking forward to the future (where are we going?), or sideways (how does what I am doing link to what you are doing?).

In the rush of the boom times, the executives started to view their peers as barriers rather than as enablers or supports.  They spent as little time together as possible, and when they did get together they became frustrated with each other and got hung up in tactical
details of their business.  They operated in silos.  They developed some level of
frustration with each other.  And they started to think that this group just didn’t trust each other.

While their business results are far from terrible, they are certainly not what they used
to be.  Leaders realize it is time for a change before it is too late.  If this organization is going to thrive in its next phase of maturity, it needs to figure out what the heck it wants to be, and how the executive team is going to take them there.

As the executives have been thinking about how they plan for and execute a long range plan that will take their organization into its next phase of growth, it has become clear that they are all coming from different places.  It was no wonder they aren’t operating well as a team.  They don’t even have a common definition of what it meant to win the game.

The fact that they all have different expectations about what it means to win and what role each of them and their organizations should play in winning, reinforces siloed behavior and erodes the interpersonal dynamics in the team.

If I think we win our game by scoring lots and lots of goals, but you think we win by making sure the opponent doesn’t score more goals than we do, we are coming at the
game from a different mindset.  If we are both be on the field but playing with a different strategy, then we are doing things that we can easily mis-read as either undermining or incompetence.

A group of really strong people with a shared purpose can lead an organization almost anywhere.  A group of really strong people with different ideas about their shared purpose can lead an organization pretty much nowhere.

This group doesn’t need trust-falls or hand holding.  They just need to agree on a few basic questions.  What do they want to be?  What customers will they serve and what products will they offer?

When the executive team can answer those questions and agree to stick to their decisions, they will see that the next phase of growth and maturity for their organization can be just as exciting and enviable as the last.