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Team Roles and Goals: Discovering Passion and Place
By Rich Meiss • Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Creating High Performing Teams Series: V


Team Roles and Goals:  Discovering Passion and Place

By Rich Meiss


Team members need a “performance challenge” – a compelling goal – to keep them moving in a positive direction.  Members need to be aligned on the goal and in pursuit of the accomplishment of this goal to give the team momentum.  But before looking at what the team needs to be aligned on, it is important to look at who needs to be aligned.


In his best-selling business book Good to Great, Jim Collins makes this statement:  “We expected that good-to-great leaders would begin by setting a new vision and strategy.  We found instead that they first got the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats – and then figured out where to drive it.  Practicing ‘first who’ means selecting people more on their fit with the core values and purpose than on their skills and knowledge.”   In other words, first choose team members who are passionate about the team’s stated purpose and values, and the right role for each team member can then be sorted out.  This helps team members find their passion – and then their place.


Sometimes this involves asking certain people to “get off the bus”.  Often, when team members spend time formulating and agreeing on a purpose and a set of shared values, a certain member of the team begins to “glow in the dark”.  There is a sense that this person doesn’t really belong on this team – that his or her values are not congruent with the new direction.  Many times this becomes apparent to the team member as well, and he or she will ask to transfer to a new assignment in the organization.  If it is not readily apparent to the individual, however, it now becomes the job of the team leader to relieve this person of their duties on the team.  While this is often not a pleasant experience initially, the team and the dismissed team member usually agree later on that this was the right thing to do.


So how do you go about asking someone to leave the team?  The best method usually involves honest communication.  Get together privately with the team member, and ask him/her some questions, such as:


·         How are you feeling about the direction of this team?

·         Do you agree with the stated values and vision for the team?

·         What would need to exist for you to be more aligned to the team’s direction?

·         Do you believe you are a good fit for this team?


Fairly often a team member will identify some things about him/herself that are not a good fit.  Then you can have an honest conversation about finding another spot for this person in another part of the organization.  If he/she acts as if they are a good fit but you know they are not, then you will need to point out some of the behaviors that are getting in their way of good teaming.  In our coaching seminars we teach people to use this non-threatening language:  “Joe, there are times when your behavior on the job does not fit in with our stated team values and standards.”  Then give specific examples, and ask Joe to conform his behavior to fit those goals and standards.  You may need to give a set time period for conforming.  If the behavior does not change, you then have the right to ask the member to leave the team.


Once the right people are on the team, it is then time to set about getting the right people in the right seats.  The following questions are helpful for this process:


·         What are the key roles that need to be filled on this team?

·         What knowledge and skills are needed to competently fill these roles?

·         Who on our team is best suited to fill these roles?

·         If no one currently has the requisite knowledge or skills, who is willing to learn them to fill the role?

·         Can some of the roles be filled by several people, each utilizing his/her best skills to fulfill the role?


This process tends to be ongoing, and it is a good idea to review roles and people’s passion for their roles at least on an annual basis.


Once the right players are on the bus and in the right seats, it is time to get down to the serious business of setting goals for the team.  Goals are different from the team’s purpose, values and vision.  In another chapter (“Team Reasons:  Discovering the WHY/HOW/WHAT of Teams”), we discuss the benefit of each of these elements.  The team purpose helps define WHY the team exists, beyond making a profit. 

The team values define HOW the team will operate – its key standards and principles.  And the team vision is the WHAT of the team – the longer-term direction the team is taking (what will we be like in 2-5 years?).


Goals define the short term direction for the team – those specific things that will be accomplished in the next 6-18 months.  Goals flow out of the vision, and begin to put some flesh on the future.  Team members should brainstorm ideas that will help them advance toward the vision, and then write them down as goals.  To be effective, goals should follow the SMART formula:


Specific               Goals should be specific.
Measurable        Goals need some metrics to measure progress.
Actionable          Goals should be action oriented.
Responsibility    Goals should be assigned to someone on the team.
Time-Specific    Goals should have a time element for accomplishment

Once the goals are specific, make them measurable and actionable.  The goals should be assigned to the appropriate team member with a timeline for accomplishment.  Team members may then wish to create a “force field analysis” on each of their main goals. 


Have them take a sheet of paper, list a major goal at the top, and draw a line down the center of the page, with the words “Restraining Forces” on one side and “Supporting Forces” on the other side.  They should then list as many of these forces on each side as possible.  Following this, they are to think of ways to minimize all the restraining forces and maximize all the supporting forces that would lead to the accomplishment of the goal.  The team leader may even want to take one meeting a month where a team member has a chance to share goals and restraining/supporting forces, allowing other members the opportunity to share their perspectives and ideas on how to reach the goals.

After the team members have brainstormed a set of goals, make sure the goals are  written specifically.  Apply the 3C test for specificity:

Clarity – Make the goals clear vs. fuzzy.  Replace words such as “faster” or
“higher quality” with specific terms.
Completeness – Ask the questions:  “What is missing from the goals?  What else should be accomplished?”
Confidence – Apply the confidence test:  “Are we confident we will have achieved our vision and purpose if we accomplish these goals?

Almost nothing will keep team members on track toward goal accomplishment as much as monthly accountability sessions.  Review progress towards the goal at monthly strategic sessions.  Celebrate goal accomplishment as appropriate.  Ask other team members for ideas to help those who are struggling to reach their goals.  This creates a real sense of shared purpose.  Create an atmosphere of “there is no limit to what can be done if no one cares who gets the credit!”  Make it fun for the team to achieve results together.


Visit our web site at for information about the Creating High Performing Teams seminar.



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