Building on strengths

3 tips for focusing on your team’s purpose, principles and practice

Great teams focus on their purpose, principles and practice. People know the team’s purpose – its aim and reason for being. This is the 'What' and 'Why'.  They know the key principles to follow to reach the goal. This is the ‘How’. People know how to translate these principles into daily practice. This is the ‘Who’ and ‘When’. Let’s explore how you can follow this model in your own way.

1) You can focus on the team’s purpose.

You may be part of a work team in your professional life. If so, imagine you are the leader. What do you believe is – or should be – the team’s purpose?

People like to know there is a ‘plan’. It is also good if the team's mission appeals to both the heart and the head. One high-tech team, for example, defined their aim as: “To create software that enables people to take charge of their own learning.” Writing in his 1980 book Peak Performers, Charles Garfield emphasised that great teams had 'missions that motivate'.

It is important to be honest, even if the goal is simply: “To make money.” This is more respectful than clouding the aim in woolly language. People can then decide whether or not they want to contribute towards achieving that particular goal.

Purpose provides the team’s compass. I saw this in action during the 1980s, when I was the youth development officer for a football club. Our goal was: “To build a positive team that plays positive football and gets positive results.” We succeeded with the ‘team’ and ‘results’ parts.

But we actually played effective football, rather than attractive football. This was mainly due to my shortcomings as a coach. We did win trophies, but we could have done better on the playing style. People at the club always did their best, however, because they believed in the overall mission.

Let’s return to your work team. Try tackling the exercise below. First, describe what you believe is – or should be – the team’s purpose. Try to summarise it in a one-line goal. Second, describe the benefits of reaching the goal. Try completing the following sentences.

2) You can focus on the team’s principles.

So far you have clarified the ‘What’ and ‘Why’. Now it’s onto the ‘How’. What are the key principles you want to follow to achieve the goal?

People like to know the strategy. For example, when I ran a therapeutic community for troubled teenagers in the early 1970s, we defined our aim as:

“To help the young people to do what they want in their lives – providing they don’t hurt themselves or other people.”

The principles that the staff followed were: a) To expect the young people to take responsibility; b) To build on their strengths; c) To encourage and equip them to achieve their life-goals. Everybody then worked towards achieving the overall aim.

Let’s return to your own team. You will, of course, have your own guidelines for working towards the goal. Try completing the following exercise.

3) You can focus on the team’s practice.

Inspiration is relatively ‘easy’; implementation is much harder. Great teams pursue the right strategy with the right people in the right way. They know ‘Who’ will be doing what and ‘When’. Ensuring everybody knows their part in implementing the strategy, they aim:

* To ensure everybody plays to their strengths and makes their best contribution to the team.

* To ensure everybody makes clear contracts about their specific contribution and are given the support they need to do the job.

* To equip people to make good decisions, find creative solutions to challenges and perform superb work.

* To ensure that everybody reports each month on: a) The specific things I have delivered in the past month towards achieving the goals; b) The specific things I plan to deliver in the next month towards achieving the goals; c) The potential challenges ahead, my strategies for tackling these challenges and the support I would like to do the job.

* To enable people to do whatever is necessary to deliver success.

Let’s return to your team. How can you ensure that people translate the strategic plans into actions? Try completing the following sentence.

There are many models for building a great team. One approach is to ensure they have a compelling purpose, follow key principles and translate these into daily practice. This provides the platform for achieving peak performance. 

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