Turning the team's good intentions into action

Turning the team’s good intentions into action

Posted on May 14, 2014 | Tags: , | No Comments

Turning the team's good intentions into action

Our colleague Adam Schorr, a Principal at SYPartners, returns this week as a guest blogger.

As a manager, one of your most important roles is to set direction for your team — to paint a picture of the future, build belief, and get everyone inspired and ready to go. But what happens when you’ve done that brilliantly and yet things still aren’t clicking?

You have a keen sense of what the team needs to do and why. Everyone is motivated, skilled, and has a positive attitude. And yet you’re not seeing the actions you expected.

The transition from intent into action isn’t always smooth, and even the most effective managers and team members can get tripped up by a number of factors. Let’s discuss five common obstacles.

1. Lack of agency

Sometimes people don’t act because they believe their actions won’t have any effect. For example, the team might believe that no matter how good their ideas are, those ideas will get rejected by someone higher up the chain. Or they might believe that the competition is so far ahead that nothing they do will change the outcome.

If you suspect that such beliefs might be stifling the team, try the following exercise:

  • List the factors required for success. They might include budget, time, adequate technology, a willing customer, etc. List them.
  • Create two columns on a piece of paper or a whiteboard: In one column, have the team write the requirements they believe to be outside their control; in the other, write those within their control.
  • For each item in the first column, brainstorm one thing the team can do to increase their level of influence. Ask lots of “what if” questions to help the team summon their imagination. Often this exercise helps the team see that more power is in their hands than they realized. And that reinvigorates the team’s will.

2. No clear “way we do it”

Another obstacle may be that everyone follows a slightly different approach to the work, which can water down the impact of the team’s efforts. Aligning on common methods can help, but creating team rituals can go even further. A ritual is an act with symbolic meaning and predictable structure — something like a daily team huddle or a weekly round of appreciations. Rituals add a certain uniqueness to the way your team does its work, and that uniqueness can help the team bond and collaborate more effectively.

Follow these steps to create a team ritual:

  • Gather the team to identify which tasks or activities could benefit from a common method.
  • Then go beyond: Discuss how you might tailor these common methods with an element of uniqueness.
  • Pick one or two rituals and get started. (If you’re signed up for Teamworks, you can use our ritual-making tool to help.)

3. Poor time management

We often have a faulty sense of how we use our time: Your team might believe it’s acting consistently with your agreed direction but, unknowingly, might be spending much of their time undermining it.

If this seems to be the case, try the following exercise:

  • Ask each team member to review their calendars and create a pie chart of how they spent their time the previous week. Pie pieces could include: answering emails, visiting customers, attending internal meetings, etc.
  • Get the team together to discuss. After each person shares their pie chart, pick the three tasks or activities that consumed the most team time and discuss whether they moved the team closer to your goals, further away, or had no impact.
  • Discuss what work can be eliminated to free team time for activities most likely to drive results.

4. Lack of accountability for the whole

Your team has its greatest impact when everyone is working as one toward a shared goal. If the members of your team are misaligned or acting at cross-purposes — even unwittingly — they won’t be as effective.

To prevent this from happening, get together and, as a team, talk about how your work is interdependent:

  • Ask each person to identify how their work is affected by what other team members do or don’t do. Have them identify what they need from other team members and what they are willing to do to support other team members.
  • Ask everyone to commit to a few actions in writing.
  • In 30 days, revisit these commitments as a team to track progress and adjust as needed.

5. No visibility to progress

Belief gets people started, but results help them keep going. If your team doesn’t see frequent evidence of progress — however incremental — they may lose heart and give up.

If you notice that the team isn’t taking time to take stock of your progress, start a new team ritual of sharing success stories:

  • Begin every meeting by asking someone on the team to share a success story — big or small. If team meetings aren’t practical, email is also an effective medium. What’s important is to make sure that everyone on the team has a clear line of sight to all of the team’s successes and wins.
  • Remember that your role here is critical because you might be privy to information that your team doesn’t have. If you’re seeing evidence of your team’s success — from external stakeholders, for example — make sure they know it.

Translating intent into action is hard work. There is no silver bullet. If the team is aligned, but you can’t seem to get a foothold or build any momentum, any one of these factors could be a sticking point. So, whenever you get that feeling that the team isn’t making the progress it should be, call a team meeting. Working together, you can start to diagnose and address the problem.

If your team is struggling to launch its good intentions into action, and you need help pinpointing what’s wrong, get an assist from Teamworks. Sign up for a free two-week trial for access to our team diagnostic and web-based tools.

Further reading from Teamworks:

Synching up the team’s working styles: Part I
Synching up the team’s working styles: Part II
Knowing when to manage and when to lead
How to get around decision dysfunction


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