By Plum Cluverius, MA/ABS, PCC

I’ve had the good fortune to serve on the adjunct faculty of the Federal Executive Institute for over 14 years. Located in Charlottesville, VA, the Institute was founded by President Lyndon Johnson’s 1968 executive order establishing a center for civilian executive development comparable to the military’s war colleges. FEI’s flagship executive development program takes leaders from very disparate backgrounds and functions (think nuclear scientists, bureaucrats from the IRS and fire service executives) and forges them very quickly into high functioning teams.

It seems like magic to the participants but the reason these outcomes are consistently achieved is that the program takes time at the beginning to ensure each person in the group finds answers to three fundamental questions that are important for the success of any team—be it a work group, a learning community, or an ad hoc team. We humans bring these questions with us when we engage with one another in a group endeavor. They may float below our conscious awareness, but they are present nonetheless.  Answering them is critical to determining whether a group member will be all in with the team or merely showing up.

The three questions are:

  • Who am I in relation to this group and who are the other people here?
  • What are we supposed to be doing?
  • Do I care?

When people band together to get something done, they can no longer rely on their own skills and motivation. They need to know they can trust themselves and others to contribute to the endeavor and to do it with good will toward each other. Beyond that, they need to have a clear understanding of what needs to be done and to what purpose. Knowing with whom they are working and what they are trying to accomplish provides the information needed for each individual to determine if the work matters to them and if they can commit themselves to it and to the group.  Without that level of commitment from each member of the team, the team will struggle.

It’s amazing how often group or team leaders fail to take the small amount of time it takes to address these questions and instead plunge into an agenda or problem without missing a beat. The result is a lot more wheel spinning or agreement without conviction—either because people don’t understand what’s expected, they don’t trust others enough to be open or because they aren’t invested. With time spent up front to learn about each other and discuss what’s important about the task, the group gets more done in less time and enjoys it more.

There are a lot of ways to tackle these questions. This is one way:

  • Ask team members to share their intentions for the team or meeting
  • The leader shares his/her perspective on the desired outcome
  • Ask team member to share what’s important to them about the outcomes and agenda
  • Find common ground in the outcomes and focus on that.
  • Tackle the most important thing first.

Getting a team to work closely together may look like luck or magic, but with a little up front attention to the three basic questions, leaders can get good results every single time.

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Contact Plum for more ways to set up your team for success!