Vagueness isn't empowerment[This is excerpted from Great Work]
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I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen managers form a team without a clear understanding of what they are asking for. Out of ignorance or laziness, they ask for recommendations, not decisions. And because they weren’t clear at the outset about the criteria their recommendations should meet, the teams spend hours going down rabbit holes and then when they present their best ideas to the manager, the manager says, ‘You can’t do that!’ It’s no wonder employees tend to be suspicious of these teams.
The solution to this is for the manager (or group that is chartering the team) to spend a significant amount of time beforehand, clarifying what they need and expect. Some managers think that this is disempowering, but it is exactly the opposite. Constraints promote creativity. Clear boundaries promote innovation.
Answer these questions before launching any new team
When I facilitated this Team Launch process with managers, I would ask them to set aside four hours. They were always shocked that I would ask for that much time but usually at the end, they would be surprised to see how little they understood about the task they were requesting.
Answer these questions in this order:
Why: Why are you forming this team? What’s in it for the organization and for the members themselves?
What: What do you need them to do? What would success look like? Create a set of boundary conditions; if they come up with a solution that fits inside that ‘box,’ that they can decide, not just recommend.
Who: Who needs to be on the team for this to be successful? Don’t forget to think of people outside the organization. If this is a one-off project, it may be wise to hire a facilitator who has a process for completing this work.
When and Where: What are milestones and deadlines when they should communicate with you. Is this during work hours? What is the scope of the work (eg, just your building or the whole division)? Where can they meet?
How: What tools or resources are available to them? Do you have a set of steps or a process that you would like them to follow?
Probably the most important element of this whole process is the boundary conditions. The team will then know what they have the power to decide and what they need to ask for permission to do.
Once you have these answers in writing, call the first team meeting and go over them with the team members. So often, I’ve heard team members say, ‘This was great! We should start all new teams this way.’